That sounds like a bold statement. I have found a method that has been successful for me and I strongly believe if you follow my advice, you to will find it to be successful and you will become a better photographer.
Let’s take the photograph above as an example. This was a quick photograph with no setup other than my dog finding a spot to lay and relax. A few years ago the photograph would have looked something like the below example.
Not only is the second version underexposed but it looks like a snapshot. The difference in time is 10 years and a lot of work and expense later. In this article, I’ll tell you how I achieved this difference and what choices made the greatest impact on my photography which I believe will also make the most impact on your photography.
The number one choice I made was an education. I moved away from the thoughts that I could teach myself by reading and YouTube. This doesn’t mean that there are those that can’t learn on their own but let’s be honest here. We have all experienced a bad or poor teacher in our educational life. What is worse is a teacher attempting to teach something they know little or nothing about. If you are a beginner photographer your experience and training are, at best, minimal. If you are more experienced but wishing to learn something new and have little to no experience in the new subject your results may not be what you intended.
For me, I attended photography school. It was expensive but it was worth it. This doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing and drop a lot of money on an education. There are a lot of people who, like me, teach and mentor. I make available my knowledge for free but the actual in-person mentoring and classes are far more valuable because of immediate interaction between the student and teacher.
There are also less expensive ways to learn. Find a local photography club. Often these clubs offer, as part of their meetings, training. Concepts are often taught by people who are well versed in the particular subject being taught, such as lighting.
One of the most important parts of education is being able to take a critique. The very first critique I got from my photography instructor was harsh. Very harsh. If it had been in an online forum many would have chastised him for the harsh critique. It was tough for me, but I learned more from that than I did in all the years before. As a result of that critique, I learned to become my own critique. Before I submitted any other photography projects, which were a requirement of the school, I would critique my own work, harshly. The point of this is learning to take and give critiques.
Tips for finding a mentor, school, or instructor
- Avoid those who wish to only make students a carbon copy of themselves.
- If possible, look for mentors and instructors who will sit down with you first to discuss your goals.
- Cheap isn’t always the best but conversely expensive isn’t always the best. Look at the work of the mentor or instructor.
Tips for getting the most out of education
- Take the training seriously. Pay attention, take notes, ask questions
- Complete the assignments
- Ask for feedback
Stop thinking new stuff will make you better
One of the biggest problems I see, and experienced, is photographers believing that their gear is limiting their growth. One of my favorite quotes is from Edward Steichen. “No photographer is as good as the simplest camera”. Many will argue with me here but bear with me for a moment.
Many photographers, especially beginners, have a lust for gear and often blame their entry-level equipment on their less than stellar photography. The fact of the matter is that it is more likely the photographer needs to utilize better technique to improve their photography. Yet another issue with buying a lot of gear early on is often we don’t realize what we need or how to use the gear properly. I still have a closet full of gear that I rarely or never use because I bought it before I knew what I needed or didn’t need.
New photographers are constantly searching for the next camera or next lens when a reflector or light meter is what they really need to take them to a higher level and improve their photography.
Post Processing isn’t the answer
First, let me say I am a huge Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom user. I do, at least some level, of post-processing on virtually every photograph I take.
This section is meant to discourage photographers from believing, “I’ll fix that later”. The goal is to capture the image at the click of the shutter that gives you the BEST image to begin working on in post-processing. Yes, there are times when we may need to “fix” something but let’s make those the exceptions rather than the norm.
Post-processing is meant to enhance not fix.
For this reason, I always put learning how to post-process towards the end of students learning. I want my students to learn the concept of getting the best image to achieve your intended output. I am NOT a “get it right in the camera” person as I don’t believe the camera, at least yet, is able to capture a scene as I see it or envision it.
Let me expand on the previous paragraph. When I look at a scene or set up a portrait session I attempt to capture the mood, drama, relay a message that I or my client wishes to convey. I look for light, shadows, contrast, drama. It sounds like this may be difficult, but in reality, it isn’t. I’ll give you the secret to achieving this. Study light, study a photograph, or a scene that you like. I don’t mean to look at it or see it. What is it about this scene that attracts you? Study how the light falls throughout the image or scene. Study the flow of the elements. Study the position of light sources. Then write down why you are attracted to the scene without talking about the beauty of the subject but how the light, shadows, and elements worked together.
I could go on and on with this type of topic, which is why I enjoy teaching photography so much. I get passionate about the topic. With that being said, I will guaranty (the exact price $0.00 this article cost you to read) that if you follow the steps above you will improve your photography AND develop (pun intended) the basic tools to continue to improve.