Becoming a better photographer is a little different thing for everybody. Because we are all different, and photography comes as a wide range of things. But here are some ground rules and tips that will make you a great photographer. If you want to take good photos but don’t want to drop big bucks on being qualified, there’s a ton of ways to develop your skills. Sometimes, it’s not about practicing harder, but practicing smarter.
Find the light
Light is the most essential part of taking photographs, it is all the photography is. By definition, photography is the process of producing images by the action of light on a sensitive surface, such as a film or an optical sensor. How to utilize light and shadow is the greatest thing we can teach ourselves in photography. If you take this one right, you will be able to take evocative images no matter what camera do you have.
The best time of day to shoot is at sunset and sunrise, at so-called Golden Hour. Another time is Blue Hour, and that is just before sunrise or after the sunset. The light at that time is soft and flattering. But shooting during the day, when light is hard can produce great images as well. Find beams of light, reflections, train your eyes for noticing different light situations. If there is one thing you should nail, this is it.
Learn to be patient
Learn to wait for the right light. Instead of rushing through your shoot, maybe you need to wait just ten minutes until you get the sun correctly behind you, or backlighting your subject. As we said, it’s all about the light. And many times, you will get only a tiny window of opportunity when the light is perfect for your shot, and patience will get you that shot. If you are doing street photography, patience to wait for the right subject will get you perfect shot.
Get familiar with your camera
Read the manual! Yes, it sounds boring but you will be surprised how much interesting stuff you can learn. And no one knows the camera better than people who made it. Furthermore, modern cameras often have some neat and helpful features and customization that you don’t know and that you might not discover otherwise. You need to familiarize yourself with that fancy gadget of yours to make the most out of it. Because, if you are thinking about how to operate your camera while shooting, you are not thinking about pictures. Taking the time to study your gear can save you a lot of time and make the process of photographing more enjoyable.
Apply what you learned immediately
APPLY the new techniques instantly after learning it. You can(and some of the times – should) learn 24/7 about photography on YouTube and photography sites. But fast results will come only after you apply what you learned. Tomorrow is a myth, do the thing you learned right now. The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.” The point is to improve your skills rather than learning new ones. Stockpiling your knowledge will not get you fast results.
Expose yourself to good photography
Don’t limit yourself to one venue of photography, but instead make it a goal to “spend time” with a variety of artists – those who photograph only in black and white, who shoot only urban life or pastoral scenes, those who are fashion, beauty photographers, etc.
Social media is an incredible tool for visual artists—particularly Instagram—because it favors beautiful imagery. You spend so much time trawling through feeds as it is—why not make it so that what comes up actually inspires you? Here are five Instagram’s to follow to get your creative juices flowing.
Disclaimer: You are in competition with yourself, not with others. Don’t compare your work to theirs, because you may be measuring your beginnings with someone’s middle. Watching what other photographers do is meant to train your eyes, and immerse you into different kind of world views. Don’t copy but be inspired by other people’s work, there is only one you, and the best way to stand out from the crowd is by putting your perspective out there.
Shoot a roll of film
There are a few reasons why you should use a traditional film camera. The first we talked about and it is restrictions. When you have a limited number of shots to take, you take things much more seriously. You don’t go around and just shoot an endless amount of shots, hoping one will come out good, or that you will fix it in post. It is a much more deliberate practice where you need to put your knowledge and heart into it.
The second is that you don’t have an LCD display to see if you got the shot. Looking through the viewfinder gives you a kind of purity and focus as everything outside the frame is black. It puts you in the world of that photograph. And this one really puts your technical knowledge to the test. You need to nail your exposure settings before you take a shot, instead of tweaking it after you saw the shot you took.
A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a cameraDorothea Lange
Of course, both of these can be done on your digital camera: Just cover your LCD and restrict yourself to 36 shots, and don’t cheat. However, if you have a passion for photography, you will appreciate the experience of working with a film camera. And who knows, maybe you’ll stay to shoot on film. There are outstanding photographers that still shoot on film today.
Having many options is not always a good thing. On the contrary, putting restrictions on the gear or technique you use is going to make you improve fast. Use a lens that you are not used to, or if you always shoot with a zoom lens, put a prime lens on and keep it for a few weeks. Of course, if you are doing a job for a client, you will want to bring whatever gear you need. But otherwise, playing and seeing what you can do with one lens will push your boundaries. You will become a master of that one piece of gear and learn exactly what you can do with it.
The second thing you can do is put a time limit. Often in photography, time is your friend. That’s why time limit can be a real challenge and make you improvise and think fast.
Shoot only in black and white. When you remove the color element, you will pay much more attention to your composition. Putting limits will promote your creativity, and up your photography game in no time.
Teach someone else photography
It’s incredible how teaching someone else skills you know, instantly clarifies your mind. When you try to find why of something, you don’t take things for granted and you understand concepts better. You need to have a complete understanding of the subject to be able to break it down to a beginner. And also to know how to explain it in a few different ways, if they didn’t get it. By doing so, you will also simplify processes to yourself and feel compelled to fill in your knowledge gaps. This method is nothing new, Seneca said nearly 2000 years ago “By teaching, we learn”. So take time to answer questions of people around you interested in photography, and you will both benefit from it.
Visual exercise without a camera
Walk the space around you, put your favorite music on, and just watch how the light is bouncing off the buildings, how people interact with each other… Imagine how you would compose a picture if you would have to take one at that time and place. That kind of photo, light and life awareness is going to make you a good photographer, and a better artist. It is going to teach you how to see what is around you and it will give you a better starting point when you are doing a shoot with your camera.
I am not interested in seeing new things. I am interested to see things new.Ernst Haas
If you let the internet tell you what photography is, you would assume that is just a technical exercise. The technical part is important, but it is just a tool. Because photography at the end of the day is still an art. Allow yourself not to worry about technical stuff always, go for a walk with just your smartphone and experiment. Because art is going to come out of experimentation.
Create a photography bucket list
This one is so fun! Make a note on your phone with all the shots you would like to take. Maybe that is an image of your pet, your favorite place, a fine art landscape, a shot of the sky and the Milky Way… Follow your heart and write it all down. If you are passionate about photography, this will probably be a never-ending list, but think of those you must create. Setting this photography bucket list will motivate you to get out and start shooting. Think about what you will need in order to create each of those shots, and check them one by one. There is no better feeling than writing a list of challenges and going through them. Watch this short film from Peter Mckinnon and get inspired to create your own bucket shot.
Look at your old photos
Evaluation is one of the pillars of becoming a better photographer. Most of the times, you import new images in a folder and don’t look at the rest. Take time to browse and study your old images. Besides being a fun activity to do, it is a great reminder of why you started doing photography. Not to mention it can be thrilling to see the progress you made so far and to realize you are improving every single day.
You probably don’t even realize how much you’ve learned about photography. Some techniques that you take for granted today were something you struggled before or were completely oblivious to. Time gives you perspective. You’ll notice habits, ideas, and technical facets that you tended toward that may well inform your work in the present.
It will let you determine what your strengths and weaknesses are as a photographer. Figuring out what you need to get better at helps focus your learning, and gives you a clear direction for your practice!
Watch online tutorials
Thanks to the almighty internet, all tips and tricks are not a secret of the trade anymore. YouTube, in particular, is filled with reviews, tips, and hacks for photographers. Check out popular channels like Mango Street or Peter McKinnon for easy and fun to follow videos. And remember to apply it immediately after watching.
Besides YouTube, here are some resourceful and inspiring places where you can learn more.
- Fstoppers – The most visited photography website in the world. They have a vast collection of articles related to photography, lighting, gear reviews, business tips, behind the scenes, industry news, and more.
- CreativeLive – CreativeLive brings the world’s greatest experts directly to you, live. They feature online workshops in photography, video, design, business, audio, music, crafting, and software training.
- Phlearn – Beside photography tutorials, Phlearn is one of the best places to learn Photoshop and Lightroom, which are great tools in creating amazing images.
Related: 10 Ways to Earn Money as a Freelance Photographer
To approach all these exercises with ambition and passion, you need to know first that this easily accomplished if you have the motivation. If you lack the motivation to put aside some extra time on learning a new skill, there are so many great books today that can help you see the bigger picture and learn you a few mindset tips on changing your perspective and knowing that all can be accomplished if you put passion into it. One of the non-photography related books that Pierre Lambert(engineer that become a professional photographer in less than a year!) recommends the book called The Magic of Thinking Big. You can also check out a new book by Chase Jarvis(photographer and founder of Creative Live) about his habits that help him succeed in life and career, called Creative Calling.
We all want to be better photographers. Sometimes, it takes a break in our normal routines to push us to the next level. In order to improve, the challenge is your best friend. You will come across them one way or another, but if you deliberately make challenges for yourself, the results will come in fast. Another thing to keep in mind is being methodical and thoughtful about the process. Why you shoot something, or why you shoot it that particular way – think about your work. Try these exercises and let us know how they’ve helped you.
Everybody is a rookie at some point. Keep putting in the work, and you will improve, as you probably already improved. Passion, Patience, and Hustle. Use the passion you’ve got and apply it to every photo you take, every book you read, every video you watch and every program you learn. Photography is art, and the best art comes from a place of passion.