Mastering photography is simple and hard at the same time. It’s simple because it mostly comes down to practice, hard work, and a thirst for knowledge, but it’s hard because not everyone has what it takes. I would liken it to any other art form, whether you use a paintbrush, or a musical instrument; it takes a lot of talent to become good. This is the sort of talent that you either have, or don’t have, because much like you can’t train a terrible voice to sing, you can’t train a poor eye to see. And that’s what photography is really, it’s seeing something that others miss, and capturing it in a photo.
Read Your Camera’s Manual
Day 1: Read your camera manual. I know it sounds a lame, but this is really important if you want to progress fast with your photography. If you’re using an old film camera, they’re really easy to learn, but if you’re using a shiny new DSLR, then there will be features in there that you’ll never understand until you’ve picket up your camera’s manual. When I got my first DSLR, that’s the first thing I did, in fact, I carried it around with me when ever I used to go out on photowalks, because I found that learning something once wasn’t enough for me, I had to constantly check up on it.
I’m a kinesthetic learner so reading from a book wasn’t the best way for me to learn, but so long as I had my camera with me to use at the same time, I could learn much more easily. If you don’t follow this step first, then the rest of the process is going to be an uphill struggle.
Exposure is key to learning photography, because every photo is an exposure. Learning how exposure works will help you to take control of your camera, and take better photos. As you start to learn what shutter speed, aperture and ISO does, you’ll learn about the other affects that each have on your photos, which can produce creative results.
The more you know about how exposure works, the easier it will be for you to take great photos, as you’ll have a better understanding of the consequences to the changes you make to your camera. Poor exposure is one of the most popular contributors to bad photography, so by simply learning what it takes to correctly capture a photo, you’re well on the way to taking better photos.
Learn The Rest
Once you’ve got exposure out of the way, you’ll be in a much better frame of mind to start learning what the rest of your camera can do, and seeing as you’ve read your camera’s manual, you’ll find it easy to do on your camera. This can range from basic camera settings like metering modes, white balance, and exposure compensation, to depth of field, focal length and the crop factor. The more you understand, the more knowledge you will have at your disposal when it comes to taking photos.
The first thing you should look into is shooting modes, because the sooner you understand what the different mode dials do, the sooner you’ll be able to get away from shooting on full-auto or program, and start shooting in manual or a priority mode, which will always produce better photos if done properly.
Learning composition has undoubtably made a huge difference to the way in which I take photos, because I now start to see things that I used to miss, and adjust my framing to include them. This can be anything from using the rule of thirds and vertical lines, to the golden section and eye-lines. It can be very complicated on first glance, but the more you read up about composition techniques, the more you’ll start to see it when you look through your viewfinder, and taking good photos will become much easier.
The difference between my photography before and after I studied composition is quite astounding, because I know better than to take a photo without thinking about how it can be improved fist, and the more you practice, the faster that decision making will become.
I know, I know, I just told you to learn composition, but as with everything, it’s never that simple. If I just said that you had to learn composition, you’d think that the struggle was over and your photos would turn out great, which isn’t the case. You need to learn composition so that you can start to see how you might improve a photo, but forget all of the ‘rules’, because in reality they’re not rules at all, they’re guides.
These guides will help to guide your eyes into taking great photos, but should never be followed just for the sake of it. There are no rules to taking great photos, because all art if subjective, and one man’s junk can be another man’s treasure. So long as you’ve installed the knowledge of composition in your mind, then you’ll be able to see what you can do to take better photos.
Take your Camera Everywhere
This will make a huge difference to your photography because if you’ve always got your camera on you, you’ll start to develop the eyes and mind of a photographer. Instead of just looking for photos when you’re taking your camera on a walk, you’ll start to see these potential photos everywhere, as you’ll always have your camera on you. Not only will it help to train your mind, but you’ll actually start taking better photos, because you’ll be taking more of them.You can’t take a photo if you don’t have a camera on you.
Buy a good camera strap, like a Sun Sniper, and start to organise your photography workflow better, then this will all start to happen very easily.
Buy a New Lens
Be careful about this one because buying a new lens can spawn somewhat of a habit, which gets expensive. When you start to see what a new lens can do for your photography, and your understanding, you’ll want to buy a lot more. I learned a lot about photography by buying a 50mm f/1.8, because as I said before, I’m a kinesthetic learner, and it’s easier for me to see how changing something on my camera, will change my photos. You’ll start to learn more about aperture, depth of field, sharpness, focal length, perspective, and lighting, to name just a few. There really is only so much that you can do by reading, and it gets to a point where you do just have to pick up a camera and start taking photos.
Start a Photo Project
I recently wrote about photo projects and what they can do for your photography in this post, and I’m a big fan of them because they can focus your learning into a certain area, as well as encourage regular photography. It can get a little bit tedious, but if you can stick with it, it will force you to take better photos. They make for excellent new years resolutions, because for at least a few months, you will have a focus on something that you want to do. More than anything, a project, such as a 365 will track your progress as a photographer, and encourage you to take more photos, which will invariably see you improve.
Join a Photography Community
Communities are a great way to start interacting with people who are interested in similar aspects of photography as you, whether it’s a certain style of photography, or help with photography in general. I used to use Flickr, but I generally prefer smaller communities. Sites like Flickr and 500px are a great way to find people who are into the same sorts of photography as you, as well as being reliable backups. I personally no longer use either, but that’s largely down to the amount of time I have available (running websites, a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account can take a lot of time).
I like to use smaller photography forums, such as the Expert Photography Forum, which allows me to help other people with their photography, as well as find answers for myself – I would encourage you to check it out.
Write a Photography Blog
This one may surprise you as an option for improving your photography, and I’ll be honest, it surprises me too. When I started this website, I never knew the effect that it would have over my time, and my photography, and I certainly welcome the way it has changed both. It has encouraged me to do more photography for the fun of it, as well as experiment with different styles and techniques, which has ultimately improved my photography.
You don’t have to wait years to start one, and you don’t even have to write, or teach anything, it can just be a collection of your photography if you like, such as a Tumblr page. No one needs to read it if you don’t want, it can just be for you, like a personal photography diary. When you start to sit down and study your photography (I do encourage writing about it), then it will start to become clear where you’re going wrong, and what you can do to improve.