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Tips & Tricks

Five Simple Tips To Becoming A Better Photographer

By Chris Nachtwey on September 17th 2014

Wednesdays are usually reserved for my Quitting Your Day Job Series, but after a few weeks of seeing to much negativity towards “new” photographers in online forums, I felt the need take a break from my series to dish out some simple ways for new photographers to become a better.

As the world of photography continues to explode thanks to affordable gear and free accessible education such as SLR Lounge and CreativeLive, more and more people not only think they can make money off their photography, but are actually making money off their photography. Which is great, but I’m so sick and tired of seeing more experienced photographers put down new photographers. I’m not talking about constructive criticism, I’m talking about all the finger pointing, the name calling, and just overall negative vibe some fellow photographers put off in forums and on social media while hiding behind their computers.

The reality is that yes, photography is a tough field to make a living in. There are lots of new people entering the field everyday, and it’s safe to say there are more photographers than there is work. That’s not to say that you should not try to make money from your photography. But how does one get to the level where they are confident enough to charge for their photography, when all they receive is negative feedback from the community – from the choice of gear to the technical aspects of their images? Here are a few ways…

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Five Ways To Become a Better Photographer

1. Education

If you really want to become a better photographer, you’re going to need some education. I can say this from experience: the best education is not in a Facebook group or forum most of the time. Often if you ask a “beginner’s” question in a group or forum, it will quickly translate into a troll-fest of how you have no chance, your images suck, blah, blah. Ignore that. While I think the best education is hands-on (more on that in a minute), the next best thing is the wealth of information you can find online. There are a slew of websites and blogs you can go to and learn a lot about not only photography in general, but also certain genres long before you actually start shooting. I suggest taking two or three hours a week to research and learn from the comfort of your home from online articles and courses for what ever genre of photography you’re interested in. We have a few in our store you might want to check out:

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2. Assist

As I mentioned above, I honestly believe the best education you can get is by being in the field. I’m going to use wedding photography as an example because it’s the genre I know the most about (though I learn something new everyday). If you want to get started in wedding photography, I would suggest reaching out to a photographer who’s work you like, and offer to assist them in a non-shooting position. Assisting will get you out in the field observing and learning how to do the job long before you actually try to shoot a wedding as a second photographer or lead. You can translate assisting into any genre of photography that peaks your interest and want to learn more about. I’m not sure about every photographer, but I honestly like having an assistant to help me on jobs. If you want to learn more about landing an assisting job, you should read my article from earlier this year.

3. Practice, Practice and More Practice

Let’s be real for a minute, the only way to get better is to actually go out and shoot. Every time you go out and shoot, you’re going to learn something new. Maybe it’s something about your gear, maybe it finally dawns on you how to correct your posing direction – whatever it is, it will only come to you if you’re actually making photographs. When you’re making money with your photography, a paying session is no time to be learning. You need to be practicing your craft everyday. Now, I know it’s not easy to practice or shoot everyday, but you need to carve out part of your week to practice. I promise the more you’re creating and spending time with your gear, the better you will be when there is money on the line. slrl-five-simple-tips-better-photographer-1-2

4. Fail

The truth is, one of the best, but hardest ways to learn is from your mistakes. When you are starting out, heck even if you have been a photographer for a long time, we all make mistakes. The key is to improve upon those mistakes and failures. I made a lot of mistakes when I was first starting out, but I just remembered what I did and used those failures to become better. Yes, you will make mistakes and fail during paying jobs. The goal is for that not to happen, but you will fail at some point and the key is to not lose your confidence. You should grow, learn, and prosper from failures.

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5. Photography is a Marathon Not a Sprint

I know it sounds cliché, but the truth is that becoming better at anything you do in life takes time. Photography is no different. Do you really think any of the well known photographers who create amazing images started making amazing images the first day they picked up a camera? Heck no! They put in countless hours and years of work to get to the level they are. You, and myself included, are no different. The truth is, a true creative will always see where their work can be improved, but over time, you will create better images. The trick is to not give up and to keep moving forward. It’s easy to quit, it’s hard to stick to something and improve. slrl-five-simple-tips-better-photographer-1-3

Conclusion

For anyone starting out, becoming a better photographer is not an easy task, but for those willing to put in the work, they will succeed. I’m not saying you’re going to be making money from your photography, but you will be creating better images and be more educated. For anyone who has “made” it as a photographer, I challenge you to share your knowledge, be a positive voice in the photography community, and take someone who is starting out under your wing. You might learn something new yourself, and you will gain more respect in the photography community than if you were negative and unwilling to share your knowledge.

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Anthony McFarlane

    Assisting seems to be the toughest thing to do when pros wont give you the time of day. I will keep trying. Thanks for the great tips.

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  2. Michael Alfaro

    very inspireing thank you for this article

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  3. Austin Swenson

    I think if I could add to some of the things you said on here, it’s that you should try to get a professional of some kind to do a portfolio review with you every once in a while to find out what you could do better, and then put it into practice.

    I think you should also look for inspiration for new ideas to be creative with your next shoots. When I have a paying gig, I always ask myself “Self, how can you hit this one out the park in a creative way for this particular client?”

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  4. Dre Rolle

    Number four is the biggest one for me. People are scared to fail so they never try new things, that’s how I got out of my creative rut. Just try, fail, learn, rinse & repeat enough times and when you succeed it’s that much sweeter because of the work you put into it.

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  5. Matt Emmett

    Great motivational piece. Well written and compelling.

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  6. Daniel Thullen

    Chris, I think your conclusion says it best “becoming a better photographer is not an easy task, but . . .those putting in the work will succeed.” There are so many resources available! We can’t learn our art if we don’t do two things regularly: 1. Continue to learn, 2. Shoot, shoot, shoot (or practice, practice, practice, which ever way you wish to look at it.

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  7. Brandon Dewey

    Number 3 should be number 1. When I finally started to shoot every day (even if it was just around the house) I started to notice a huge jump in not only my skills but also my confidence. All of the other points are also important, but if you really want to take your craft to the next level you need to practice. A world class athletes don’t just show up on race day, they have spent years of practice to get them to that race.

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  8. Jim Johnson

    Talent = knowledge + skill.

    Knowledge is easy enough to get these days. Skill is nothing but knowledge repeatedly applied and put to use.

    As the article says, if you want to get better, learn and shoot. That’s it. So get out there!

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  9. Andrew Van Arb

    These are good tips, thanks for this article. Sometime it can be hard to pick back up after you realize that the shots from a paying job aren’t what you were hoping for, I have had that happen and it can be rough. I have always been critical of my work, comfortable that it will excite my clients, but also feel there is always room for improvement. Sometimes I go back to my old work and see what I did wrong, or how I could have made it better. As I grow as a photographer, hopefully I never lose that internal feeling that the next photo can be better than the last.

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  10. Vince Arredondo

    Great article! Hands-on is the best school.

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  11. Chuck Eggen

    Ok, number 2, I want to assist someone. I live in CT, I have a ton of equipment and want to assist a photographer to gain experience. Who’s up for the challenge?

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