The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Photographers

I love photography, in case you haven’t gleaned that from visiting the blog yet.  It’s incredibly fun, educational, interesting and challenging - and I love having a creative outlet.  And when you find something that you love, the natural tendency is to want to improve yourself at it.  So that’s what this post is about.  I wrote this for me.  

I don’t mind if you read it - that’s why it’s public of course - but I wanted to get some thoughts out there on how to be more effective at what I am doing, in the hope of inspiring myself to continually grow and develop my craft.  If it helps you as well, that’s a bonus as far as I am concerned.  And if you have ideas or feedback, by all means please let me know.  I’m all ears.

So recently, I was sitting around and I started thinking about the photographers that I admire the most.  And to be clear, I don’t admire them all because they take great photographs.  Sure, that’s a part of it, but some I admire for other things, whether I enjoy their photos or not.  I also started looking at my Newsfeed on social media, which is totally full of photography and travel related news and posts.  That’s what I want it to be, since those are my primary interests.  To me, that’s the point of self-selecting things to “Like”.  

Anyways, in thinking about and looking through all of that, I started to imagine what these people are doing to achieve success and be effective at what they do and thus, I compiled this list.  To be clear, I did not ask anyone how to succeed or how to be effective.  I just thought about what makes sense, and wrote it down.  As I said above, it’s a reminder for me to focus on a few key things that I think are important.  And I am not sure this list makes sense for everyone, and it is certainly not comprehensive.

Your list might be totally different from mine.  My list might change next year, or next month, or next week.  I don’t really know where this is leading me, other than I am just collecting thoughts, sharing them, and asking for feedback.  I hope I grow as a photographer in the process.

So without any further delay, here are some thoughts on being effective as a photographer.  I’m not saying I am effective - far from it, much of the time - but I have my moments.  Like I said, I am writing this as advice for myself.  I want to get better, grow and mature, and evolve my “game”. it goes.

1) Learn

Step 1 in anything is to learn what you are doing.  What I mean here is that you really have to learn how to operate your gear and your software, and determine the means to achieving your vision.  I spent far too much time years ago just randomly taking shots without a lot of forethought.  I also didn’t fully understand everything my camera was capable of and under what conditions to employ different techniques.  

I have plenty of old images that thanks to both my lack of knowledge and the wonders of software, they look like complete shit.  That really means I didn’t know enough about how to take the brackets properly in the first place (I shoot mostly HDR), and then when I got them on the computer and starting messing around, I didn’t know what I was doing then either.  It was all uneducated guesswork and the results prove it.  It is what it is, and I am not afraid to admit it. We all have duds. Some of us just spent a lot of time on them and still ended up with crap! :-) 

I have since completely overhauled just about every step in the process from those early years (you can read about my mostly-current process in this post) and now things flow much more smoothly and hopefully for you, my readers, my photos are better.  I think they are.  I hope they are.

Am I done learning?  Heck no!  I will always be learning about this or that. While I may have a good grasp of some key things that I use to create my images, saying I have a grasp of everything would be an incredibly huge lie.  I firmly believe we all continue to learn, and should we ever stop learning, we don’t just stagnate, we actually regress.

2) Practice

How do we continue to learn?  Practice, practice, practice.  Everyone has their preferred method of learning things, but mine is by doing something.  I can read stuff and watch tutorials all day long, but until I actually go and do it myself, I don’t understand it.  I am a terrible audible learner.  Listening to something drives me nuts.  I can’t understand anything until I do it with my own two hands.

That’s when I find myself on the road to understanding...and that’s a road I plan to spend my entire life on.  You’re just never done.  This is a lifelong adventure.

I really need to do more of this. There are so many things that I think about but don’t find the time to practice.  I want to change that and make it a priority for myself.  I can do more, and do some different things too.

3) Experiment

And that leads me to this point.  Experimentation is the key driver of success in many ways.  Nobody starts out immediately awesome at this.  At least I don’t think so.  You still have to learn a lot, even if you have a knack for part of this artistic, creative process we all go through.

I find that when I experiment with something new, one of two things happens: either I grow in some way and develop my skills, or at the very least I remove something from the list of possibilities.  And guess what?  Both are good.

So this is a reminder to myself that when I am out shooting, I shouldn’t forget to try something different or new, even if it seems odd....and when I am processing a photo, I shouldn’t hesitate to try a new filter or something like that.  You never know what you might come up with.  One of my favorite filters in Color Efex Pro is Skylight.  I use it all the time, but only started using it about 6 months ago.  I was messing around and had never really used it.  I tried it out and now I love it.  It’s an important part of some images for me, and I got there due to experimentation.

So throw caution to the wind and do something unexpected.  You might come up with a new trick, a unique take on something, or even an entirely new way of doing things.

4) Adapt

They say that change is the only constant, and I certainly believe it.  I’ve only been “serious” (whatever that means) about my photography for a few years, and in that time it seems so much has changed.  I can’t imagine what folks who once shot exclusively on film for decades have gone through, considering how ubiquitous digital cameras are now.  Layer on top of that all the gear changes and advancements (more features, greater megapixels, and now mirrorless options), the software developments and enhancements, and even the advent of iPhoneography and you have a potential recipe for overload.

But wait, there’s more.  I really have no idea how people sold their photos in the “old days” since I never did it, but nowadays there is so much content available online, and so many places online to interact.  Social media has certainly changed the game and some have built entire businesses around it.  Yet it continues to morph with new sites, more options, and frankly, greater distractions for all of us.  It’s overwhelming when you think about it like that (at least to me).  

But I prefer to think of it this way: it’s really exciting.  I can’t possibly keep up with everything - and it is a bit overwhelming to me, personally - but despite all that I find it incredibly interesting.  

And I think that those who succeed and are effective are, in my opinion, easily able to adapt and accept the changes, and go with the flow.  They don’t seem to cling to antiquated ways of doing things, and are willing to embrace the new.  They seem to shrug and get on with it.  That’s admirable to me.

5) Travel

Travel is something that is important to me, for a lot of reasons, and I personally believe that it actually makes you a better photographer too. In fact, I wrote about that here a while ago.  Now to clarify, I don’t necessarily think that means you have to get on a plane and fly halfway around the world.  While that sounds great, it is expensive, tiring, and time-consuming (but for the record, it’s really fun!).

What I am really talking about is changing up your approach by visiting places you have never been to before (at least with a camera).  I believe this is something you can do in your hometown or in short day trips or weekend trips close to home.

Do we all want to fly to New Zealand and go crazy with all the amazingly beautiful landscapes there? Ummm....YEAH!  But, it’s not reasonable or affordable for a lot of us, and let’s face it - it’s not exactly a quick and easy flight, either.

But driving to a part of town you haven’t explored yet?  Hitting up some of the small towns within an hour of your home?  Taking a weekend trip to a city that is a 2-3 hour drive away?  I believe that is easier and certainly much more affordable for all of us, and something we can likely pull off now and then.

I think it’s important to surround yourself with new “stuff” because I feel like it forces you to think differently and really engage with your surroundings.  How many times have you been to your favorite spot in your hometown, and then you shoot the sunset there just like you did last time?  And yes the light is different so the end result is different, but you really didn’t learn or grow, did you?  

I do that all the time.  I have my favorite spots in Austin, but I keep looking for new ones, because they are close and it’s a substitute for “real” travel.  And I believe it forces me to think and grow as a photographer.  That’s why travel - even if it’s just across town - is good for you.  You can’t just go into auto-pilot.  You have to immerse yourself in the situation and figure things out.

6) Engage

As I mentioned above, so much of photography (at least the part of it that I am into and aware of) happens online these days.  And as such, it is more of a two-way street in terms of communication.  What I mean is that if you see a photo hanging in an art shop, it’s very unlikely that the photographer is there, or that you could speak to them.

But in this online world, they are “right there”.  And yes I know a virtual conversation is not the same as a real one, but it’s a start, and there is an openness to being an online photographer that I find interesting.

At times I will send a private message to a photographer, and I always get an answer.  That’s cool, and I respect that.  Obviously there is a downside for them, in that they probably get a LOT of these messages and that can be hard to manage.  But that’s the upside for us regular folks - we have a direct line to people and, used sparingly, it can be really helpful.

My favorite photographers are all very active online, and all seem willing to share their feedback on their images, and to interact when asked questions, etc.  It lends a bit of “humanity” to them, if you will, and makes me respect them and admire them even more.

And it’s important for them to engage with their followers.  It makes a big difference, in my opinion.  I love seeing “conversations” happen over a status update.  It’s cool, and even though I may not be involved, it’s great to be able to “listen in”.  

I try hard in this category, though it isn’t easy.  When I get questions and comments on Facebook and Google+, I try and respond to them all, though I admit I am sure some get missed.  Outside of those two sites, I do a pretty terrible job, but only because I just don’t have enough free time to do that, and I can’t possibly spend all my time on social media, or I would never get anything done for myself.  You can read about that here.

7) Share

The word “share”, thanks to Facebook, takes on a whole new meaning than it used to.  In this article, I am not talking about “sharing a post” or anything like that.  Here I am talking about when photographers share their knowledge.  The well-known folks are generally well-known for a reason, and when they share some background, tips, or just general information about a shot, I love it.  I think that’s really cool of them to give us a peek into their thought process, or their processing, or whatever.  That goes back to this whole online thing - it’s easy to do so nowadays, and I wish more of them would do it.

I do an ok job with this, though I don’t believe I have any killer tips or secrets that aren’t already in use by many others.  Nonetheless, I like to share what I have started calling “behind the keyboard” screenshots from when I am processing shots, specifically “Before and After” screenshots from Color Efex Pro.  You can find them here.

Whenever I share these on my Facebook page, generally I get positive feedback from people.  They seem to genuinely be interested in how I got the image done, and I am glad to share it and answer questions, even if it’s not something ground-breaking.  You never know what level someone is at with their own photography, and what might seem mundane to some of us might be a revelation for the next person.

I would like to share more about my processing as well as more tutorial and “how-to” sort of content.  There are probably some other things too that I could share.  This is definitely an area I can improve in quite a bit, and I want to improve here.

Well, that’s it.  These are 7 habits of highly effective photographers.  What do you think?  What did I miss?

I appreciate you stopping by, and thanks in advance for your feedback!