I still remember the moment I successfully produced identifiable images using a pinhole camera made for my photography merit badge in Boy Scouts. While not understanding completely what I was doing, it was kind of incredible to actually make it work and the feeling was akin to how I felt when I spent some time in the darkroom as an adult developing black and white images taken with my first film SLR.
The digital age has meant a constant proliferation of new devices and incredible technology accessible to just about anyone who wants to explore the art of photography. While taking good images is somewhat easier than it once was, taking extraordinary images and producing art that makes people take a second look requires understanding of a broad range of techniques, but mostly practice.
The sheer wealth of relatively easy equipment to acquire constantly reminds me of how much I don't know, and my learning progresses sort of like when you chase a wave as it recedes into the ocean and then try to outrun the next one that crashes on shore--without getting your feet wet. Just when you think you've caught up, you get pounded by a wave that you weren't fast enough to beat.
I am a babe in the woods most of the time, but I have always loved learning and am undaunted by the challenge of continuously developing my craft. I just bought my first set of studio lights and have watched a zillion videos on how to use them. The back panel of my Einstein's contain an array of numbers that each represent a different way of looking at power, at brightness. These numbers are in addition to the fundamental ones on your camera that have to be second nature. A mathematician at heart, I want to understand how all these numbers work together with the distance of the light to the subject, the space between the camera and the subject, the ambient light in the space, and the reflection that light makes off of other surfaces in the room.
But what I'm learning is that you just have to do it so much that your experience teaches you how to make instinctive adjustments to get the quality of light that you envision before you take the picture. I've had the pleasure of witnessing some expert photographers who do just that, and they say with enough dedication I'll be able to do that, too. It just takes trial and error, and continuous learning.
Malcom Gladwell, in Outliers, says you need 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become world class at something. In other words, if you practiced an hour per day for about thirty years you'd get there. I think I'm going to need to step up the pace a bit, but even if I don't make it I plan to never stop learning.