How can I get better at photography in the new year?
Whether you are a hobbyist or “serious” photographer, you are probably always thinking about how you can up your game. I know that I am. I am always thinking about photography, and post-processing, and composition, and all that good stuff we spend our time thinking about (ok, maybe obsessing over).
If you want to improve at something, you have to put in the time. Obviously the trick as an adult is to find the time, but assuming you find some, how do you spend it? I have been out many times and gone into auto-pilot, just doing what I do and taking pictures. It’s easy to do that. We’re just doing what comes naturally. We finally have a chance to get out and shoot, and so we just start shooting without giving it a lot of thought. We're excited.
But as a new year approaches, I am thinking about how to be more efficient with my time, and how to get the most productive growth out of it. Let’s face it - most of us have day jobs and other responsibilities, and they all take up a good chunk of time. So I plan to get hyper-efficient and learn as much as possible in the time that I have.
So how am I going to do that? What am I going to do in 2015?
Here’s the list. I just started compiling this list as a reference for myself, but then thought that maybe it could help someone out there. And that’s what this site is about, in some ways, so here’s my list. I hope it works for you! Let me know if you have any questions!
1) Stop being hyper, dammit!
I am extremely guilty of getting somewhere and then immediately starting to fire off shots. Instead, I plan to slow down a bit, think about what I want to shoot and how I want to shoot it, and then proceed. It’s better to get one or a couple of shots right, then to take a bunch that are just hurried and with no forethought.
2) Frame it. No, not on the wall.
This dovetails perfectly with #1. After I slow down, I will focus on the composition of my shots. I often fire away indiscriminately, only to get home and review the shots and find that many of these are not so great. You can’t fix that later. :-)
3) Read it then live it.
Whether it’s photo blogs, magazines, ebooks, or actual books, I will devote some time to learning more about this craft. If you ever stop learning, you’re stagnant. Photography is literally a lifetime thing - why not learn as much as I can now so I can benefit from that knowledge for longer? Start today. Time isn’t waiting around for me!
4) Is that a camera in your pocket?
Regardless of your brand choice for a phone, you probably have one, and it probably has a pretty decent camera and photo editing apps on it. And I bet you NEVER leave home without it. So use it, and use it a lot. When I travel, I come home with loads of iPhone shots. Sometimes I don’t take my “real camera” on a trip because I know I won’t have time to shoot. So I just use the iPhone, and it’s great! It still counts as photography, and it’s still a great way to work on my skills. When I have both, I find that although I may be shooting the same things with my iPhone that I shoot with my Olympus, I am shooting them differently. That’s good too.
5) Share, engage, be social.
I am somewhat active on social media, and though I don’t plan to spend a lot more time there in 2015 (I can't spend too much time there or I would never get anything posted here!), I do plan to continue to share my photos and engage in the awesome online community of photographers that we are all a part of. I learn a lot just reading things that people share. Just don’t get trapped watching cat videos. :-)
6) Tell me what you're thinking.
I do a terrible job soliciting feedback from others, but I think it’s important. While someone's opinion of my work isn’t what I want to base my definition of success on, there are those whose opinions I trust and I intend to do a better job getting feedback from some of my peers this year. Everyone has their own perspective, and it's good to hear them.
7) Go somewhere. Go anywhere. Just go.
I’m a big fan of getting out in the world and taking the camera along, but that’s probably pretty obvious. But even if you are limited in funds or time, you can still travel across town or to the next town, and get a change of scenery. I think it forces you to think differently, because you are in a new place. It opens up creative channels in your brain. Get out there and see new things. It’s great for your mind, your body, and your photography.
8) Shoot the small stuff too.
I’ve been doing this more and more. I used to only try and get the big shots whenever I went somewhere, and while I still get the big ones, I make an equal effort to get the small, overlooked shots too. And guess what? Taking the “in between” shots is a great way to get in more practice and up your skills. Why not grab some while you are walking from one big shot to the next? You might even capture some that make a real difference to you. Besides, everyone has already seen a photo of “the big one” in whichever place you are shooting. Why not take a photo that everyone else overlooks?
9) Volume, up.
There’s an old quote that your first 10,000 photos are your worst, and I completely agree with it. My opinion is that you should take a lot of photos, but keep in mind points #1 and #2 above when doing so. They are not all going to be winners, and never will be. But you up your chances of getting keepers if you have trained yourself on how to do things the way you want to do them, and that comes from a lot of practice. So take a lot of shots. I bet you will find that you start to get more and more photos that you think are worth keeping.
10) Do some research.
Before you go somewhere, spend a little time researching the town for all the best spots to shoot there (I have a bunch of lists on the blog here for cities I have spent time in). There’s nothing better than getting somewhere and having a plan, even if it’s a loose plan. But research other things too: read your camera manual. Read reviews of the gear you own because you are very likely going to learn something. Read reviews of the software you use, even stuff you use all the time. You will certainly learn some new things.
11) Spin those dials.
I did this a lot on my recent trip to France, and I learned a lot about my camera as well as my style of shooting (which is changing). On my old Nikon, I shot at f/13 almost all the time, and it was nearly always a 7 exposure HDR done on a tripod. But on this trip to France a couple of weeks ago, I was shooting 3 exposure brackets handheld at f/2.8 with my Olympus, and I got some great results. I’m still learning and plan to keep doing so. It feels great, and I am getting different but still satisfying images.
12) Find new ways to push those pixels around.
I have been using several different software packages over the years, but one in particular was the one I used the most. I am trying to move away from my dependence on that one (though it’s still quite good) in the interest of broadening my skills in post-processing. So mix things up. Try something different. I’ve been enjoying Topaz Impression a lot lately, which allows me to convert my shots to paintings. It’s fun, and I am continuing to learn and push myself creatively. I also purchased the OnOne Software Suite, and have been getting started with that one, mostly Perfect Effects. It’s causing my brain to expand because I am learning something new. You just can’t go into Auto-Pilot when you are learning something new, and that’s good.
13) Quit photography (but not for long).
Sometimes it’s best just to take a break. Walk away for a bit. Take a day off, or a week. While it’s important to continually invest in your knowledge and skills, it’s equally important to be in the right frame of mind - and let’s face it, some times we don’t feel creative. That’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Take a break, recharge, and come back hungry. There’s growth in the breaks too.
14) No one will die if you screw up.
I once had a customer, upon learning that her print shipment was being delayed, say to me “That’s ok, there are no art emergencies”. I love that quote, and keep it in mind a lot. It’s very true. This is a life passion, not a mission-critical business (at least for me - I realize some folks depend upon photography as a line of work). Lives don't depend on my getting something right. I doctor images, but I'm no doctor. So whenever I get stressed about this or that, I remember that quote and it helps put it all in perspective.
15) Enjoy the hell out of this stuff.
It really all comes down to this for me. Am I having fun? Am I enjoying what I am doing with my photography? If the answer is yes, then I keep going. Whenever I don’t feel like it’s fun, that’s when I take a break. Recharge. Reset my expectations. Then when I come back with the right attitude, everything is great again. And since this is how I spend my free time, I absolutely want to make sure that I am enjoying it. Otherwise, what’s the point?