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.
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.
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.
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.
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.