Improvement of photography skills can happen naturally over time. As you take more photos, read more about photography, attend more exhibitions, beneficial experiences accumulate. If you are reading this article, I believe you desire more than that. You are determined and driven to improve your photography skills so your pursuit in photography reaches a new level within a short period of time. Without further ado, let me show you how.
Much like everything else in your life it is always a good idea to figure out where you want to go with your photography hobby. Most people start taking photo casually after buying the first camera. After the initial excitement and hype (a few hundred to a few thousand clicks), everyone finally reaches a point where, as the honeymoon period comes to an end, the hype fades and you are more rational about your interest in photography. Where you want to go determines how much you will invest further. The very first step to be successful in achieving your photography goal is to define what that goal is. Not everyone wants to become a pro. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with just taking a few snapshots when you are on holiday. With the rise of social media, more and more people are seeking a sense of recognition on social platforms like Flickr or Instagram. Wouldn’t it be nice if you become a guru and have tens of thousands of followers?
Right now, set your self a very realistic goal: maybe you wish to have 10,000 followers, or maybe you want to be the top-ranked photographer or one of the platforms. Or is it to own a photography website like 35mmlens.com? Define the end result, be very specific. It’s only when you are very specific, you can go on to the next step which is to work out a plan to achieve this goal.
Here are a few tips I have for you. firstly try to analyse which component of your photography goal is actually about photography, whereas other components may include socializing, marketing, spending time with associates and attending photography hobby group activities and exhibitions. These are all elements that will help people know about your work and recognise it. Secondly, if you can, divide your goal into small chunks. define your goal in the next 3 months, in the next 6 months and one year from now. This approach will help you keep yourself on track and review your progress at each checkpoint. A third tip is that your goal today is most likely not your goal 3 years from now, so don’t lose sleep over it. You can always go back and revise it (more discussion on this topic below).
Do What You Hate
The best advice I can give you if you want to achieve any sort of success in photography is to do why you hate. if you are fond of analysing new technology, new camera bodies and new lenses, spend more time learning photography techniques and theory. If you are fond of reading about photography either online or in books, actually go out and take more photos. It’s amazing how many photographers ( including self-claimed photographers) spend much more time online than actually going out and taking photos. Doing what you hate also means spending time on things not entirely photography related. This may be marketing yourself, maintaining activity on a certain social media platform, networking with peer photographers and attending photography events. It is usually the case that to achieve your goal you need to work simultaneously in becoming SKILLED and becoming KNOWN. Being able to have the discipline to do what you hate and actually spending your time and resource on it is your secret weapon in achieving more success than you would ever imagine.
Build a Routine
A hobby is something you enjoying doing but do not seek financial rewards from. You certainly do not approach it the same way you approach your job. But let me tell you one thing: to improve your photography FAST, you need to build a routine. A routine helps you maintain the rhythm, it sets you on ‘auto pilot’ so that you go back and hone in the skills which eventually are going to lead you to the goal you set.
Let me give you an example, I was setting a goal for myself to take a very nice picture of the Sydney Harbour. To achieve that goal I started a routine to take photos of the Sydney Harbour from different vantage points every Friday afternoon after work. Over 2 months last summer, every Friday afternoon I would go to a different spot around Sydney Harbour looking out to the harbour bridge and the Opera House, and wait for the momentary change of light from the golden hour to the blue hour. Out of the 12 to 13 occasions, there were times when it became cloudy and I didn’t get any photo out of an evening. There was even an occasion it uddenly started to rain and I was caught in the rain with my gear. Finally I had over 10 photos which I believe are much better than what I can see on the internet. I had the luxury to pick one out of the ten to represent the city I have lived in for the past 20 years. In this case, building a routine definitely helped me to achieve this small goal.
I can’t emphasize the importance of this word enough. To simplify means declutter.Taking away what’s not important or necessary, and make room for new things that make a difference. Simplify your life, so you can make time to build your routine and actually invest your time and energy into photography skills. Simplify your gear, so you only keep the very best. Remember you are not a photography equipment collector (I confess I have to repeatedly remind myself of this), you use cameras and lenses to achieve the ultimate goal which is express yourself with photography. Simplify your photography bag, so it is not too heavy. You are able to carry it and cover longer distances to places you haven’t been before.
Avoiding trying too hard to be creative
If there is one thing I learned from my childhood experience, it’s this: Anything that requires talent and creativity often starts from an extremely mundane and boring place. if you have learnt any kind of musical instrument, you know you had to spend months just trying to have the correct hand position before you even make a sound with the instrument. If you have been drawing, you know all the fancy texters and oil painting equipment in the art and craft shops are not something you will ever use in your first few years of learning. In the meantime, you are sketching lines and drawing geometric shapes under a desk lamp. If you really want to be a good photographer, build a solid foundation for yourself by taking systemic education in photography skills. Sign up to a reputable photography lesson so that your learning does not have any gap in it. Avoid the ‘off the shelf’ creative functions available in most of modern DSLRs. Most of them are just terrible to be brutally honest. HDR for example, can look extremely horrible if you don’t know the basic aesthetic theory of photography. Random post-processing technique you picked up online can destroy an otherwise presentable photo. (I think you know how I realised this.) Being creative in photography is just like being creative in any other art forms. It is very very difficult and you should never underestimate the theoretical and technical foundation one needs to have before he is able to create anything that is materially different to everything that has been done before. Don’t fall into a cliche, it is obvious yet you may not have thought about this: if a function is already built into a camera body, it is not creative anymore.
Work your Butt-off
There will be ups and downs in your photography journey, but don’t ever let yourself get beat as a result of lack of effort. That I would say is the #1 contributor to failure I have seen. The ability to sustaining a consistent level of effort over time will have a profound and very positive impact on your success.
Effort alone will take you wherever you want to go within the non-commercial photography world. So roll up your sleeves, stick to your routine and make it a habit.
It is not uncommon initially to spend a lot of time and energy in taking photos when you have the passion and maybe a bit of hype. It is good to be passionate as an artist, but it’s much more important to continue working hard even at times you feel a little worn out. Do yourself a favour, make sure you achieve your goal by making sure you don’t pause or stop until you are there.
Measuring your progress
From a young age, many people learned that goals and reality are not the same. I mean, which boy didn’t want to be a super sportsman, a Rockstar or an astronaut? I even wanted to be Spider-Man himself. Hopefully, you have followed my advice to set up incremental girls determined by the different length of time. Now you can use those incremental goals to your advantage. When you reach each time period you set for these incremental goals, sit down and have a very honest conversation with yourself. The question I would ask myself is how hard I have tried and what results I have received. I try to be quantitative so I can be objective as possible. For example, I count the number of days, the shutter counts, the number of presentable photos. if the answer is that I have not put into enough effort, it gives me an opportunity to review my routine and work a little harder than I have been.If I have given my 100% but still didn’t receive good results, I will ask myself if it’s worth pursuing that goal. Do not be afraid to adjust your goal. After all, it is better to achieve an adjusted goal than to not achieve an unrealistic goal.
It goes without saying that to improve photography skills you need to work harder and smarter. For the vast majority of people out there, my advice is to either pick up a good photography book or sign up to a good online photography course. This will ensure that your improvement in photography is measurable and your skill is systemic. At the same time, review your process so you are able to see which part of the photography you are most interested in improving further. When you have achieved this, don’t hesitate, it is time to set your next photography goal and keep going. See you at the summit!
Having experiences you wish to share with fellow photographers? Leave comments below and I’ll include your comments in future editions.
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