Can you really improve your photography for free?
Every photographer hits a creative barrier occasionally. It’s not something that happens only to new photographers, everyone is susceptible to stretches of feeling uninspired, unmotivated, and unsatisfied by their own work.
It’s in these vulnerable moments when GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) strikes with a vengeance, but new stuff isn’t the solution to this problem. New cameras and lenses are always exciting but those aren’t the things that make you creative — they are just the tools through which you express your creativity.
You actually don’t need to spend any money at all to extricate yourself from the creative rut that’s got you feeling down.
Here are two simple yet effective ways you can improve your photography for free.
Shoot For Yourself
This isn’t particularly difficult, but you’re going to have to undo all the conditioning about photography that you’ve been subjected to by Instagram. That's one of the ways to improve your photography for free.
Instagram, with its likes and comments, allows you to experience a bit of an ego boost each time you post a new photo. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, the sense of validation and instant gratification can convince you to keep making similar posts because you want to keep getting those likes.
Ignore Instagram Trends
What’s worse is the realm of Instagram that functions as a galling popularity contest, where photos of questionable quality garner an inordinate amount of attention, leaving people with a myopic perception of what a good photo is.
What inevitably follows is a string of copycats.
Shooting something just because someone else shot it and got tons of likes on it isn’t necessarily going to help you improve your own photography.
If the photograph you’re considering emulating is in fact a good photo, maybe one of the reasons it’s good is because you get the sense that the photographer cares about the subject.
And that is what you should be trying to copy.
- Shoot things you care about. That’s the easy part. It doesn’t matter what it is, when you have a particular interest in something you will put a great deal of care into how you photograph it and you’ll enjoy the process.
- Just look at the work of Sally Mann, who photographs her family; or Elliott Erwitt’s extensive catalog of dog photos. Said Erwitt, “I take a lot of pictures of dogs because I like dogs….”
Learn To See The World In New Ways
People have a tendency to settle into rigid ideas that make them feel comfortable — how something is supposed to look carries more weight than how something could look.
There’s nothing wrong with a literal visual interpretation of the world — sometimes it’s absolutely necessary — but how you interpret the world will find its way into your photography. So if you feel your photos are static or unimaginative, it’s time to begin seeing the world around you in a different way. That's another great way to improve your photography for free.
Take Your Time
Rather than photographing things as they exist in front of you at a given moment, take some time to look for the potential in the scene. Challenge the norms that have taken up residence in your brain. Don’t be content with photographing something a certain way just because you think you’re supposed to, or just because that’s how it’s always been photographed.
- Ask yourself, “How would it look if I _____?” And then fill in that blank with whatever you want. What if you use a long shutter speed or apply an unexpected composition or make a double exposure or….
- Just do something different and see what comes of it. If you don’t like it, no big deal. Try it again or move on to something else, but keep pushing yourself to develop new interpretations of your surroundings.
Once you start seeing the world differently you can experiment with how to translate your newfound vision into a photograph. Reinterpreting familiar subjects and presenting them in different, perhaps unexpected ways, will also force you to refine your technique.
A positive side-effect of this is that even your “normal” photos will improve.
If you’re not happy with your photography, don’t reach for your credit card. That’s not going to help you. What photographers typically mean when they say they aren’t satisfied with their work has to do with any number of creative aspects.
The solutions can’t be bought.
You will improve your photography by shooting what you care about and finding new ways to shoot familiar subjects. Along the way you will surely encounter additional methods of stepping your game up, the ideas discussed here are just a springboard.
And they won’t cost you a cent to try.
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