A collection of ideas about photography and what can make you a better photographer. I believe we are teachers and students to each other. These are my tips to making better photos. I hope you don’t agree with them all.
Yes, that’s right. Buy gear. You are a photographer. It is your passion (hopefully!) so why not buy gear? I would recommend though, buying gear only if you really need it. Buy second-hand gear off eBay or Gumtree (Australia).
Cameras, lenses, flashes and bags are tools- if you need them, buy them. Some will make you a better photographer because you will be able to capture what you envisage. Some purchases will be duds. Avoid the duds.
Don’t make impulse buys. Research the hell out of each purchase to guarantee you get a good bargain and you know why you are getting that new piece of equipment.
2. Don’t Listen to Others
There are so many voices on the interwebs, including mine, telling you you should (or shouldn’t) follow rules, or shouldn’t buy equipment, or you should shoot with one camera for a year, or use presets or don’t take photos of sunsets. Rules, rules, rules! Don’t listen to them. Don’t listen to me. Listen to yourself. What feels good for you.
3. Shoot When You Don’t Feel Like It
Sometimes those days when you really don’t want to get of the couch are the days you make good photographs. Those great photos are not going to make themselves. You have to put yourself out there. Most people hate the idea of going to the gym. Once they are there though, they love it. They are rewarded and don’t regret going. (I love the gym!)
4. Avoid the Rules
Everyone knows the rule of thirds rule. Ignore it. So many photographs are taken using this rule. And you know what? They all feel the same. They all look the same. They are all ‘balanced’ and harmonious. They are generally boring too. Spice thing up by breaking the rules.
Some of my favourite images of mine (and of photographers Herb Ritts’ and Ellen Von Unwerth’s) are when they are out of focus. The ‘rule book’ says photos are supposed to be in focus. Boring.
5. Buy (or Borrow) Photography Books
I love me some photography books. Books from the library keep me pretty stimulated. There is no cost involved. Hate it? Take it back.
They say you are what you eat. Well, you are what you read. Looking at crap photos are not going to help you as a photographer. Looking at great photography in the printed form is inspiring and motivating. Don’t get stuck on a tiny Instagram screen looking at average images. Get some books from the masters.
I love buying books. I don’t like spending money. So I buy second hand books.
More on Norman Parkinson here.
6. Seek To Look With Fresh Eyes
Once you look with ‘fresh eyes’, even your boring old neighbourhood is starting to look cool. Sometimes it means getting closer, sometimes it means looking up, shooting at night or tackling a project.
Sometimes your neighbourhood or town can just seem so dull and there is nothing to shoot. Try macro photography, shoot clouds, go out at night and do long exposure photography or photograph everyone in your street.
I thought Newtown, the main hub where I live, was boring until I started shooting B&W film there with vintage rangefinder camera. I loved every 36 shots the first day I did that.
7. Work on Several Projects
Keep yourself stimulated by working on a few projects at once. For example, I’m collecting images of dogs. When I see a dog in the street, I take their photo. I love dogs, but I am not a ‘pet photographer’. In a few years, if I keep going, I could amase a cool collection: Dogs Of Sydney.
I’m also working on a project called ‘Trash’, where I am photographing rubbish. A statement on recycling and waste, but also on what is considered beautiful and photo-worthy. It may develop into a big project- I’m not too sure yet, but it is fun to collect these images.
8. The Path is the Destination
There is not ultimate, final destination. We keep on learning, gaining more skills and recognition for our work. There is no endgame. The learning, the accumulating and sharing of knowledge is the reward. Embrace it.
Shake up your photographic and editing sessions. It’s easy to hold the camera the same way, light the same way and edit the same as you always do. Happy accidents happen when you think. “What if I just…” Shoot from a lying down position, use a light reflector in a different way, play around with contrast or colours when editing.
Recently I took some photos of a model, Lucia. I experimented with shooting through a wine glass. The model loved them but I really didn’t think they worked. Just before I deleted them, the model messaged me saying how much she loved those images. I opened them again and cropped and converted some to monochrome and I loved them.
10. Find Your Own Voice
Trends in fashion or photography are the same: people doing the same thing as everyone else. It is just copying. And while it is good to try to replicate your hero in terms of style, it can only help so much.
Forge your own path to find your own voice. We are all sick of seeing the same style of images. A quick look on Instagram and you’ll see the same image a million times: legs sticking out of a campervan with fairy lights around the camper door, the woman holding the photographers hand as she looks back while walking through the field or the forest. Dozens more of these unoriginal and boring photos. Enough!
Be original. Be yourself.
11. There Is No Such Thing as Too Many Backups
Backup, backup, and backup some more. Hard drives, USB thumb drives, disks, clouds. Just backup. Keeping your files organised is time consuming but worth it.
On that note, tag all your images. It will make them much easier to find. Label images, label folders. Stay organised.
12. A Little Social Media Goes a Long Way: Why Instagram is for Squares
Social media, especially Instagram ‘likes’, is not your measure of success. There are incredible photographers with small followings. There are professional, well paid, highly regarded photographers with a few thousand followers. (I am good friends with one).
Followers and likes is not a measure of success- it is a measure of popularity.
Instagram is addictive. It was designed that way. Nothing is free. You pay for Instagram with your time. Even if you go on Instagram twice a day for half an hour (sounds pretty reasonable), that makes seven hours a week. What can you achieve in seven hours? How many photos can you take in seven hours? How many blog posts can you write? How many new techniques for shooting or editing can you achieve? Small doses go a long way.
Myspace was big. Now it is dead. Flickr was huge and was great for storing and sharing images. Now, almost dead. 500px? Dead. Facebook was huge for photographers. Not any more. You gotta pay to get any traction on those platforms. It is one of the ways they make money. Nothing is free.
I am not anti-Instagram. I am on Instagram and I enjoy it as much as the next person, but I do know that it will never make me rich or famous. I also know it was designed to keep you on there as much as possible. Blah!
More on Instagram here.
13. Take As Many Photos As You Can
Moments are fleeting. Capture them. One of the great things about shooting digital is you can fire away, try different angles, different poses, different lighting. Gone are the analog days (no!!) where every shot counted and cost money. I’m not saying ‘spray and pray’. Consider your shots and consider many of them.
14. There Is No Shame in Editing Your Photos
Editing can take your image from average (or a reject) to a good one. Learning to properly edit your images is important. Shoot in RAW to give yourself and advantage from the start. Read books on editing.
Personally I love those ‘BookMags’ from Future Publishing. They are up-to-date with covering the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop. I feel they are good value in learning new techniques and speeding up your editing process.
Also, reading a book/mag, for me, is better than reading it on screen. YouTube can be good and some people have a wealth of knowledge, but not everyone is a good teacher.
15. Don’t chase the crowd.
Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Boring. Double boring. It’s always good to be inspired by other photographers. There is nothing wrong with trying to emulate your favourite photographer. The problem is trends. Trends are the death of your creativity.
As your parents probably said to you at some stage. “If everyone jumped off the cliff. Would you too?”
Don’t jump of the cliff. Forge your own path.
16. Print Your Photos
Nothing is more rewarding than flicking through your photos or framing your favourite photo. It is so easy to look at your images on the screen but the real beauty of photography is holding a photo in your hands.
17. Get A Website to Showcase Your Work
Getting your images on your website, like printing, is rewarding. Instead of a tiny image in a square format (I’m looking at you Instagram), your images are big, bold and on display for the whole world to enjoy. Arrange them in any order, create stories, projects or write about them in a blog. All the stuff you can’t really do on social media.
I hope this list has been helpful. If you have any more I should add to the list, please let me know in the comments!
And remember, we are all teachers and students to each other.
Best wishes until next time,