When you dive into the various minutiae of the craft, it’s very easy to forget the large, basic ideas and tactics that you should always be pursuing in how to get better at photography. We thought we would go back to basics and look at some of those tenets that apply to everybody from newbies through to pros.
Let’s jump in.
Define What “Better at Photography” Means For You
For starters, we all have very different goals when we start trying to find out how to get better at photography.
For some people, that might mean getting good enough to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year. For others, it means being able to shoot an image that they are happy to print and hang on their wall for their friends and family to see. Others might want lots of likes on social media.
Any goal is perfectly valid, but how you go about achieving that goal can differ somewhat. While most of the following advice is going to be generalist in nature, don’t be afraid to dive down deep into your specific goal.
If knowing how to get better at photography will result in you getting prints for your own wall, then it’s you who is the ultimate arbiter. If winning a competition is your goal then you will need to be much more focussed on what works well for photography judges and professionals. Choose the path that suits your own goal.
Pick up the Camera to Keep Motivated
It’s easy to forget the reason you’re reading that blog post or photography book when you start to dive deep. Sure, it might be important eventually to learn the finer points of the inverse square law or measuring hyperfocal distance, but more important than any of that is keeping up the motivation to keep shooting and remembering the reason you’re doing all of that learning.
So pick up the camera!
Not every shot has to be a technically perfect tour de’ force and you will get plenty of images that you will simply delete – that is perfectly normal.
Luckily these days we have an ever-improving selection of mobile devices that are perfect to always have a camera on hand meaning you can shoot when it’s convenient or when you see a great scene worthy of a shot. Just remember to use them regularly!
The key here is keeping motivated. You cannot get better at photography if you’re not doing photography. Grab the camera and enjoy yourself!
Always Be Hustling for Inspiration
A lot of creative people often have problems with photographers’ block when they are trying to come up with ideas. Here are a few tips to get around that problem.
If you are not sure what to shoot, then it’s often as simple as opening up your favourite photography blog and choosing a topic off the front page. Here are a few that we love and recommend:
If you can’t pull a shot idea or two off the front page of any of those blogs, then dig a bit deeper and you will almost certainly find something to tickle your imagination.
The other habit you would be well advised to get into is to start a collection of images you find inspiring. With the Instagram or Flickr like features, this is actually pretty easy. Just open up the images on your like list and you will get yourself motivated to get better!
You will probably also want to subscribe to a few photography magazines. Quite often they will break down their “hero shots” which is really useful, but all of them show off really inspirational images. Find the one that gels for you.
Understand Your Personal Preference for Learning
It’s easy to let ego dominate this one with people screaming at you to “learn by doing” or “pick up the camera.”
But the truth is that people learn differently.
Some people learn on the job by picking up a camera and going out shooting. They learn incrementally by making mistakes and then analysing and making incremental improvements. That is fine. It also seems to be the “glory” way of learning for a lot of guns-ho memes and Tweets.
And that is ok. It does work for a lot of people and if you are one of them then that is exactly what you should do.
But there is another very sizable portion of the population who learns differently. Picking up a book to learn the theory before going out to shoot. Understanding what and why you do certain things so you can get it straight in your head before you try to apply it. And that is fine too.
And if you don’t fit into either of those camps, again, don’t get hung up on it.
Learn the way you learn best. Just be aware of it.
And leave the others to their way! There is room for everyone!
Practice Using Your Camera (Duh!)
Look, I know it sounds a bit harsh, but if you cannot change the settings on your camera when it’s in manual without looking at it, then you still have some improvements to make in your camera craft.
Yes, modern cameras can make a lot of decisions for you, but often those decisions are not perfect and they always take an element of control away from the photographer.
And don’t get too carried away here. The level you should usually be aiming for is to be able to manipulate the elements of the exposure triangle so that the camera is where you want it to be. ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed are the controls you need to master. Not to mention how they work in tandem.
Sure there is a lot more to learn in camera craft, but that is the basic skill level you should be aiming for and it can quite easily be learnt in an evening.
The bad news is that it is slightly different on every camera with control placements etc.
The good news is that it is really satisfying once you nail it.
You can also practice this without going out on a shoot. Hell, just keep your camera in your hands while you’re watching TV and practice. You will nail this one a lot sooner than you think.
Don’t Ignore the Theory
Every craft worth learning has a ton of theory and photography is no exception.
The thing is that knowing the theory gives you a lot of options in your shoot that you may not otherwise have.
Simply reading a few “Intro to Photography” books will break the back of it for most photographers. If you need to go further than that, you will probably already have the knowledge how – most people dive into a niche like landscapes or portraiture when they get to that stage and dig down deeper like that.
Either way, at some stage you will find yourself learning this stuff if you stick with photography, so why not jump in a bit early and get it under your belt?
Make Yourself Accountable to Your Peers
Part of any improvement for most people is the idea of positive social pressure. That is pressure that forces you to improve yourself.
Luckily for we photographers, there are many wonderful communities, teachers, mentors, friends, photo walks, events and classes where we can meet with others in our craft and push each other.
Now this will take different forms, but regular contact with others who expect you to be shooting is a good start. Taking a class will often be even better. Enrolling in a full course better again.
It’s really up to you what form this takes, but when you have people expecting images form you then you are far more likely to produce those images and keep pushing yourself to do more.
At Light Stalking we have our forums where we make ourselves accountable to each other with our weekly photography challenges and the Shark Tank for serious critical feedback which many people find very useful – people enjoy it because we emphasize camaraderie in learning so we all grow together.. Other forums are great too. Camera clubs are fantastic. Just find those peers who will help push you.
Set Yourself Regular Projects That Push Your Skills
This is a different way of saying “practice” but it’s more than that. To get better at any craft, you need to both do it a lot and push the boundaries of where you are comfortable.
Now the regularity of how often you practice is going to be personal and vary by individual, but obviously, the more often you practice, the faster you will get better.
The other element of this is pushing your boundaries. The obvious way to do this is to shoot subjects that are somewhat unfamiliar in conditions that you are not used to. Literally, pick up a short guide or read an article on how to shoot something you usually wouldn’t bother with and then go and put it into action.
If you would like some guidance with this, then this is something we concentrate a lot on at Light Stalking with our weekly Projects series. These will get you shooting short and succinct photography projects on a weekly basis with a view to pushing your boundaries.
Take a look at Light Stalking Projects here.
Take a Photography Course
There are simply a lot of things that a photography course can teach you in how to get better at photography that you might miss with self learning.
There are literally hundreds of online photography courses so the chances of finding one that will gel with your personal needs is quite high. Take a look at our photography courses page for a free one that might help you.
Here are a few of our favourite online photography short courses:
Also don’t ignore the offline options. Beside local courses at colleges and the like, there are usually several professional photographers in almost any town or city who will offer evening, weekend or private courses and sometimes specific tutoring. A quick Google search should turn up a few.
Learning how to get better at photography is a process that is personal to each individual. Some people will want to go fast and furious with their learning in which case the more formal courses and tutoring will be helpful. Others of us are content to take months, years and even decades in developing our craft. There is room for everybody. Choose your own path or change it as you get better. There is no one true way. But the outcome is well worth it.