10 Ways to Top Your Best 2008 Photographs

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The following post on 10 Ways to Top Your Best 2008 Photographs is by San Francisco based photographer Jim M. Goldstein. Learn more about him at the end of this post

At the conclusion of every year I take it upon myself to review my yearly photographic work and pursue 3 critical activities:

  1. Determine my best or favorite photographs of the year and share them with others (see my blog project: “Your Best Photos From 2008” results ).
  2. Evaluate the photos that didn’t make the cut to learn why they didn’t work or carry the impact of my selected favorites.
  3. Keep an eye out for mis-categorized or overlooked images that are worthy of sharing and/or publication (see Always Check Your Seconds).

Everyone has their own yearly rituals with their photography, but these help me improve and keep me inspired. To get into a little more detail here are 10 ways to top your best 2008 photographs:

1. Past Mistakes: Embrace and Learn From Them

It is all to easy to sweep mistakes under the rug and try to forget about them. The painful truth is that our mistakes are what offer us the greatest opportunity to improve. While at the end of the year I revel in my success, just as I do through out the year I obsess on the things that haven’t worked. I’m constantly asking myself “Why did this not work as expected?”and “What could I do differently to get a better outcome?” If you’re not good at making & holding a mental list of things to learn or improve on keep a notebook or journal to do so.

2. Strengths: Identify & Build on Them

If you shared photographs with others in 2008 that you were proud of and that had impact take a deeper look and ask yourself “Why?” Put your skills under a microscope to understand where you’re strongest technically and/or creatively. In doing so you’ll have identified stepping stones to work off of when you get to #5 on this list.

3. Feedback: Grow A Thick Skin

I’ll be the first to admit it’s really tough to take feedback, but it is really important to grow a thick skin to hear things you don’t want to hear. Utilize photography forums* to gather feedback on your photography. Keep an open mind when others comment on the images that you think are great and those you know have flaws. Don’t be afraid to point out flaws you’re aware of and ask for ideas on how to improve them.* Not all photography forums are of equal caliber. Find a photography forum with members who are both civil and knowledgeable. Photography forums are like doctors, go to one that you respect and find helpful.

4. Inspiration: Find It!

There’s a reason you got into photography, unearth why and explore the source of your interest. Learn what photographers shaped your photographic tastes and research their work. Take full advantage of the Internet. Great contemporary photographers are only a Google search away, up and coming photographers can easily be found on Flickr, photography bloggers are constantly referencing photographers of influence and great photography podcasts now exist. I also highly recommend making use of your local museums to find inspiration from painters and sculptors. The more you look the more you’ll find.

5. New Techniques: Learn, Try & Master

In evaluating your weaknesses, strengths and sources of inspiration create a list of techniques you’d like to strengthen or learn. There is always room for improvement. Great photography masters are eternal students of the art. If your list is a long one then identify the top 5 techniques you’d like to learn and master in 2009.

6. Read! Read! Read!

Shorten the time-frame to improve your photographic skills by reading as much as you can about the techniques that interest you. As time passes more and more information is now online, but don’t forget about great resource in print. There are numerous books out there pertaining to your area of interest. Talk to photographers you respect and inquire which books they recommend reading. As you read photography blogs keep an eye out for posts on reviews and recommended reading.

7. Practice! Practice! Practice!

The sure fire way to improve is to practice. Try, try and try again. Practice for the sake of practicing. Keep adding skills to your repertoire. When you think you’ve mastered what you’ve learned reinforce it regularly by incorporating it into your more mundane photographic efforts.

8. Apply What You’ve Learned On A Trip

Trips, even the more mundane like family visits, are great motivators. Trips are centered around dates and provide great incentive for you to make the time to learn and master new techniques. In addition following a trip we all make an effort to share what we’ve captured with family and friends. This is a great time to show off new skills you’ve integrated into your photographic work.

9. Track Your Progress: Look At Older Work

Don’t wait for the end of the year to evaluate older work. Check in from time to time through out the year to look at older work. This will serve as a reminder of areas of improvement to pursue and more importantly reveal the progress you’ve made. Depending on your level of effort and frequency of shooting you’ll be able to see improvement in a matter of months if not weeks.

10. Have Fun & Don’t Get Discouraged

Don’t lose sight of having fun. Photography is as much about the experience as it is realizing the final product. Enjoy the journey of improving your photography and don’t be discouraged. If you become frustrated take a break, and/ or talk to others about your situation to see if they have advice to offer. In the pursuit of enhancing your evolution as a photographer take part in photowalks, photo tours and workshops. All of these activities will put you in contact with photographers of varying backgrounds and experience levels giving you additional opportunity not just to learn, but have fun.

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Jim Goldstein is a San Francisco based professional photographer. An author as well as a photographer Jim has been published in numerous publications including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension - Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. His latest work and writing can be found on his JMG-Galleries blog and on 500px

  • Building on 2008

    I really don’t think I made major advancements in my photography last year. Previous years offered greater leaps. I do know my post processing was better.

    My best source of information and inspiration is looking at what other photographers are doing around the country (web sites).

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • These are a really good set of ideas Jim:

    I would also like to add in a similar vane to the fashion magazine mentality that if you don’t look like us then you are not with it.

    The same for Photography don’t always believe that a certain style, genre or techniques are the only right way or even the best images being made.

    Photography is about capturing a fleeting or staged moment and allowing others to see the magic or excitement that you saw in the scene.

    Follow what you like, listen and learn from others but do take it with some guidance, as in the end you are the artist and if the image conveys what you want then you have a good image.

    Niels Henriksen

  • sandersjj

    Great post,

    I bought my self a little notebook where I write down:

    1. My lessons learned
    2. Stuff to look into
    3. possible techniques
    4. Ideas
    5. Thinks I consider buying
    6. other notes

    It helps me a lot. I have it all the times with me.

  • There are some really great tips in here. I’ll have to look over my photos and find some favorites from last year. I think my biggest leap in 2008 was learning to shoot fully in manual and now it’s so rare that I use anything else. But I have plenty still to learn!

  • Great post Jim! Will be sure to go through your points.

    I already selected my top photos of 2008 as part of your blog project!

    http://blog.burrard-lucas.com/2009/01/burrard-lucas-top-ten-photographs-of-2008/

  • Sam

    Very nice post Jim.

    One thing that I would like to add is to set some goals for next year…with all the learnings, findings, fun of 2008. That would be specific to areas of improvements, new techniques, gear to buy etc etc…

    – Sam
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/saternal

  • A couple of additional thoughts:
    Join online photo communities, participate in discussion groups and actively comment & critique. Follow the photo streams of those who’s work you admire, find out what groups they participate in and join in the discussion directly. Participate in online discussions with some of your favourite “all star” photographers through twitter – you can often bypass unanswered emails with direct messages on twitter.

  • One thing I found has really helped my work is to go through my raw images of old shoots I haven’t looked at in a while, and reassess what I would pick as my “final cut”… it is very often different than what I had originally picked. This is a great starting point in discovering WHY they hadn’t made the cut the first time, and looking at what could improve them in a similar situation.

    #7 is one of the most important points on here. Use friends/family as models so you are shooting every week!

  • Nice! I like the idea of looking up the photographers that inspire you. I’ll be taking that tip onboard for sure!

  • Thanks for this informative and inspirational post. Ironically, in the last week of 2008, I did go through my images to try to determine my 2009 portfolio. And now, from this portfolio, I’m trying to determine which two to submit for an small exhibition – on Monday no less.

    It’s driving me crazy as to which I should go with – people or landscape. If anyone would like to offer their their thoughts, you can see what I’m working with here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mark_k_nj/3144841559/

    I think I have two in mind but I just can’t settle on it. Any thoughts woudl be appreciated.

    And to all readers of DPS…have a great 2009 behind the lens!

  • gina

    Thank you, i loved the eye popper, and you sent it just in time. I’m Adobing my sisters photo I took for a book that she just got published, and they need a nice photo of her for the cover. I get credit…WOO-HOO!
    I used your technique for the eyes to pop out, and i loved it. you are brilliant!! It helped me make her photo look a lot better. She has beautiful eyes, so I needed to do that.
    Thank you for all your time and effort. 🙂

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing. I seriously need consider these when taking photos.
    I live by #10!

  • Gerry

    Thank you for your helpful advise. I planned on working to improve my photography and now I have some
    goals to work on. In 2009, I shall improve. Thank you, Gerry

  • Print your photos. They don’t alway look as good on paper. You can see your weaknesses more clearly.

  • Lots of truth that will help you get to the next level. Practice Practice, is the best.

  • What should I consider when taking pictures of Christmas Decorations, with a low light and a lot of color, shutter setting, flash, etc.

    Suggestions please.

    Michael

Some Older Comments

  • Michael Real January 24, 2012 04:01 am

    What should I consider when taking pictures of Christmas Decorations, with a low light and a lot of color, shutter setting, flash, etc.

    Suggestions please.

    Michael

  • wedding photographer denver May 4, 2009 04:38 pm

    Lots of truth that will help you get to the next level. Practice Practice, is the best.

  • Elizabeth April 27, 2009 02:49 am

    Print your photos. They don't alway look as good on paper. You can see your weaknesses more clearly.

  • Gerry January 17, 2009 03:52 am

    Thank you for your helpful advise. I planned on working to improve my photography and now I have some
    goals to work on. In 2009, I shall improve. Thank you, Gerry

  • Chris January 16, 2009 08:42 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I seriously need consider these when taking photos.
    I live by #10!

  • gina January 16, 2009 10:03 am

    Thank you, i loved the eye popper, and you sent it just in time. I'm Adobing my sisters photo I took for a book that she just got published, and they need a nice photo of her for the cover. I get credit...WOO-HOO!
    I used your technique for the eyes to pop out, and i loved it. you are brilliant!! It helped me make her photo look a lot better. She has beautiful eyes, so I needed to do that.
    Thank you for all your time and effort. :)

  • Mark K. January 16, 2009 12:08 am

    Thanks for this informative and inspirational post. Ironically, in the last week of 2008, I did go through my images to try to determine my 2009 portfolio. And now, from this portfolio, I'm trying to determine which two to submit for an small exhibition - on Monday no less.

    It's driving me crazy as to which I should go with - people or landscape. If anyone would like to offer their their thoughts, you can see what I'm working with here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mark_k_nj/3144841559/

    I think I have two in mind but I just can't settle on it. Any thoughts woudl be appreciated.

    And to all readers of DPS...have a great 2009 behind the lens!

  • Lilia January 15, 2009 07:30 pm

    Nice! I like the idea of looking up the photographers that inspire you. I'll be taking that tip onboard for sure!

  • Tanya Plonka January 15, 2009 05:40 am

    One thing I found has really helped my work is to go through my raw images of old shoots I haven't looked at in a while, and reassess what I would pick as my "final cut"... it is very often different than what I had originally picked. This is a great starting point in discovering WHY they hadn't made the cut the first time, and looking at what could improve them in a similar situation.

    #7 is one of the most important points on here. Use friends/family as models so you are shooting every week!

  • Michael Warf January 15, 2009 05:01 am

    A couple of additional thoughts:
    Join online photo communities, participate in discussion groups and actively comment & critique. Follow the photo streams of those who's work you admire, find out what groups they participate in and join in the discussion directly. Participate in online discussions with some of your favourite "all star" photographers through twitter - you can often bypass unanswered emails with direct messages on twitter.

  • Sam January 15, 2009 03:37 am

    Very nice post Jim.

    One thing that I would like to add is to set some goals for next year...with all the learnings, findings, fun of 2008. That would be specific to areas of improvements, new techniques, gear to buy etc etc...

    - Sam
    www.flickr.com/photos/saternal

  • Will January 15, 2009 02:41 am

    Great post Jim! Will be sure to go through your points.

    I already selected my top photos of 2008 as part of your blog project!

    http://blog.burrard-lucas.com/2009/01/burrard-lucas-top-ten-photographs-of-2008/

  • Sherry January 15, 2009 01:12 am

    There are some really great tips in here. I'll have to look over my photos and find some favorites from last year. I think my biggest leap in 2008 was learning to shoot fully in manual and now it's so rare that I use anything else. But I have plenty still to learn!

  • sandersjj January 15, 2009 12:59 am

    Great post,

    I bought my self a little notebook where I write down:

    1. My lessons learned
    2. Stuff to look into
    3. possible techniques
    4. Ideas
    5. Thinks I consider buying
    6. other notes

    It helps me a lot. I have it all the times with me.

  • My Camera World January 15, 2009 12:57 am

    These are a really good set of ideas Jim:

    I would also like to add in a similar vane to the fashion magazine mentality that if you don’t look like us then you are not with it.

    The same for Photography don’t always believe that a certain style, genre or techniques are the only right way or even the best images being made.

    Photography is about capturing a fleeting or staged moment and allowing others to see the magic or excitement that you saw in the scene.

    Follow what you like, listen and learn from others but do take it with some guidance, as in the end you are the artist and if the image conveys what you want then you have a good image.

    Niels Henriksen

  • new media photographer January 15, 2009 12:54 am

    Building on 2008

    I really don't think I made major advancements in my photography last year. Previous years offered greater leaps. I do know my post processing was better.

    My best source of information and inspiration is looking at what other photographers are doing around the country (web sites).

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

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