Improving your photography is not an easy thing to do. However, photography is a skill and just like any skill; it can be learned. Yes, there are some who will be naturals. They’ll have a “good eye,” but in my opinion, even that can be learned. I firmly believe that with enough determination, anyone can become a good photographer.
I wish I could tell you there were some easy shortcuts to take. Sadly, there are not. On the other hand, there are many pitfalls you can fall into which can cause your progression to stall. Finding the right educators is vitally important for one thing.
I am not sentimental with my old/bad photographs; so much so that they used to be deleted. As such, I struggled to find some of my early work. Below is the earliest image in my archive. It was taken in 2010, shortly after the purchase of my first DSLR; a Canon 7D. I was shooting wildlife, clearly, using a 50mm lens (roughly 80mm full frame equivalent) but worst of all I was not shooting in RAW. Oh, the shame!
As with any skill, there are many facets to photography. This is a fact that took me some time to realize. I suppose I was somewhat arrogant having come through film school and working in the British film industry, I thought I knew it all. I did not! It quickly became apparent that editing, amongst many other things, was a subject I knew little about.
I purchased Lightroom and began to muddle my way through in a vain attempt to create something passable. Lightroom is a fairly straightforward program but learning what is best to use, when and why is not such an easy thing to grasp. This is an example of what I thought passed for good editing; essentially, yellow highlights and blue shadows. Ooooh, lovely!
To improve our photography, we must approach it like we would any other skill. Here are three essential practices to help you improve your photography skills.
1. How to Improve Your Photography – Education
Education, education, education – and to separate myself from a somewhat unpopular politician (Tony Blair), I’ll add another – education. When I first started, there were relatively few educators to turn to. Although, having come to the realization that my photography sucked, I knew I needed to find some fast. Luckily, I stumbled across SLR Lounge, quickly becoming familiar with Post Production Pye. Later on, I discovered Phlearn, and finally CreativeLive. Using these three sources, I learned the skills I needed.
The trouble with education these days, is the sheer number of options available. The online education market has exploded in recent years, and photography is no exception. On the one hand, that’s fantastic, but on the other, you have to somehow figure out where the best place is to spend your money. I obviously endorse SLR Lounge in every single way. They helped me learn, and I still watch every video made. You can find all our in-depth tutorials in the SLR Lounge Store here.
Of course, we are not the only education site out there, and it would be unbalanced of me not to mention others. My favourites have mostly remained the same: Phlearn and Creative Live topping the list, but they are now joined by the likes of Fstoppers, Vibrant Shot and Julia Kuzmenko Mckim. The quality of education from any of these sources are always high.
How to Improve Your Photography – Practice
As any good teacher will tell you, education alone is not enough. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect.” Improving your photography is a slow process. Sadly, this is the step where many may falter and give up entirely. I promise you, despite what some may say, every photographer sucked at first. Don’t get disheartened by your bad photos. If others at your level seem to advance more quickly, use that to spur yourself on; not give up. There is no substitute for dedication.
Having found some educators and learned some new skills, go out and practice those skills. Keep doing this, over and over again. Some photographers use what’s called a 365 to improve their photography – taking one photo every day for a year. Personally, I would aim for one really good photo per week, rather than one mediocre photo per day. That doesn’t mean you should only use your camera once per week, but just put a lot more effort into one particular photo. Implement what you have learned and then devote more time to both the taking and editing of that photo.
3. How to Improve Your Photography – Constructive Critiques
This step is just as important as the first two and should not be overlooked. Find a good place to receive feedback on your efforts. If it’s online, give as much info as possible. Talk about what you struggled with and ask for harsh criticism. There’s no point beating around the bush, ask people to be brutally honest. Sure your confidence may take a little beating but your photography will thank you for it. Here at SLR Lounge, we have a whole section devoted to constructive critiques. Not only that, but you can win prizes for your photos. You can find it here.
One of the greatest skills you can learn to improve your photography is how to be your own critic. It will naturally come as you advance your skills, but something you can do immediately is this: find some photographers whose work you admire and would like to emulate. Now, be brutally honest and ask yourself “is my photo as good as theirs?” I fully expect the answer to be no.
Having decided that you pale in comparison, try to figure out why. What elements of their photos are better than yours? Guess what? You’ve just found out what the next thing you need to learn is. Now, start the whole process again. Keep doing it and you WILL become a very capable photographer.
3 Personal Qualities To Make Sure You’re Always Improving As a Photographer
First things first, stay humble. Confidence is a double-edged sword. It can be a motivator and a detractor. Differentiating the two areas is often difficult. With abundant confidence, you can feel superior and entitled. But, with confidence you can also feel content and satisfied. Keep the right balance for yourself and you will always feed your passion to create and produce better results.
When the confidence creeps into narcissism, it doesn’t do you any favors.
Stay positive with everything and everybody. Always keep an attitude of gratitude and be thankful for everything. That’s the baseline rule I keep to make sure I stay positive.
A fellow photographer friend once gave me this philosophy to follow that he had implemented from a book-turned-movie titled, “The Secret.” If you’re not familiar with it, the concept revolves around the idea of always looking at the glass half full as opposed to half empty. Even at times when the going is rough, you can control your mind to be positive, which in turn, will attract the positive you desire. I admit I don’t always apply the philosophy, but I attempt to live the lifestyle everyday. Since I’ve started doing so, some great things have entered my life that I could only dream of prior.
3. Share, Share Everything
I do my best to keep good company. They say, a man is judged by the company he keeps. I’m blessed to be surrounded by great people at the studio I work for, Lin & Jirsa. We’re family and everybody helps each other out. Besides a great network, something I’ve attempted to do is have three essential people in my life.
- A person who is more experienced than me. Someone who has tasted more success. Someone I can learn from.
- An equal, someone who is at the same point as I am in my development. Someone I can exchange ideas with.
- Someone less experienced than me. A person I can coach, motivate and keep myself energized.
All the great ones kept a variant of this system. Aristotle learned from Plato and Aristotle later taught a young boy who matured to be Alexander the Great. F. Scott Fitzgerald had his wife Zelda and mentored Ernst Hemmingway. Michael Jordan mentored Scottie Pippen and later found his own mentor in Phil Jackson.
Encourage your fellow photographers. Don’t hesitate to comment on other photo blogs. If you see a post you like, let ’em know. If you come across an image on Facebook that makes you pause and appreciate, don’t think twice to hit ‘like’. It doesn’t matter how well you know them, we’re all conscious of the measuring system Facebook has implemented into our lives. That ‘like’ merits positive implication. Several photographers I know wear their heart on their sleeve, that little comment or like goes a long way.
Another gesture that impacts us so greatly and is so simple to execute – compliment others. Not just in the social media world, but in real-life. To keep yourself thankful, exhibit your recognition for someone else’s great qualities. It could be the way they wore their hair, the way they put their outfit together, or just the company they provide for you. Remember, positive attracts positive.
Knowledge isn’t meant to be a secret. Create it, develop it, share it and you’ll reap the benefits.