I discovered these ways to improve photography skills around a year after I started taking photos. I do portrait photography for years but still, use these tips today. I find it most helpful for a couple of reasons:
It might help you with any kind of art and not only photography.
These ways to improve photography skills can help anyone with any level: from beginner to professional.
You don't always need to go out to learn photography.
I will give a short overview of what I do to improve photography skills and will give more information about what helped the most. I will split this post into 2 parts: practical and theoretical (which is sometimes even more important than practical). And will give you insights into what I’ve been doing to improve my photos from the beginning until now.
Once you’ve learned how to operate your camera, you can start learning more important things. At this stage, I do not recommend learning new photography techniques of how to make light tracks, for instance. Although it’s easy and can give you some satisfaction which is also important. But to not waste your time I would suggest learning the most important things about photography first. That way you will be able to improve photography skills and apply these skills no matter which techniques you use.
Practical ways to improve photography skills:
1 - Practice a lot!
Yes, it is somewhat cliché but photography in this way is like learning a new language. If you do photography all the time, you don't even notice how you get better at it.
Henri Cartier-Bresson said:
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
One important caveat here: Henri Cartier-Bresson took his photographs on film. In the digital age, you might need to multiply this number by 5 or 10. It’s because only while practising you can start to understand the ways you can photograph something. So get your camera and go out to photograph everything particularly interesting you see around. There are periods of time when I take ~ 100-300 pictures every day for months. Of course, I select and edit only 10-20 images a day. The most important is that you should try to take good photos and a lot of them. You have to think about what you photograph. It won't work if you switch to the high-speed mode and start shooting like from a minigun :)
2 - Use Fixed Lenses
It is really important if you want to improve your photography skills. Creativity is about limitations. If you have a zoom lens it’s harder to create something interesting unless you’re a master. I use fixed lenses myself, currently, I have a 50mm prime that I mostly use for portrait photography but want to switch to 35mm. For instance, I did that portrait photoshoot on the 50mm lens.
The advantage fixed lenses give you is that you look in the viewfinder and you see the same focal length. (most of the time they are also cheaper, sharper and you can open the aperture more.) And with a fixed lens, it’s constantly the same. So that way you learn to compose all the objects you want to photograph in this particular frame. So if your shot is broad there should be a very little amount of details. And if there's a lot of them you will have to come closer to your subject.
It surely makes you learn faster because it makes you look at everything from different angles. Since you can't just zoom in on your subject when composing a photo, you have to walk towards it. This makes you look at it from a new perspective. Doing so, I sometimes even discover a whole new way of shooting the thing that initially caught my eye.
Using prime lenses helped me to greatly improve my photography skills when I was starting out.
If your camera has a black & white mode - try switching it on. Shoot only in this mode for a long period: a week or a couple of months or even a year. Black and white photography omits the colours and helps to keep your attention on light. Values are what I recommend learning first. Grayscale images are different from colour images not only because there are no colours. The focus of the black and white photography is solely on light and shadow and on the composition. So try to get used to that way of thinking. Try to think only of the light and not colour. And learn how you can show your subject well lit so the background wouldn't take too much attention. Once you feel like you're ready - start doing colour photography. I have another post on how to improve your colours by using gradient map in photoshop.
4 - Collaborate with other photographers and learn from each other
I have a separate photography project in my portfolio where I show the photos we made together with my wife. Over the years I realised that we kept interested and motivated by always showing the work to each other and by creating part of the photos together. It’s definitely one of the best ways to improve photography skills and of the most interesting ones. You can compete, you can arrange challenges and you can take photographs of each other applying ideas that you both generate.
Theoretical ways to improve photography skills:
Learning photography composition is very important to improve photography skills. I often see images that are boring just because the author hasn't mastered composition and you can’t see the main subject. Most photographs should have a focus point to keep your attention on the main subject, otherwise, the image will look distractive and not appealing. You probably heard about the rule of thirds and that diagonal lines on an image create a dynamic image while horizontal and vertical - static and calm
After you have learned how to set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO you can start thinking beyond that. You can try to learn all the aspects of the different light settings or different ways to expose a picture. Photography is all about light and it’s even more important than composition. Since by affecting the light you affect the composition.
Cameras don’t see the world the same way as the human eye. For example, they don't capture as much information as our eyes do. Once you understand these kinds of limitations, you can learn how to use them to your advantage. When seeing something like a stunning sunset, some people like to say that it won't look the same in a photo. While I agree with this, I must also point out that you can make it look beautiful nonetheless.
3 - Fill your Visual library with new bright experiences to improve photography skills
Your visual library consists of the films you watched, the photos you’ve seen and even the books you’ve read. It’s the way you look at the world. It’s rather about understanding photography than taking pictures. For that, you don’t really need to learn photography theory. It’s the foundation of the whole art I would say. Your experiences are vital for your photography. Filling your visual library is something I would start doing even before taking the camera in my hands. Even music affects photography although it’s a completely different medium. Having a great visual library in your head will help you generate ideas for strong images subconsciously. You will see how beautifully your object can be shown without thinking about the photography rules.
To become a photographer you need to choose this lifestyle
If you follow these steps you will definitely improve your photography skills without searching for certain techniques. There’s no way of becoming a photographer in one day, week, or even a year. I've been doing photography for around 8 years and it feels like I’m only at the beginning. To become a photographer is to choose a lifestyle. Do not be afraid of the challenge. It's not about the hard work but it takes a lot of time. For me, photography is about the journey, about living with a camera in your hands.
The most important thing in photography is understanding. Firstly you should understand the idea of a photograph and then the way to create it. You need to learn to see the potential good shots. After that, you will take pictures that are good on their own. Without any "fancy tricks to take mind-blowing photos".
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