10 Tips to Help You Grow as an Artist in Photography

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UmbrellasinTokyo

Over the past few days, I’ve thought about what’s helped me become a better photographer over the years. It’s a constant journey, and developing as an artist is a never ending pursuit that extends beyond owning any camera. In addition to practicing as much as possible with your camera, here are 10 tips to share that you may wish to consider while you continue on your own path in photography to help you grow as an artist.

1. Wait to look at your photos

I discovered this piece of advice over time, though a number of other photographers have suggested the same thing. Wait to look at your photographs if that’s possible. I know after a shoot you may feel anxious to go through and edit your pictures, but your anxiety and perception will often skew how you see your photos because this is at the height of your emotional attachment to your images. I’ve found that waiting a few days or better yet a couple of months to really go through a batch of photographs will be enough time to break down some of that attachment and reduce any biases you may carry.

2. Only delete the obviously bad shots

Some photographers even argue not to delete any of your shots because in the future, software developments may actually exist to fix super blurry or unfocused images. It’s your call, but if you see an image that you just don’t like, consider waiting a bit before you delete it. I’ve come across images that I marked with an X in my Lightroom, but interestingly, I’ve found that sometimes my perception of what I think is “good” changes. Photography is a learning experience as you expose yourself to other work and different styles. Down the road, you may rediscover some of your images in light of new ways you learn how to see. Besides, it’s always good to keep some of the bad shots around to really get an idea of the progress you make through the years.

3. Shoot some film

Shooting film can be more expensive, but it’s a great tool in becoming a better artist and photographer. With only a fixed number of exposures, you’re more selective of the images you shoot and the cost of developing film will keep you from shooting hit or miss style which forces you to think more. When shooting film, you’re in a different state of mind because of its limitations which challenge you to become more selective and refined before you press the shutter button.

Shootfilm

4. Study other artists’ work

You have no idea how good your stuff is until you have something to compare it to. You can shoot a ton and feel pride in your images, and as you grow, you should feel good about this progress. Studying from great artists and photographers you admire is really the best way keep you humble; but it also prevents you from falling into creative stagnation. I find this to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration, and it’s a great motivator for when you start to feel a little bored with your images.

5. Take a drawing or painting class

Years ago, before I ever even picked up a camera, I wanted to learn how to paint. I loved mixing colors and the thought of learning how to compose a scene and conveying my own impressions upon a subject interested me. So I enrolled in a class at a local art college which served as the foundational cornerstone as my development in photography. My teacher sat with us intimately every class and taught us about reading light and composition. She told us flat out at the beginning of the class that we would never see the same way again, and she was right! She taught us about negative space, composition, and all the basic concepts that artists are supposed to know, things which photographers should know too. My teacher was right and I did learn to see for the first time. If you have the time or haven’t been through art school already, consider signing up for a drawing or a painting class. It will take you a long way toward your artistic growth.

Tree

6. Don’t listen to your friends and family

I come across this advice often and it’s useful. Your friends and family are your biggest supporters, but because of this, they make it hard to get an objective, unbiased, perspective on your work. They all love your photos and they’ll even like or love all your pics on every social media site. But I’ve found that so much praise can become counterproductive or even misleading when you put too much stock into their opinions. Instead, you can join critique forums online or contact artists you admire to get them to review your work, as in my next point.

7. Ask for a portfolio review from a professional artist that you admire

This can often have an associated fee, but it’s a great way to get some professional feedback on your images. You can even seek help in sequencing the photographs in your portfolio as well. Better yet, join a workshop with a photographer you really admire and they’ll surely give you some substantial feedback.

8. Capture the essence of a place

Capturing the essence of a place in a photograph is its soul and without this connection, it’s hard to connect the story behind your images. It’s easy to get sidetracked or overwhelmed with seizing photo opportunities on a trip or when you’re traveling somewhere. But before you get too carried away with shooting, let your senses rest a little and try to feel the essence of the place and connect with it. Sometimes it takes a couple days or so to slow down and catch on to its vibe. When I went visited Sydney for the first time, I shot this photo of the ice cream truck on the beautiful day because I felt it perfectly captured both the beauty and the pace of life in the city.

Sydney

9. Fall in love with photography

Becoming a photographer can feel downright intimidating in a world full of talent. If you’re running a full-time business then it’s easy to lose sight of why you fell in love with photography in the first place. Don’t forget to continue to immerse yourself in other people’s work, indulge in the history of photography, and enjoy the art of photography for its own existential reasons.

10. Focus more on books and less on gear

It’s impossible not to appreciate the craftsmanship of a nice camera or a beautiful lens, but fixating upon having the latest and best gear won’t make your photos any better if you have a limited artistic vocabulary. Instead, invest in some inspirational photography books from a variety of different artists; look at the sequencing and learn from their styles. I feel this is even more important if you are self-taught. Learning what a good photograph looks like can’t be accomplished by just shooting alone. There’s a rich number of artistic styles you can potentially gain inspiration from. Even more important, brushing up on color theory, composition and lighting techniques will take your photographs to a whole new level. You don’t need to follow these rules all the time, but it’s important to know they exist so you can manipulate your camera and subject matter with more purpose in mind. I like the image below because it uses a simple compositional technique of aligning the foreground with the background. But without first reaching out and learning these kinds of ideas, you most likely won’t even know they exist.

Yokohamabridge

In the end, Mark Twain gives some excellent advice, “You cannot depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.” I’d love to hear about your tips as well for honing your own artistic side as a photographer.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Stephanie Huynh is a freelance photographer and writer who currently lives in Japan. Her travel photos have been printed in some of the world’s largest publications and she writes about travel and photography tips on her resource site The Passport Lifestyle. You can connect with her there or keep up with her on Instagram.

  • Joe Shelby

    Re: “film” – that can be hard to come by, and/or a bit expensive. If the point is to develop a discipline of taking fewer shots to achieve the image, consider doing the following:
    1) purchase some older *smaller* memory cards, like in the 1g or 2g range
    2) set your camera to RAW mode
    3) discipline yourself to not deleting photos from the card and only swapping cards once or twice a shoot, if at all.

    In RAW mode on modern cameras (where a RAW image is around 25meg), a 1 gig gets about 25 shots, which is just about the typical of a roll of film.

    Granted, this doesn’t quite get the ability to recreate that frustration factor of not knowing that NONE of your shots came out until 3 weeks later when the film is developed, but at least you get used to limiting the number of shots to take so you’re not spending days finding that one bright needle in a haystack of 200 shots taken in a single half-hour session.

  • Joe Shelby

    As for books, I only got a few, but I regularly hit Barnes & Noble (used to hit Borders too, ’til they vanished) for their photography magazines. For me, the best ones for the beginner and hobbyist tend to come from the UK (often having a dvd of videos, software tools, and more), much better than most American magazines (aside from Outdoor Photographer).

  • Good technique, I do that when I really want to challenge myself (or when I want my little cousins to avoid spamming when they use my camera)! 🙂

    For the ‘not knowing that none of your shots came out’ part, you can try taping your screen to avoid looking at the playback (or flipping it in, if you got a flippy screen), store the card somewhere with the date written on it and avoid touching it for a while 😉 Then again I’m pretty nobody would go through that, but you can still recreate that frustration if you’re really willing to do it.

  • Great article! I love photography! I have been learning as much as I can through magazines, books, people, web sights and more. I find getting critiques hard. I am on a critique sight but still it is hard. I wish I had a photography mentor. That would come along side me and and help guide me and teach me.

  • Tara Anderson

    Do you have any books you would recommend?

  • Rebecca Beusmans

    Hi Anna try and go on a course if you can. I am in my third year at college as a mature student. It’s one the best thing i have ever done. I have learn’t loads, met some great people, i have a great tutor with working experience in the field and my photography has progressed lots. Books are great but doing a course has pushed me creatively and speed up my learning process.

  • Thank You I will have to look in to that. 😀

  • Shoot some film y’all!!!!

  • mtphill

    solid advice…………

  • Thank you!

  • Nice advice. I will have to do this.

  • Thank you! Look into a local art collage or school and you should be able to take some courses. Also maybe email a few artists in the area to see if they offer personal one on one.

  • I personally really Michael Freeman’s books for street and travel photography. He goes into depth about composition principles and his photos provide great examples as well. They’re quite dense in content. Bryan Peterson’s books are great too. But I also have a lot of different books from artists on my shelf that I often go through as well. I get them all from Amazon.

  • Yea, also I live near Tokyo and I’ve noticed that the quality of magazines at The Tsutaya (like a B&N), is outstanding. There are a ton of art publications as well in addition to magazines.

  • Sirish Pandey

    hello everyone ,I’ve immense interest on photography, i am seeking for some photography technique ,can anybody help me here?

  • This is a very comprehensive and useful list, thanks for sharing it Stephanie!
    I specially agree with number 1, I always wait around 1 month to work on my pictures, but I don’t follow number 2, since I delete all pictures that I don’t like or simply are not good, and never think about them anymore, so no regrets afterwards, just focus on the pictures I like and try to make the best out of them!

  • We just got back from a Fall Foliage trip (and managed to visit friends as well) but as usual we packed too much travel into too little time. We’ve talked about that and when we read this article it brought it home. Now we’re talking about finding someplace to spend more time, look around and find out not only what we really want to shoot but also determine why and how we want to convey that in the finished product.

    Thanks for the good advice and a reminder of why we are drawn to photography in the first place. BTW, had a very good friend just gave me a complete 5 book set of “The Digital Photography Book” by Scott Kelby. Looking forward to jumping in the deep end.

  • You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • You’re welcome. I know, it’s hard to want to see as much as possible but not cut it too thin either where you don’t get a good feel for a place. Glad you enjoyed the article! And I’ll have to check out that book rec too.

  • David Blacker

    until a few weeks ago, Joe, i’d have agreed with you completely, but i just tried shooting a roll of Kodak Tri-X with a Yashica SLR, and i found the experience a bit different to shooting with a DSLR. basically, the process was much simpler. with my 600D, i always find myself fiddling with settings — ISO, shutter speeds, focusing modes, etc (mostly because i check the shots on the screen and adjust accordingly), but with the Yashica and the Tri-X, the film was fixed at ISO 400, the shutter dial had limitations on the speed i could choose — i was on a sunny street, so it was either 1/500 or 1/1000 — so that was quickly set, and i almost always shoot wide open so no touching the aperture ring. the lens was a 35-70mm, so not much zooming — if it had been a prime it would’ve been even simpler, but i don’t have one for this mount — so all i had to do was frame, focus manually, and shoot. it was quite refreshing.

    oh, and over here where i live, in Colombo, there are only two professional labs developing black and white film, and the one i went to gave me my negatives in 24 hours.

    i’ll never give up my DSLR, and i’ll be shooting mostly on that, but i’ll definitely keep shooting some film from time to time.

  • David Blacker

    or you can cough up a fortune and buy that Leica M 60 😉

  • Eric Deesey

    And don’t forget “Expose yourself”! I use https://folionix.com for my online portfolio.

  • Joe Shelby

    Oh, I don’t doubt that real film is a better experience than short-changing your memory limits.

    But in the end isn’t all of this a reflection of what every artist has to discover: unlimited options, the true “blank canvas”, is actually more limiting than working within limitations. Schoenberg discovered this when trying to compose purely atonally from 1911 to 1923 – he couldn’t do it. He kept slipping into the ‘old ways’ much as he kept trying not to. His only recourse was to invent a new constraint, a new set of rules that would ensure the philosophy he was after: the 12-tone system (later to become serialism). Stravinsky as well, having gone as far as polytonality and polyrhythm could go, fell back on a new (well, *old*) set of constraints for his neo-classical era.

    Poetry, too. These are artifices, without which art is impossible, and when one has to work with constraining artifices, be they film (as you note, limited to a particular ISO), or a lens (how often do we see articles suggesting shoot with just one lens, or just a prime lens at that), one has to make more conscious choices. That consciousness of what one is doing, that self-awareness, is what being an artist requires.

    So yeah, going to film as a limit is a way to develop one’s awareness of the tools and how to work with them. I never said otherwise.

    I merely pointed out that it can be expensive (as well as frustrating), and more and more there are towns having fewer places that can do *quality* development (yeah, I could take a roll of film to a wal-mart, but why would I?) of the negatives as places like Ritz and Penn shutter their doors and the smaller places struggle.

  • David Blacker

    honestly, the only reason i tried out some film was to see what the fuss was all about, because back in the days before digital, i never had more than a compact film camera. i learned what little i know about photography on a DSLR. i don’t really find the results any better than my digital files, but the shooting experience was refreshing, and that surprised me. here’s a comparison for anyone interested. the digital pic is actually a metering shot i took before shooting the film.

    Details for the 1st pic are: Canon EOS 600D and EF-S 18-200mm lens at 18mm, 1/1000, f/3.5, and ISO 400.

    Second pic are: Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 and 35-70mm MC lens at 35mm, 1/1000, f/3.5, and with Kodak Tri-X 400 film.

  • David Blacker

    sorry, the digital pic has uploaded twice.

  • Rebecca Beusmans

    I hope you find something 🙂 I think they key is finding the right inspiration and if studying a great tutor. College works for me as it pushes me to be more creative My creative side has always been there but just needs a kick start sometimes lol

  • Christine Lewis

    How do I delete my post?

  • Mahesh Ramchandani

    Sirish, if you can get a friend who knows photography to help you with the basics of aperture, shutter speed, iso it will be great. Better Photography is a good monthly magazine, reading that will surely help. youtube has a lot of useful info. before going into technique you have to decide what kind of pics you want to take–landscape, portraits, wildlife, fine art, street…..once you have decided that then you can start figuring out a technique. hope that helped, mahesh

  • Briana

    Hello Rebecca! I always enjoy reading the comments after viewing an article and I could not help but notice you mentioned that you are in your third year at college… I am currently a high school senior and will be graduating soon and heading to a local university to study photography. I am in a photography class now through my school and I am loving it! I was just wondering what it is like to study photography in college? Have you always been a photographer or did you take it up in high school?

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    With respect to film I had the advantage of studing photography at college before digital cameras were even a concept. As Joe below said you could experience the frustration of not knowing what you have taken is worth keeping (if you can keep from peeking). I would cover the view screen for the day to experience this aspect (I would peek otherwise). I could see that doing this would replicate the feelings that I dealt with not knowing if what your taking is going to turn out or not. It forces you to learn the proper use of your camera equipment.

    In respect to family, I kind of wish I had this person’s family. Mine can be quite cut throat when critiquing my work.

    I only take pictures of subjects that impress me, that make me feel or think. They have to let me see something I would not have normally looked for or at. I like to create work that is unique from a point of perspective and or composition. That is how you create the brand that is “you”. Be yourself, experss yourself.

  • Jay Fitz F8

    Thanks, great advice. I’ve been thinking about #6 quite a bit. My wife is forever singing my praises. My friend said my photos of Mexicans in their natural environment were “museum quality.” I used to see these comments as a sign of hope. But the other day I told them flat out, “Thank you and with all due respect, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I know this because I’ve #4 studied others’ works, every day, and continue to do so. I’ve fallen in love and I’m getting better as a result.

  • Hussain Kodinhi

    Good tips. I found a new passion in photography and practicing new techniques. Waiting to read more

  • Attap

    Great article. What books can you recommend.

  • I love all these tips. Thanks for posting! I definitely will be taking these to mind the next time I take photos. Do you (or anyone) have any suggestions for good lighting and composition intro photography books? Thanks!

    http://www.charactersandcarryons.com

  • I really like all the advice in this piece. Considering how cheap memory cards are these days, I find it astounding that people delete photos. Also, I think it is so important to study other people’s work; not to instantly dismiss it, but you really study it.

    Really great piece Stephanie; thanks.

  • Srijib Neogi

    It would help if you suggest book to read.

  • Srijib Neogi

    also I would like to add , studying classical paintings helps a lot. Particularly Rembrandt and the impressionists.

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