During my professional photography career I have often been asked for advice on how to become a “better photographer”, from people seeking beginner photographer tips. My snarky answer is just buy the fanciest camera you can afford and it will do the rest. The truth is that becoming more skilled with a camera and gaining the ability to consistently make good-quality photography requires something more.
Good cameras don’t make good photos, good photographers do.
You have a digital camera and you like taking photos. Great, now what? It turns out that photography is very learn-able set of skills and your abilities will grow in equal measure to the effort you put in. What is really great about photography is how rewarding the results are. There is nothing like taking a shot and making the photo you imagined. So how do you build your skill, how do you get better at making photos?
Here are some suggestions that can help. Listed below are ten beginner photographer tips that will help you improve your skills and become a better photographer.
PRACTICE REGULARLY – We all know that to become a good musician you have to practice. The same is true for photography. In fact many of the motor skills and cognitive processes we use to take photos are like those of musicianship. The more you practice, the better you will know your camera and the more creative you can get with your photography. Practice on a regular basis and your photography will improve. Practice, practice, practice…
ABYC- “ALWAYS BRING YOUR CAMERA” The number one reason people miss good photos is because they don’t have a camera with them. Make it your habit to always carry a camera with you, because you never know what you could miss. Compact cameras are easy to keep on hand and with today’s tablets and smartphones there is no excuse not to have a camera. Now if you go to the bother to carry your camera make sure you use it. Look for photography opportunities in your daily life. Watch for interesting lighting and moments and shoot simply for the fun of it. Be ready to explore the world visually always.
KNOW YOUR CAMERA – You don’t need to memorize every feature right away, but over time you should get comfortable enough so that using your camera becomes second nature. It’s like learning to shift gears or ride a bicycle – only when the device operation becomes habitual do you get where you are going with ease. Invest the time to read and refer to your camera owners manual. Learning your camera capabilities and tools will help you get more consistent and better looking results.
LEARN to “READ” LIGHT– Light is the primary creative tool for photographers. The name itself , derived from the Latin “photo graphis” means “light writer”. Light is your instrument. Just like with books, before you learn to “write” you had to learn to “read” . Understanding its qualities and features, and how to manage light is the core of photography. Making correct exposures is part of knowing light, real understanding comes from “reading” light.
PHOTOGRAPH THE FAMILIAR– The refrain in every writer workshop is “write what you know”. The same advice is good for photography. Spend your time looking at and photographing the subjects that interest you or know the most about. It takes a certain amount of experience and confidence to approach strange and unfamiliar situations and is hard to do well. Capture what you are most familiar and interested in and you will capture your viewer’s attention.
SLOW DOWN . Our digital cameras allow us to shoot in a rapid fire way with ease. It is tempting to push the button and hope for the best, to trust the camera to get lucky and make a decent photo. Good photography begins with good ideas, with thought. Take the time to think about what you want to show in your photo and how to best show it. Slow down enough to check your lighting, your framing and for any background distractions. A few seconds of scrutiny can make a big difference in the quality of your photos.
TAKE a WORKSHOP or a CLASS– Almost every photo skill can be researched and self-taught with effort. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone guide you a little. That is where photography workshops come in. Investing a few hours or a few days dedicated to learning photography will accelerate your skill building. There is nothing like working and socializing with a group of photographers, and with a well qualified instructor, to improve your photography.
BREAK HABITS – It is very easy to get into a methodical routine with our digital cameras. Developing an habitual approach to your photography is human nature. We achieve a comfort level. a familiar pattern and ultimately a creative rut. Break your habits. Experiment with new methods and techniques. Get out of your comfort zone and get creative. Photograph your least favorite and most challenging type of subjects and shooting situations.
LOOK AT OTHER PHOTOGRAPHY – Art History courses are always the foundation of formal artist training for a reason. One of the best ways to become a better is to get familiar with the work of other photographers. Looking at other photographer’s images is inspirational and informative. Examine the photos that you like and think of the reasons why. Try to deconstruct the technical and creative features of the photo. Don’t mimic what you discover, use the insights you find to refine your own style of photography.
SHOOT MORE– SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT!!!!!! If you think you shoot enough – you don’t. Unlike with film cameras, there is no cost ( besides data management) to capturing more images, so there is no real downside to taking a lot of photos. Don’t just shoot for quantity, shoot for quality. If your think you’re done with a scene or subject approach it again from a new angle or with a different lens. When you travel to new places or are having one of kind days make sure you take it all in with your camera. Don’t just get a few frames when you can get several and work at creating something special.
Use your camera often, seek new photo experiences and your skills and confidence will grow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients. Based in Nashua, NH he provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. Dan is a photo educator and presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England. For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.