11 Ways To Become A Better Photographer

11 Learn once.

The best photographers don’t need to hear or read the same things repeatedly. They pay close attention the first time, go out and try it for themselves, and then apply whatever is appropriate for their photography. Then they move on to the next thing.

10 Share.

Sure, we all keep some of our favorite locations to ourselves and maybe some of our techniques, but in the end, the more you share, the more you reap.

Icicles and Night Sky

Icicles frame Orion and the Pleiades in the night sky at a waterfall in western North Carolina. Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm lens, ISO 2000, f/3.5, 25 seconds. Light painted the icicles with a blue gel filter covering an LED flashlight.

9 Develop a personal project.

One of the best ways you can improve your photography is to work on a specific project, preferably one that is out of your comfort zone. Projects can force you to explore new subjects and techniques and to learn more about your photography gear. And they can be immensely rewarding. The key is choosing the right kind of project. For example, choosing to photograph wildflowers as your project is probably not going to help you much because it is too broad and won’t force you to work outside of your comfort zone as much as, say, a project to photograph every wildflower species that grows in your local city park.

8 Lighten up.

Yes, you should take your photography seriously, but If you can’t have fun along the way, what’s the point? Once fun and joy are removed from the equation, photography becomes a chore, something you have to do, rather than something you want to do. When that happens, evolution slows to a crawl. More about lightening up in this blog post.

7 Teach.

Without question, one of the best ways to learn more about something and become better at it is to teach it to others. Before you can teach someone else, you must teach yourself. You must learn all the little details instead of just winging it. You must assemble the information into a coherent message. Along the way, you’ll find that you are learning just as much as your students are.

6 See advice, not praise.

Let’s face it, we all like to post images on Facebook and see how many people say nice things about them. But if that’s all you’re paying attention to, you’re swimming in a stagnant pool. Your friends will always say nice things about your photos, just like your family will, even if they aren’t crazy about the image. (If they really don’t like the photo, they probably won’t say anything.) I’m not suggesting that you stop posting images on Facebook or showing them to your mom, but that you try to put it in the proper perspective. And every once in a while, rather than simply posting an image and awaiting praise, put up an image that you aren’t sure about and ask your friends to give you honest feedback. Tell them you don’t want to hear just their praise; you want to hear their honest opinion. Just make sure you also put that into the proper perspective, that the only person you need to satisfy is yourself.

5 Ignore your Facebook likes.

Of course, there is validity in having as many likes as you can for a Facebook business page, but only if they are legitimate. If all you care about is the number, you may be tempted to start paying for them, either through Facebook page promotion or by using outside firms. Either way, a high percentage of your new likes are likely to come from link farms. They won’t be from other photographers who share your interests and who could be potential clients. Facebook doesn’t send your posts to everyone who likes your page right off the bat. Instead, it sends out a “feeler” to see how popular the post is and then it sends your post to others based on the results. If a high percentage of that feeler is going to people who aren’t photographers, they aren’t going to respond by liking the post and making comments and Facebook will declare it dead. You’re going to miss a lot of your intended audience. I’d rather have 500 Likes from colleagues than 50,000 from link farm employees in Bangladesh.

And how does this relate to making you a better photographer? I’m seeing more and more that photographers are equating their talent with the number of likes they get. They think that if they get a bunch of likes, it means they must be really good. It’s false legitimacy and it can cause you to ignore the real avenues that can help you improve as a photographer. It’s much better to build your likes the old-fashioned way, by getting other photographers to like you and your page genuinely. That means creating content that they want to see and in the process of doing that, you are growing as a photographer.

(Oh, by the way, if you happen to like what I’m saying here, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d hop over to my Facebook page and like it. Not that I’m counting, mind you. 🙂 )

4 Imagine, not imitate.

We all like to look at everyone else’s photos and we get ideas and inspiration from them. When we do, we are likely sometimes to create images that are similar to others. With so many people photographing the same subjects, a certain amount of copying is unavoidable and perfectly acceptable. But if all you’re doing is looking at other photos and going out to make the same photo, you aren’t evolving. At best, you stagnate your photography and your photography friends begin to think of you as a copycat. At worse, you begin to lose your friends. Sadly, I’ve seen it happen.

Study the work of other photographers and let it inspire you, give you ideas, make you think. Then go out and apply that inspiration within the context of your own style of photography. If you work in this context, it’s perfectly okay if you sometimes create an image that imitates someone else’s. In any case, the polite thing to do is give proper credit to the person who inspired you. The more you think for yourself and the more you acknowledge those who help you, the more it helps you grow as a photographer.

3 Write.

Writing is very similar to teaching in that you must teach yourself first and assemble your message coherently, and that in turn helps you in your own photography. But in many ways, writing is a much broader method of learning. You can write whatever you like on a blog, Facebook, online forum, or any number of other venues. You aren’t limited to a specific subject as you might be with teaching a class, so you can let your mind wander. But when you put it in words, you have to impart a structure and you have to make sure that what you are saying is accurate. (You should, anyway.) So you are learning along the way.

2 Accept that you’re not that good—but keep trying to be.

There are a gazillion trillion photographers in the world. If you think you’re the best at anything in photography, you are doomed to failure. The best photographers are the ones who understand and accept the fact that they will probably never reach the highest pedestal, but they keep trying anyway. Casey Kasem said it best. “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

1 Photograph something you hate.

Why would you want to do something like that? Isn’t photography all about following your passion and having fun? Yep, but how can you continue to have fun and be passionate if you aren’t continually evolving as a photographer? One of the best ways to do this is to work out of your comfort zone. If you hate photographing people, I recommend you go out and photograph some people. Do you photograph only nature? Then start shooting some buildings. I promise, if you approach it seriously, it will make you a better photographer for the things you love.

0 Attend Western North Carolina Foto Fest. (Yes, this makes 12, but I couldn’t decide which one to leave out.)

Considering that I, along with my good friend Bill Lea, founded Foto Fest, this may seem like shameless self-promotion. That’s because it is. (I am quite capable of being shameless at times.) But there is a lot of validity in it is as well. Attending a photography conference is a great way to meet new photography friends, learn new techniques, and gain inspiration. Events that feature vendors give you the opportunity to try out the latest photo gear, ask questions about your own gear, and maybe get your camera sensor cleaned. Nearly all events will feature one or more speakers and some offer photo outings and outdoor workshops as well.

I try to attend as many conferences as I can and I always learn something helpful each time. Regardless of where you live, chances are good that there will be some type of photography event within driving distance. In the Southeast, I know of four good ones. In addition to Foto Fest, which is held annually in September, there is the Annual Meeting for Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association, Nature Visions, and the Photo Expo for Georgia Nature Photographers Association. I’m sure there are many more.

Oh, by the way, at this year’s Foto Fest, one of our programs features Mary Presson Roberts and Lorraine Shannon speaking about #9 in this list. They both have worked on personal projects that I think will inspire us all.

No, there is no end to my shame.

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