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?