How to Improve your Work by Observing Other Photographers

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I’m always looking for ways to improve my photography. I’m one of those people who always pushes the limits and tries new things. Recently, I’ve started watching other photographers while they work. It seems strange I know, but there are a lot of good things you can learn from watching someone else work. I promise it will improve your photography. Let me explain in more detail.

How to Improve your Work by Observing Other Photographers

I learned to use a shallow depth of field from a close friend and mentor. She showed me how it can create soft appealing images that women love. This was one of my first attempts at playing with shallow depth of field.

Observing is a key to understanding processes

Ask any scientist, especially those studying nature, how they learn about animals or natural processes, and they will tell you that the majority of their work involves observing animals and taking note of their behavior. You can do the same with other photographers. Just remember to ask for permission first, some may not enjoy your scrutiny.

Watch the photographer carefully. Look at how they approach a situation. Make a note of their actions and decisions. Their behavior might bring you some insight and add to your understanding of how to take photographs. Each person approaches a situation differently. Learn photographer behavior, analyze their actions and compare them to your own. Is there something you could do differently?

After watching another portrait photographer I learned that smiles and authenticity are more important that a perfect composition. Here I asked the oldest boy to tickle his brother.

Observation can teach you what’s good and what’s not

If you are watching someone do a family portrait session, try to listen and take note of how they talk to the clients. Maybe they do something you’ve never thought of trying. It’s beneficial to watch experienced photographers work with clients. You can learn little tricks to help people relax or ways to get genuine smiles from folks.

There are also occasions to learn what you shouldn’t do with clients. I’ve seen photographers make mistakes and that’s also taught me a lot. It’s hard in those situations to stay quiet and continue to observe, but the experience is worth it. One photographer I watched was a highly experienced individual, he’d been shooting for 30 years and was a master photographer here in Canada. He made some pretty big mistakes when working with this one couple. Later he acknowledged it didn’t go well and I learned so much from that seasoned veteran.

How to Improve your Work by Observing Other Photographers

I was showed by a friend how to use layers when editing my images. In this case, I added clouds to the sky.

Learn how to conquer physical limitations

Each of us is limited in some ways by our stature, our physical strength, and many other factors. Watching others can help you to learn how to cope. As a shorter photographer, I am often frustrated by the height of the boards when I shoot in hockey arenas. They obstruct my ability to get certain shots. It wasn’t until I worked with a woman who was much shorter than me that I learned how to conquer this limitation.

At barely five feet tall, I had three or four inches on her. Yet, she was able to get the shots I was missing by using a stool and she also took some pretty big risks and by standing right on the boards to capture certain images. She was quick, more like an acrobat when she was shooting. I watched her carefully and learned her technique. It has helped me to capture images I previously thought were unattainable.

How to Improve your Work by Observing Other Photographers

I used a stool to shoot this photograph. It let me lean over the boards to get a better angle.

Even amateurs can teach you something

As seasoned veterans, we sometimes get very stuck in our ways. We approach every project in the same way. Perhaps it’s not a conscious effort, but nonetheless, it happens. Watching someone with no experience try to tackle a challenge can help to bring a new perspective to a project. Kids are fantastic for this. They have this fresh ingenuity that can help to push us to new heights. They look at things in a different way.

It’s worth observing because who knows what you may learn. I once watched a child shoot a landscape scene, then they brought in an element of movement by propping the camera up against their shoe as they dropped a leaf into the scene. It was a beautiful moment of creativity. Take these instances and reflect on how it can help you to change your approach or to add something fresh to your work.

How to Improve your Work by Observing Other Photographers

I learned from another fine art photographer the benefit of shooting images and cropping to square format. I’ve sold this local scene several times in the last few months.

Continue to observe

There are so many ways to learn and grow as photographers. Observation is worth the time and effort. Approach others and ask politely. Some people may be very self-conscious, others won’t care. Make a trade offer to show them how you work and the things you do.

The highly experienced photographers, the grizzled old veterans are the best to approach. They often have no shame. So many of them have shrugged their shoulders when I’ve asked and said something along the lines of “Knock yourself out.” If you politely ask questions at the end of the shoot or during a break, you will find they open up more and get excited about your interest in their work. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

How to Improve your Work by Observing Other Photographers

I took this image after watching a fellow photographer use focusing rails for macro shooting. I learned a great deal about how finicky macro work really can be.

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Erin Fitzgibbon is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.

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  • pete guaron

    “Observing” is part of the “seeing eye” – IMHO, both are essential to developing as a photographer – or in any other field of art. I’ve come across occasional suggestions that this is some kind of “dark side” and “unacceptable”. As far as I personally am concerned, I’m willing to learn from ANYONE, and I’m certainly not conceited enough to imagine I already know everything, so I don’t need to learn any more.

    Picasso is an outstanding example. He studied the “old masters” and their techniques, for years. He applied what he learned from them, in the course of developing his own techniques. And for most of his life, he was one of the most original and creative artists we have ever come across.

  • Gary Warnimont

    Great article,good ideas.I had a gentleman and his wife follow me in their car for a quite a few hours.Every time I would get out to shoot,I would see this guy jump out of his car rush to same site and do the same shot as I got back in my car. Think he even bought Please don’t do that. Maybe it was my facial hair and jungle hat that identified me as a Real PRO? Maybe he was retired KGB? Please don’t do that! Most seasoned photographers I know will answer questions and offer advice if you are polite and not disruptive.

  • Gary Warnimont

    I had a guy and his wife follow me around the Nevada desert for half a day without asking. Each time I would get out of my car I would see this rental parked behind me. As I was leaving I would see this guy rush to the spot where I had just been and take a shot. Must be my facial hair and jungle sun hat that identified me Ansel Adams Jr.? Please do not do that! It’s happen to me more than once.Please do not do that! Most of the photographers I know will be happy to offer advice and tips if you are up front in your approach and don’t disrupt them when they framing or exposing a shot.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    I agree always ask. People should ask and discuss be open about photography. Don’t be afraid to approach people and chat. Photographers in general love to share.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    Excellent points Pete. So glad you’ve brought up the information about Picasso. There’s a lot out there to learn. I think your IMHO counts for a great deal.

  • pete guaron

    Thanks, Erin

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