So you got your new dSLR, you’ve charged the battery, and you’re ready to get on the steep learning curve to making awesome photos. Where do you start? How do you get better in a way that inspires you, week after week?
If you’re like most camera owners who have picked up photography as a hobby and don’t have the luxury of going back to school to learn it, there are some ways you can get better at the craft, fast. If you have a few hours every week to invest in photography, these 10 ways will give you opportunities to stretch your skills, hone your talent, and start getting the wow factor in your photos.
1. Read your manual and try out a new setting every week.
Your camera’s manual might not be the most exciting reading, but it pays to get to know your camera well to understand what you can do with it. The camera is a tool for your vision, so by understanding what it can do, you will be well on your way to expressing your creativity.
2. Learn in bite size pieces.
Trying to understand everything about how to take effective photos is daunting. Learning in bite-size pieces means concentrating on one thing, one setting or mode at a time. This is a more effective way of understanding the craft of photography because it allows you to master one skill before moving on to the next.
3. Carry your camera around.
No matter what your day looks like, if you find something interesting, you can always take photos if you have your camera with you. If you can’t bring out it with you every day, you can schedule a time in the week when you will take photos. When I got my first dSLR, I scheduled a photo walk every Thursday. Setting aside this time helps you concentrate on a skill every week. As you get better at controlling your camera, you have a weekly series of photos that show your progress.
4. Look at lots of pictures.
There are so many good photos online that it is easy to find some that you really like to study. You can also visit museums and study paintings. Paintings especially of the masters can teach you a lot about composition and lighting. Spending time with good examples of artistic expression helps you gain some insight into the vision that goes into creating a compelling picture, and you may find later that this translates into improved composition and use of light in your own photos.
5. Rehearse fundamentals a lot.
That you have to practice your new skills goes without saying. It takes about 10,000 hours to master a set of skills, so the more you practice, the better you get.
6. Use just one lens.
More than just a philosophy or a money saving tip, there is a lot of wisdom in using just one lens while you are trying to learn photography. If you can buy your dSLR with just one lens, I would recommend not the ‘kit lens’ but a prime lens with one focal length, the 50mm especially. Having this one focal length gives you a few advantages when you’re learning. First, you learn how to compose really well because not being able to zoom readily will force you to change vantage point; you will learn to zoom with your feet. Moving about is a way to find new perspectives and new compositions. Second, getting to know one lens very well means you will be focusing on skills like controlling depth of field or focusing technique. Mastering these skills is more important than having a lot of gear.
7. Do a photo project.
To get better, you have to keep shooting. To improve, you have to constantly challenge yourself and move onto more and more difficult shooting situations. Setting a photo project for yourself will make sure you do go out to shoot and challenge yourself.
8. Take a workshop.
If you have the time, budget or inclination, it helps to take a photo workshop. There are a lot of worthwhile photo workshops being offered by professional photographers. Online, you can take workshops with organizations such as Betterphoto or Creative Live. Find out what genre of photography you like and investigate a workshop in that genre which you can take. A workshop can do wonders for your confidence, and helps you build a network of other hobbyists who love photography.
9. Join a forum and share your photos.
Learning is interactive, and to continue learning, you need to socialize around your hobby. Joining a forum is a great way to meet photography friends and share knowledge and photos. We have a forum right here on LightStalking!
Sharing is a way to get valuable, friendly critiques of your work and learn snippets of technique as well. When I first started learning how to light, I joined the Strobist group on Flickr and paid close attention to how people lit their photos. I asked a lot of questions, gained a lot of insight and friends, and all it took was an hour a week.
10. Join a contest.
This sounds scary, but joining a contest when you feel you are ready is a great way to learn fast. There are some easy to join contests online, such as the one at Betterphoto or the Digital Image Café daily contest. Joining a contest can give you fantastic feedback from professional photographers on your technique which you can then take and use to improve even further.
You don’t have to go back to school to learn photography. Understanding how to take awesome pictures begins with following these simple tips, keeping yourself persistence, and investing a few hours each week. Which one will you try this week?
Aloha Lavina is an Asia based photographer whose photographs have appeared in CNNGo (USA), UTATA Tribal Photography Magazine (USA), Seventeen magazine (USA), Estamos! (Ecuador), The Korea Times (South Korea), and several books. You can see her work at her website, read her articles on her blog or follow her on Twitter.