Several years back I wrote a post that contained 10 things you could do to improve your photography without buying gear. Today I am adding five more to that original list in the hope that I can help someone with a thin wallet still feel like they have a chance to get better.
So, here are MY suggestions for improving your photography without buying gear.
1. Know what you want to photograph. Make a decision on what’s important to YOU – not to your editors, or your girlfriend, or your teacher. Decide what’s right for YOU and then stick to it.
2. Don’t give up! It’s not easy to set a goal and then stick to it. But it sure is rewarding. Half of photography is patience and perseverance. Gut it out. When it gets hard, dig in your heels and work harder. Stay an extra 10 minutes on each location. Spend an extra 15 minutes a day looking at published photos. Handle your camera. The more effort you apply, the better the result.
3. Just relax and be yourself. You don’t have to wear a beanie cap and talk like an artist just to impress people. Unless that’s part of your real personality, shelve it. Just be yourself. This ties strongly to my first suggestion. If you’re not sure who you are, remember, you are NOT your photography. You are the person BEHIND the image. Don’t be afraid to let that infect your work.
4. See in yourself the things you want others to see in you. Nuff said.
5. Develop your own interests and your own style. Don’t just copy someone else. Your work will never really improve unless you stop copying other people’s ideas and start developing your own. It’s okay – great even – to be inspired by other work. Just don’t copy it. Do something new.
6. Work hard. And then work harder. I have a favorite saying I heard back when I was in high school. “Everybody wants to be a rock star without having to learn the chords.” There’s no getting around the fact that getting good at photography involves dedication and hard work. Buying the best camera in the world won’t do a thing for you if you don’t get off the couch and go shooting.
7. Be consistent. If your work is all over the place, it’s a sure sign you haven’t settled who you are and what you want to do with your photography. Until you sort that out, nobody else will be able to either. Stick with it.
8. Be positive. With the emergence of online forums and the Internet photo blog, photography can become very negative. Trolls who can’t or won’t do what’s necessary to succeed really, really don’t want you to either. It would force them to come face-to-face with their failures. So ignore them. Stay upbeat. Stay positive. Stay focused on your goals not your detractors. Excise the people, places and things that are a negative influence on your life.
9. Be objective. Be open to constructive critiques of your work. Step back and get rid of your emotional attachment to your images. Analyze them as a stranger would. Check yourself – to see if you’re hitting the mark you set for yourself. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong and learn from it.
10. Care about your subjects. Tell their story as if you are going to be the last person to ever get that chance. Whether you photograph birds, people, mountains, sports, trains, insects, flowers or anything in between, remember, your images end up speaking for the subject. What are you saying? Is it careful and considerate? If you can focus on that you’ll get better.
11. Become a better person if you want to become a better photographer. I stole that quote from Jerry Ghionis, a famous wedding photographer from Australia. It’s one of the truest things I’ve ever heard.
12. Practice “seeing.” Go out without any camera and observe the world. Just like strength training in a gym helps a football player do a better job during the big game, mental exercises help photographers do a better job when it counts.
13. Teach a newbie everything you know. There’s no way I know to learn more about photography than teaching it. I have probably benefitted most in my career by all the teaching I’ve done. If you have to teach, it forces you to research, think, plan and prepare. That’s a great recipe for improving.
14. Look at 10,000 published photographs. This won’t cost you a penny. Go to the local library and either use their computer or simply search through photo and art books. You’ll see images that SOME editor thought were worthy. Examine these images carefully. Study everything you can about them. Ask questions about how and why the photographer did what they did. Then apply what you learn to your own work.
15. Learn everything you can about the gear you have now. Don’t buy anything new until you are sure you’ve exhausted the limits of what you already have. Most photographers don’t come close to using the full potential of all the gear they already have. Spend time reading manuals, researching manufacture sites, and practicing with the tools you now have before spending money on new ones.
I know some of you wish I’d write the post that says “Buy three of these by Saturday and you’ll be a great photographer.” Sorry, if I knew what those three things were, I’d buy them for myself. I do know that photography, like anything else worth a lifetime pursuit, requires lots more than good gear.
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