“Practice makes perfect,” they say. It’s such a clichéd statement — most people probably roll their eyes when they hear it. Me too.
But guess what? It’s true. Anytime you learn something new, your brain is rewired. No one can really expect their first attempts at a new activity to be an overwhelming success but, with practice, the neural pathways that manage your newly acquired skill are strengthened and your ability to perform said skill grows smoother, more efficient, more natural. You eventually reach a point of total comfort. You make the difficult look easy.
You can’t do just any kind of practicing, though. It might be more accurate to expand the phrase to say, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” Practicing bad technique or bad form won’t actually help you get better at anything; reinforcing bad habits defeats the purpose of practice.
Photographers can and should practice just like gymnasts and singers practice. It’s all about pushing yourself to improve your skills.
If you’ve been looking for effective ways to sharpen specific skill areas, give the following projects/exercises a try.
- Refine Your Vision. Choose an everyday household object — it could be absolutely anything. Take at least 10 different photos of this item from different angles, under different lighting conditions, using different focal lengths. Pick a new item once a day or once a week, it doesn’t matter; the aim is to find the uniqueness in the ordinary. No longer will you be content to see things as they are on the surface, you will learn to recognize intriguing colors, shapes, patterns, and shadows. It will change your perspective and the way you “see.”
- Shoot What You Know. Writers are always told to write what they know — the same principle applies just as well to photographers. Set up a project focused on some part of your life you are passionate about; the subject could be a thing or a person. Either way, it’s something you know intimately and undertaking a photography project surround this will simultaneously help you cement your expertise and expand your visual vocabulary.
- Change Genres. All good photographers have their specialty, whether street, portrait, landscape, or macro photography. But there’s nothing wrong with adding to your repertoire. Each genre comes with its own challenges, and conquering challenges represents an increase in skill and knowledge, both of which make for better photographers. Furthermore, you will find it easier to experiment, as the skills you acquire in one genre may influence another.
- Simplify Things. Spend a month (or more) shooting with just one lens. The usefulness of this should be apparent: you’ll be forced to be more creative and effective with your composition skills.
- Study. Study the photography of others, particularly the “masters.” Learn what it is about their work that makes it so good. It isn’t about copying them but incorporating their tried-and-true techniques into your own style.
- Take Your Camera Everywhere. Having a camera by your side at all times means your photographic senses are always on alert; you will learn to slow down and look for the possibilities around you. When opportunities arise you will not only be fully cognizant of them but will also be prepared to capture them.
- Learn Manual Mode. Understanding precisely how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together will give you ultimate control over your photos. The only limitation will be your creativity.
- Never Stop Learning. Don’t succumb to the idea that you’ve got it all figured out; Allen Iverson might not have felt the need to show up for basketball practice, but I don’t think anyone who is serious about truly improving — and not just being content with the status quo — will harbor such an outlook. Try to always have the enthusiasm of a beginner.