On Saturday, I got to talk with another photographer at a small party. He's my friend's sister's husband, and I knew that he was a fellow software engineer, so I'd have something in common to talk with him about. I ended up finding out, though, that he's an avid photographer and has taken some great pictures.
It's rather sad that this is the case, but this was the first time that I have actually had the opportunity to talk with an experienced photographer. He seemed willing to share, so I had fun picking his brain for a good hour. My wife was with me and joined in on the fun.
I thought I'd briefly share some of his pearls of wisdom.
On studying composition and the work of other photographers, he had some interesting insight. He actually advised against spending too much time on Flickr, saying that Flickr will "rot your brain". Why? Because the photographers you like may not really be that good, and you'll end up emulating their mistakes. Instead, he recommended studying the works of master photographers. Maybe that's a little harsh on Flickr, but I imagine you can't go wrong studying the work of really great photographers. By the way, I don't know who any of these legends are. I recognize Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna, and that's really it. Anyway, I'm planning a trip to the library sometime this week to pick up some books--I figure I'll just browse a bit and find someone who's work I like.
He had some interesting things to say about maximizing the dynamic range of your camera. I don't fully understand what he told me yet, but he gave me enough to do my own research. He explained that digital cameras store much more detail in the highlights of the image than the shadows, and that RAW images have more detail in them (they distinguish between more shades), which is lost when converting to JPEG. So he always shoots in RAW, and when he really needs as much dynamic range as he can get (his example was photographing bright, snow-capped mountains in Alaska with dark forests at their feet) he plays a trick where he over-exposes the image by a stop and brings it back down when he processes it. Once I've understood this better, I'll post about it again with some links to articles and what not.
It was great talking to him, and I think it's motivated me more to get out and meet some other photographers. Maybe I'll try joining a photography club eventually here.