7 Tips to Become a Better Photographer

1. Look at photos, lots of them – It’s important to study the work of other photographers, especially those you admire. I look through photos every week. When I find a photo that I like I try to understand what makes that image stand out to me. I ask myself what focal length they used, how did they build depth into the photo, what is it about the background that I like? I find in this process that I’m unconsciously logging away images. Then when I’m in some future scene my brain will draw on those resources to help me create a compelling image of my own.

2. Put in your 10,000 hours – In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he contends that to become an expert in any field you must first put in 10,000 hours of work. That means, make lots of photos and keep making them. If you have a naturally-given passion for photography this won’t be an issue. If you find yourself mentally calculating how you’ll ever to get to that many hours, you’ve missed the point.

3. Become a photo editor, of your own photos – You’ve seen it, the person who posts all 200 images they took on the lake yesterday without editing one of them. If you want to get better, edit your images down to the best 20, or better yet the best two, and post those. This process of editing will make you think through what makes a stand-out photograph and what doesn’t and your portfolio will become much stronger.

4. Go to exotic locations, travel – Sure, this is good one, but maybe not for the reason you’re thinking. While being immersed in a new culture will cause your vision to expand and you’ll snap away, the real benefit may just be when you return home. You thought that chai-wallah in India was utterly fascinating? What about that kitchen in your own neighborhood restaurant? When you get back home you may find it just as fascinating. You’ll be sure to see things in your backyard in a new light.

5. Speaking of light, pay attention to it, chase it – Photography really is all about light. Learn how light affects a scene, watch how light affects contrast, how the angle of light brings out hidden details. If you’re going to become a better photographer you’ve got to be intimately acquainted with light. Shoot with the light at your back, then turn around and shoot into it, shoot with the light coming in at an angle. Also, there’s nothing that can render a scene as unnatural as a poorly used flash. Whenever possible, use natural light.

6. Take a workshop, but please don’t become one of “those” people – It’s well worth taking a workshop at various stages of your photographic development. A workshop helps you get your work “out there” and get feedback. There’s something about putting your work on the big screen and feeling the response of the audience to it. You’ll learn from your instructor’s and peer’s critiques. You’ll have to learn to separate your sense of self from your photography itself, they’re different, and when you learn to accept constructive pointers you’ll grow quickly as a photographer. That is, unless you spend the next 20 years running from workshop to workshop and you become one of “those” people. Please, don’t do that to yourself. Become a photographer, not a workshop expert.

My next post will provide tips on choosing the right workshop for you.

7. Find a spot, and stick with it – Whenever I arrive on a new scene I try to give myself at least two evenings and two mornings with it. That way I can learn where the sun is rising over the mountains and where it sets, where the Milky Way might be strongest during the night, and what subjects will work in the foreground. When I don’t have that time I use my intuition to pick the best possible spot to photograph and stick with it. I’ve not done this numerous times, I must admit, so I consider this a note to myself. There’s no greater probability of not getting a shot then by moving locations. Sure enough, you’ll look back at the first place you were shooting and realize it was even better. In the rush to get back there again you’ll have missed opportunities at both locations. Find a spot, take a breath, and make the best images you can there. If you have another day then you can shoot from that other position.

What’s something you’ve learned in your photographic life that you’d like to share?

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13 thoughts on “7 Tips to Become a Better Photographer

  1. Well, I suppose that I’m more of an expert in spirituality, healing, and music than anything. That’s where I’ve spent the hours! Yet, I do know instinctively that too many photos of the same thing can create boredom, even if they are good. One shot can be more intriguing, unless it is some sort of study. I also love adventure and travel, so I’m covered there. That being said, I just bought a Nikon 5100. It has a DVD tutorial, but where is a good place to take a workshop? Also, how do you learn technique yet stay in the experience of the creative flow? I don’t want all the knowledge to get in the way of me having a joyful spontaneous experience. And what do you mean by separating your sense of self from your photography?

    • I like Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. If you want to get into more documentary video then the Mountain Workshops in Kentucky are good.

      I’ve never relied on technique as much as intuition. It’s good to learn what your camera will do and how to make it do what you need in a given situation. To me that’s where the 10,000 hours come in. You shoot enough and you figure out the technique intuitively. Yet we all have blind spots and areas to improve in and that’s where others with knowledge can look at your photos and point out to you where your technique can improve.

      That’s where separating yourself from your photography comes in. Some people really struggle with constructive feedback. They get so attached to their photos and feel that it’s an extension of their personhood. They feel that if someone criticizes their photos then they are criticizing their person. Its where you have to separate your ego and allow your photo to stand on its own merit and not let it reflect who you are as a person. If the photo is not that great, that doesn’t mean that you’re not, just that you could do a better job of photographing.

  2. thankyou for confirming that i am a photography buff wether i know it or not i already do half these things and i dont even have a decent camera atm (i broke my good one while travelling so have just been snapping away with my iphone at random things – check out my blog for a loook see) but i love these tips because they are so down to earth and realistic thanks again! rach

  3. Glad you mentioned the importance of light in photos. I’m noticing it more. Also saw an animated film recently called “The Illusionist”. There’s not much dialogue. All the effects are created with light and sound. Very interesting.

  4. i know next to nothing about photography but I do know I love people. no one has ever looked at my photography and said something about it.
    i would like to take amazing images but my intention when taking them gets in the way (also the poor cameras i have had). my intention though is to show my friends and students (i am a teacher, language teacher) that people are people no matter where in the world they come from.

    I have some photos that i like (they are scanned in from analogue prints). i would appreciate if you would take a look and just give me a pointer or two. here is the link

    http://rastaphoto.com/2011/12/08/egypt-cairo-8-years-before-revolution/

    thank you kindly in advance

    Also where do I start if i want to learn about photography. Do you know a good book or webpage. I don’t really have an interest in the technical part but i would like to improve my photography

    this is not to promote my blog so you don’t have to publish this.

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