Why photographers don't improve

My last article was about “photography excuses“, where I talked about all the reasons I and others have for not doing photography.  In this article, I am going to give you my opinion why many photographers don’t improve.


Too many photographers are too hung up on the whole, “I’m self-taught”.  The problem with this is they are only teaching themselves half-way.  They watch YouTube, they read books, they follow groups on social media (another whole topic), and much more.  What they have not done is to learn to analyze their images to determine what they are doing wrong and right.  They only go on what they know.  There may be, and often there is, much they don’t know.  If you don’t know, you don’t know, you don’t know.  When reliant solely on feedback from social media groups it often becomes a proverbial, “the blind leading the blind”.   When someone who knows comments, it often turns into an “angry mob”, which I have personally experienced and is one of the reasons I am now, often, reluctant to offer comments on the work of others.  We don’t have to have the same “artistic” vision, but when mentioning the technical aspects, which are often quite apparent to the experienced and trained eye, we are often faced with “alternative facts”.

The problem with being solely “self-taught” is the lack of feedback from an experienced person.  (Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who claim some knowledge, which many times is based on myths or urban legends).

I can talk personally about the limitations of “self-teaching” as I was solely “self-taught” for years and, as I found out, stagnant in my growth.  I then took a photography course in 2011.  Since that time, I have learned how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know.  I also have found out just how inadequate my photography was before.  Does this mean you have to spend the money to take photography classes?  Not necessarily, but remember your lessons are only as good as your instructor.  So far, you can’t talk to online videos to ask questions, and believe me when I teach a class and give some instructions there are lots of questions.

How do you overcome this problem?  I suggest that before you buy more photography gear, invest in some in-person training.

Well I or the “client” likes it

Just because you or your client likes it doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve upon it.  If you do get an honest analysis of your work don’t be so quick to throw this, or a similar comment out there.  Start a dialog.  The discussion is where the real learning is accomplished.

Learn the light

Photography is all about light.  There is nothing wrong with just working with natural light but learn to understand and see the light.  Learn how you can modify the natural light.  Learn to see highlights and shadows.  I see so many photographs of people who have harsh shadows in what are intended to be portraits.  These shadows often do not enhance the subject, or set a mood but rather keep us from seeing the subject.

Two of the best tools I have ever purchased are a reflector and a light meter.  A simple reflector can do wonders to soften the light, enhance the light, direct light, open up shadows, create shade and more.  A light meter can give us the amount of light falling onto a subject rather than reflected by the subject (yes there is a difference).  A light meter can make it easier to determine lighting ratios for portraits, which can give our subject depth and shape rather than flat lighting.  Once you have these tools you will never want to be without them.

Too much emphasis on editing

So many people want to jump right into editing photographs rather than learning how to capture the image to meet their vision.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully endorse the use of post production software and/or techniques.  I employ both on a regular basis.  I am also not one that is the hard-nosed “get it right in the camera”.  Learn to get the exposures and composition as close as is possible when taking the photograph.  Once you can do this on a regular basis then learn to “enhance” your images through post-production techniques.

Note: if you missed focus on your subject, i.e. it is out of focus, you can’t “fix” it.  It will always be out of focus.  You may be able to “help” a blurry image.  If you don’t know the difference do more reading.

Final thoughts

This list could go on a bit more, however, these are what I consider to be these most predominate reasons I have seen in my contacts both online and in person with photographers who want to learn and grow.

One way to avoid these issues is to invest in your education.  Most people don’t think twice about paying for a shiny new gadget or lens or camera but don’t want to spend any money on education.  Stop listening to the “YouTube” fanboys.  YouTube is a wonderful supplemental but it is not a replacement for a real class.





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