As a photographer, there are two questions I get asked more than anything else. ‘How do I become a professional photographer?’, and ‘how do I become a better photographer?’. I still don’t feel like I am a good person to answer the former, however, I have some experience with the latter. That experience is what I would like to share with you today.
If you are reading this post then you have already taken the first step towards becoming a better photographer. Being interested in photography is the first step. Maybe this sounds obvious, but please bare with me… It isn’t always. If you want to improve your photography then you have to be critical of your photos. What works and what doesn’t? Even more importantly, why?
Being able to take a photo that you are proud of is an amazing feeling. You can stand back, look at an amazing piece of art that you created, and be happy. After you have spent some time enjoying your work though, spend some time being critical. What would you change if you could take the photo again? What don’t you like, and what do you like?
This is one of my favourite shots I have ever taken. However I wish I had of taken an HDR image to remove the over-exposed highlights.
If you are content with your photos you will never really, truly, get better. Practice is great, and it does help you improve. However, practice without aim, and without the intention of getting better (really it isn’t practice if you aren’t trying to improve) is either very inefficient or just straight up ineffective. Becoming a better photographer is time-consuming and requires a lot of learning.
Thankfully, since we live in such a connected world, learning isn’t as hard as it once was. There are so many free (and cheap) resources out there that will help you take the photos you dream of. Or the photos you see on Instagram. Books and Youtube are the two best resources that I can recommend for learning photography. There are many amazing channels that provide free information about everything regarding photos. Really, the internet is wonderful.
If you don’t mind spending some money though (although not much!), there are also a few great photography books I would recommend. These books personally helped me A LOT, and I honestly can’t recommend them enough.
Stunning Digital Photography – If you can only get one book, let it be this one. SDP (Stunning Digital Photography) it an amazing resource that covers both the basics and more advanced photography for EVERY style of photography. Not only that, but it comes with video, and access to their Facebook group! This book will definitely help you in becoming a better photographer!
The Beginner’s Photography Guide, 2nd Edition – If you are a beginner then this book is also amazing. It will help you get off the ground and learn the basics of photography.
Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs – A beautifully presented and very helpful resource for anyone serious about taking photos. This book and SDP have both helped me greatly in becoming a better photographer.
Tony Northrup’s Photography Buying Guide – A fantastic guide covering the gear side of photography. This isn’t essential, but if you are looking to upgrade it is invaluable.
Tony and Chelsea Northrup – As you can probably tell by my book recommendations above, I highly recommend these two. They make amazing and informative videos about anything and everything related to photography.
Sean Tucker – Quite possibly my favourite Youtube photography channel. Sean doesn’t just cover the photography, but also shares his stories and background. He makes inspiring and interesting videos that are unique and fun.
SLR Lounge – This channel is far more general and broad in scope, but it still has many useful tutorials. Definitely one to check out on your way to becoming a better photographer.
Thomas Heaton – Possibly the best channel out there for landscape photographers. Thomas also covers some other topics and his channel is well worth looking into.
This is one of my favourite portrait photos ever. But it isn’t quite perfect. Given the opportunity again, I would wait for there to be no people in the background.
The biggest jump start that I received in photography, however, was gear related. ‘But Ethan, photography isn’t about the gear’ I can already hear you saying. And yes, you are right. It isn’t about the gear. However, there is one important aspect that gear helped me with.
There is a certain mindset when taking a photo on a phone (or even a point-and-shoot camera). Pull your phone out, snap the picture, and walk off to the next attraction. The nature of the world we live in is that of a constant rush. Usually, we don’t even think about taking the photo, we just do it. Even more, 90% of the photos we take we will probably hardly ever (or never) look back on. This is where gear comes in.
Any type of camera with advanced controls (manual mode), or limited pictures (Polaroid) forces you to slow down. Instead of being in a total rush to take each photo, you now have to think about what each shot shows, and why it is meaningful. On a camera with manual mode, you have to consider the camera settings, and why you are picking those camera settings. On a Polaroid, you don’t want to waste your precious film and money.
So while gear doesn’t increase the quality of your photos directly, I believe it gives you a specific mindset. It encourages patience and consideration of each shot. This is the first step in taking beautiful photos.
When purchasing this gear however, please note that you don’t need to spend tons of money. Becoming a better photographer is about you, not the camera. The first camera just has to be something with manual controls – something which many cameras these days have. If you are on a budget then you could consider a second hand budget camera such as this, or if you want a newer camera you can check out models such as this.
Once you have slowed down and put thought into your images, it is time to review them. Whether you do this on a computer, or within the camera itself, this is the most important step. Remember to be critical of your images. What don’t you like? Even if you love the image, what is something you want to improve next time?
This is key because this is where you can learn for next time. If there is a specific aspect of the photo that you wish to improve, check it out on Youtube or in a book! I try to watch one informative photography video every day, and I feel like this helps me learn and inspires me to consistently try new things. Even if you consider a photographer worse than yourself, you should always listen. Because everyone can teach you something.
For example, if I take a photo and I don’t like the models pose, then I will search on Youtube ‘how to pose a model’. I am specifically targeting an area I want to improve on in that particular image, and this information will be invaluable to me in becoming a better photographer. Further, I usually go through phases. For one or two months I will usually be interested in a specific type of photography, let’s say city-scapes. In that time I will do as much research and try to improve as much as I possibly can in that area. This means watching a video or two every day, reading about the topic, and practicing. If you are dedicated and motivated to learn then nothing can stop you.
I’ve definitely been in a city-scape mood recently!
This is something which I find is often overlooked, and often a second thought. Collaboration is one of the fastest and best ways to becoming a better photographer. As I said above, everyone has something to teach you, and that is why this step is so beneficial.
Collaboration can mean a variety of things – physically meeting other photographers, talking to others, following them on social media to see their photos, or really any kind of interaction. This will not only help you improve your photography but if you use social media it will also help you to grow. Try to find other photographers in your area or niche, and make contact with them. Some people won’t reply, or won’t be interested and that’s okay. All we need are a few like-minded people who are interested in sharing some knowledge (and they may not even know they are doing so!).
This step is more hands-on than learning by yourself and online, but it is well worth it if you can manage. Not only will you learn and grow, but you might also make some friends too. I overlooked collaboration for a long time and it is one thing I wish I could go back and change.
Lastly, ask others what they think of your images. It isn’t up to others what they think of your images, and your style is your own. However, sometimes they can offer us helpful insight as to what could make a photo look better. It’s impossible for us to not be biased when viewing and judging our own photos, so a second point of view is often very helpful. Only change the image if you want to, but at least knowing others views is also useful.
Never Stop Learning
Because there is always something new to learn, and something new to improve at. Learning is the key to becoming a better photographer, and it’s something that never stops. Even if you become a professional photographer that is world famous, there is still something new to learn. Learning and improving is fun though, so I look forward to a future of it.
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