I’ve been on a mission to improve my photography over the last decade. I’ve tried all sorts of things to help me along. For example, I’ve conquered multiple 365 projects and tackled 52 week projects as well. It’s safe to say, I’ve done a lot of shooting in the past 10 years. It’s been a long road, but one I’ve enjoyed traveling so far. Plus, I like to think my technical and artistic skills have developed.
Six Essential Photography Tips
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way….
1. Be Prepared!
How are you going to take better photos if your camera is at home? The simple answer is to always have a camera with you!Click to tweet
As a DSLR shooter I’m only too aware of occasions when my camera kit feels too big and bulky. That doesn’t stop me carrying a camera though. My personal solution is to shoot with a much smaller mirrorless camera when I need to travel light. Sometimes I’ll leave the house with just that and a single small prime lens (more about them later).
This combination is tiny enough to pop in my work bag, or sling it over my shoulder, and it means I’m always prepared for that unexpected photographic opportunity. Remember, too, that most of us have mobile phones with integrated cameras these days, so you can always use that if you need to travel ultra-light!
If you don’t have a camera with you it’s impossible to take photos–to quote Chase Jarvis:
2. Practice, Practice, Practice….
How often do you use your camera? Is it something you bring out for holidays and special occasions and hope that the results will be fabulous?
When I’m not taking photos I am a musician; performing, teaching and conducting for a living. One of the things you quickly learn when you take up a musical instrument is the need to practice. Preferably every day, in order to develop your musical and technical skills.
When I started to get into photography seriously, I applied this same logic. Soon after I started my Photoblog I decided to shoot and post at least one photograph every day for a year in order to improve my skills. Almost eight years on I’m still shooting daily. I’ve seen a huge improvement in my photos.
So what happens when you use your camera every day? Well, the language of photography becomes more familiar. The relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is second nature to me now.
In addition to that, you develop a strong muscle memory for where the controls are on your camera. This makes it much easier to respond in fast moving situations and find the right settings quickly. Just as importantly, it frees up your brain to think about what will make the most satisfying images–the really creative part.
Why not challenge yourself to shoot more regularly? If a 365 photo project seems overwhelming, perhaps aim to share your best photo here on Photoblog every week to start with. Try checking out our weekly theme for inspiration.
3. Don’t Dismiss The Familiar
Do you feel most inspired when visiting new places? I guess that’s natural. I love travelling and finding new things to photograph too. However, don’t dismiss places that are familiar to you.
Photography doesn’t have to require expensive trips abroad. There’s always something interesting to photograph, even in places you know inside out. I lived in the one place for all of my life until three years ago, but if I looked hard enough, I could always find something to photograph there. There is beauty and interest to be found in the most mundane settings.
Go for a walk around your home town with your camera, and shoot five scenes you’ve never photographed before. Spend time finding a new angle on something very familiar.
4. Seek Inspiration From Others
Learning about photography doesn’t just happen by taking pictures–practice can take other forms too. I spend a lot of time on the road, or travelling on trains, and use that otherwise dead time to learn about photography. I listen to lots of podcasts and spend time reading about the subject. You can see a list of my favorite podcasts here.
There are also vast numbers of tutorials about photographic techniques available online; but try to avoid getting sidetracked into spending all your time online drooling over new gear!
Another great way to inspire yourself is to look at the work of other photographers. However, don’t just look aimlessly at photos for a few seconds then move on. Instead, find a photo online or in a book and look at it critically. Is it an image you love or hate? Ask yourself why it makes you react in that way? Is there something about the composition that’s special? Perhaps it follows the ‘rule of thirds’ and you like the sense of balance. Or, perhaps it’s that it completely flouts that and has a unique quirkiness about it.
If an image doesn’t work for you, can you articulate why that is?
I often find myself watching TV programmes and films in a different way now. As well as following the storyline, I’ll notice how the director of photography has framed a shot or the way they’ve perhaps used a shallow depth of field to lead my eye to the main character in the scene. Think about this next time you watch a drama or documentary on TV–you may be surprised what you notice!
5. Limit Yourself
It’s very tempting to take all your gear when you go out shooting, so you feel prepared for anything. While this might mean you have the appropriate lens to shoot any eventuality there’s also a good chance it’ll just wear you down and you’ll soon begrudge carrying so much heavy gear around. When I bought my mirrorless camera a couple of years ago I made the decision to buy just three tiny prime lenses, rather than zooms, and I’ve never regretted this.
One big advantage of prime lenses is how much lighter they make my kit. The heaviest prime lens I own for this camera weighs just 200g! That’s a huge contrast to the 24-70mm lens I have for my DSLR which comes in at nearly a kilo! If you shoot with a DSLR, even a simple 50mm prime lens will make your kit feel lighter and more portable. You’ll shoot for longer and come home at the end of the day without an aching back too.
So is it just about the weight? Of course not! If you shoot with a zoom lens there is a temptation to stand on one spot, zooming in and out until you find a composition that works. With a prime lens you have to use nature’s own zoom–that’s your feet. This makes you look more actively for that magical composition.
Yes, there will be some shots you miss because the subject is either too close or too far away, but it’ll make you think more creatively about the way you frame your photos. I’ll often spend an entire day shooting at 50mm and I love the way it makes me think more creatively.
The other benefit of a prime lens is that they usually have a much larger maximum aperture than zoom lenses, say f1.8 instead of perhaps f4. This allows you to have fun with selective focus, using a large aperture (small f number) to keep your subject in focus and throw the everything else into a pleasing blur.
Why not challenge yourself to shoot with a restriction? This could mean spending a whole day at one focal length, using either a prime lens or a zoom set to one focal length. Don’t forget, if you’re shooting with your phone you’re almost certainly shooting with a prime lens! Alternatively, pick one aperture and take a collection of photos with that setting.
Another option could be to set yourself a theme to shoot for. I recently took a stroll around our village and challenged myself to photograph triangles. In a rural setting this was tricky, but it made me think more creatively and look at my surroundings in a different way.
6. Try Something New
If you shoot regularly it’s easy to get into a rut, shooting the same old subjects in the same old way. While this may feel comfortable it won’t necessarily improve your photography.
Consider what you find difficult or what takes you out of your comfort zone. I’m not a natural people photographer. I much prefer architecture or wildlife, which doesn’t answer back! However, I do force myself to photograph people sometimes.
I like to practice my street photography skills, using a short lens to force me to get closer to my subject. I have even done a little portrait photography from time to time and sometimes surprise myself when the results come out well! Why not pick a genre of photography that’s less familiar to you and go out with the intention of taking five photos you can share here on Photoblog?
There are also lots of creative things you can do, such as finding techniques you’ve not used before. This could be shooting a long exposure of water, photographing in monochrome (most cameras have a black and white mode these days), trying some action photography at the local sports ground or creating an unusual still life image from everyday objects you find around the house.
Of course, you can also participate in the weekly theme here on Photoblog. Every Monday, Tiffany sets a new theme to shoot for and participants are encouraged to post the results on their blog. I find it really helpful having a theme as it gives my photography a focus. Sometimes I’ll find a photo in the course of my daily shooting but, more often than not, I’ll end up seeking out somewhere or something to photograph specially for it.
Enjoy The Journey
So there you have it! Six ways to inspire yourself and improve your photographic skills. I’m still working to improve my photography. It’s a life long journey but one that can be so rewarding and, most of all, fun!
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