1: Take More Photos
Have you seen that movie MoneyBall with Brad Pitt? Pitt plays the general manager of the Failing Oakland A’s looking to turn the team around into a winner. Jonah Hill the assistant general manager suggests not swinging to get a homerun every time but to simply just get on first base. The more batters at the plate who are able to get on first, they will advance the rest of the team home, scoring runs, winning them the game. This is the same strategy. There is no need to swing for the fences here. Simply by taking more photos you are increasing your chances of getting a keeper!
So bring your camera with you everywhere. Shoot everything. See what the world looks like at a high angle. See what the world looks like from a low angle. See what the world looks like when you get super close to your subject and completely fill the frame. See what the world looks like when you take 10 steps back and give context. Play with composition. Do you like how your photos look when you keep your subject directly in the center of every photo or do you like them better off to the right? The more photos you take, the more keepers you will get. Just be sure to be deliberate about the photos you are taking and not just squeezing the shutter button hoping for the best.
2: Learn What Your Gear Can Do
Your camera might not feel like it, but it’s an amazing piece of equipment when you know how to use it correctly. Entry level camera gear does have some limitations though. So go out and find those limits. Test all the autofocus modes and find which one works best for portraits, landscapes, moving subjects, everything. Only when you know what your camera can’t do, can you know what your camera CAN do. Then play to your cameras strengths. If you know your camera won’t focus on a subject when the sun is right behind them, you will know that before you take the photo you have to side step to get a better angle that you camera will be able to excel in. Gear will never make you a better photographer. It can only make your job easier.
3: Visit A State Park, Zoo, or on Vacation
When you put yourself in settings you are not familiar with your brain will be firing on all cylinders. You will have a heightened sense of awareness to things you may have not seen before. On top of that these places often offer scenery you are not use to seeing and let you capture unique photos while practicing with your camera becoming more confident and comfortable with your buttons and settings. If you’re on vacation try to take a day excursion. Photograph your kids building sandcastles, your dog catching a crab, that beautiful waterfall or field of sunflowers on the side of the road.
4: Educate Yourself
You have been bringing your camera with you everywhere you go, you have been snapping thousands of photos and you can see your photos are getting better but you feel like you have hit a wall. You have got as good as you can by just being self taught. You’re ready for the next step. Education. 10 years ago the only photography education was in person or in books. Today because of the internet we have soooo many more resources. From Youtube tutorials, Blog posts, and obviously Podcasts, there is no shortage of photography education on the internet. I personally love watching youtube tutorials. Seeing what is happening makes more sense to me than trying to imagine it. But podcasts offer something unique and different. Since Podcasts are audio and you can’t see images podcasts usually focus on the story or experiences of other photographers to help you grow. Because even though knowing your camera settings is essential, a photo is more than the sum of its settings.
5: Share Your Photos
I don’t mean just to post them on facebook or instagram. That’s important too, sure, but you want to share your photos in a way that you will get constructive criticism. No matter how good or bad your photos are your family will always give you a biased review because they love you. To grow it is important to get feedback from others. Preferably other photographers. They will have an eye for detail and composition and be able to give you actionable feedback. Sometimes all your photo needs to take it from eh to wow is a simple crop or white balance change. Join Meetup.com and meet other local photographers. Become apart of the community. As a bonus, they often have fun photography outings! If you are not ready to meet in person, join a facebook group or two. Really find one that is compassionate and understanding that every photographer is on a different path in their journey but we are all learning. That’s the exact community mindset I have built with the Beginner Photography Podcast Facebook group. A Safe place where no one is going to belittle you or tell you your photos are garbage and walk away. It is full of love and support no matter how much you know or don’t know about photography.
Now that you have been educating yourself from other podcasts, youtube videos, and various blogs, and you have been sharing your work with your in person or online community it’s time to break out of that cocoon and spread your wings creatively. This is where you start to experiment with new techniques or photo ideas. Just as shooting in new or foreign locations can open your mind to new ideas and processes, experimenting with your photography will do the same. Try shooting at night. Find the challenges and learn to overcome them. Just because there is no light does not mean you can’t create any. Learn to use your flash in the day time to overpower the sun or backlight your subject. Or remove light and learn to master the silhouette! Rent a new lens to see what it can do. If you have all zoom lenses, rent a prime lens (A lens that does not zoom. It’s only one focal length) Rent a really wide angle lens. Use a long exposure. Long exposures let in more light, so they are a must for night time. Shooting a long exposure during the day can completely transform the way you see the world. Try shooting a creek, beach shore, or clouds with a long exposure like 3-5 seconds and you could be amazed. Do something that you are not use to doing, to get a new perspective and keep those synapses firing!
7: Start Editing Your Photos
Recently in the Beginner Photography Podcast Facebook Group we had a discussion on editing. Some members thought that editing your photos is not true photography as you should be skilled enough to capture the image you want with just the camera. There is some merit to that. The better a photographer you are, the closer to perfect you can get a photo “in camera” (meaning without editing). But if we look back to the film days photos were still edited. You could change the look of a photo by changing how long the film is in the developer liquid for. This is a form of editing. But editing is not full manipulation. Often times I make simple edits to put my signature on my photos. I like my greens to look more forest-y than lime-y. I like a but of extra contrast. I like my photos slightly overexposed. These things are not completely altering the integrity of the photo but mixing mistakes or putting on a signature.
Once you have completed all of these steps you should be able to consistently take a good photo. Maybe not every photo will be good, hell I’ve been shooting for more than a decade now and still look at some of my photos and wonder what I was thinking. But I take a ton more keepers now that I did when I first started. Photography is a lifelong journey, not something you can master in a weekend or even a decade. I hope that by continuing to grow my skills as a photographer that this time next year I will be taking even more keepers than I am today, and that process will continue forever.