Five things I’ve learned about being a better photographer

With all the warm weather on the way, I find myself more eager to go out side and photograph just about anything that catches my eye. Someone asked me recently to give them some pointers on how to be a better photographer. I honestly drew a blank and shrugged. I knew there was fifty thousand things you could do, but I had never really condensed them down to an easily digestible piece of information. So huzzah! Here are five things I’ve learned about being a better photographer.

1. Know Your Gear Inside and Out

The first thing I do with a new piece of equipment is read the instruction manual and figure out what every button, switch, and toggle does. I could write a long list of times when I’ve missed the shot because I was fiddling with my camera’s settings. Among amateurs and professionals alike, there are some who could care less what their settings are at, and some where they wouldn’t take a shot without writing them down. But what separates the good from the “getting-there,” is their ability to get their camera to do what they want it to do without much thinking. Another important reason for knowing your equipment is knowing its limitations. Admittedly, understanding the limitations and properties of light is more important, but having complete control over the mechanical portion can prove as a valuable asset to have.

2. Composition, Baby

This is a tricky one. Different types of photography require a unique perspective on the rules of composition. I’m not going to get into them here but luckily, Google returns 107,000,000 results for “rules of composition,” so I’m sure there are some rules for the type of work you’re doing. A tip that always puts a bee in my bonnet is: “Try it from a different angle!” As if laying on the ground or getting up in a tree will open your photographic eye to new worlds. My problem with this is the assumption that you as the photographer can’t interpret your subject, and that simply moving the camera will reveal a fresh and unique perspective. My point is that once you know composition, if you’re up in a tree or laying on the ground, it’s because you’ve made an educated decision to be there.

3. Quality Over Quantity

As a photographer, I like to keep myself in tune. One of my favourite exercises is called 30 in 30. Give yourself 30 minutes to take 30 frames, and only 30 frames. Also, try to finish at the 30 minute mark. This  forces you to think critically about what you’re photographing. There is an amazing series called “Naked in the House,” and as the name implies, it does involve people not wearing clothing being photographed. The concept for the show is simple: one camera, one lens, one model, one half hour. The show pushed the boundaries of even the most seasoned photographers, won a Gemini award, and solidified the idea that challenging ourselves can inspire us to create truly engaging imagery.

4. Filter Out The Filters

Another tricky one. Going back to my college days, I remember a pretty hilarious trend where almost everyone in the class used the diffuse glow filter in Photoshop on all their portrait work. The filter was a cheap recreation of what was sort of popular in high fashion photography at the time. Like all fads, the filter became a gimmick, and no one with a handle of popular trends used it. So much of the growing process is shedding all those fads and gimmicks in photography to get to the base. Picasso illustrates my point pretty well. Although he is famous for some of the must surreal cubist paintings, his profound beginnings produced some very traditional and realistic pieces. Although many of us won’t shape modern art, the same rules apply; grounding yourself in technique and understanding of the medium will have a profound effect on capturing compelling and meaningful imagery.

5. Don’t Post Every Photograph You Take

There’s a reason no one remembers the end of “The Sound of Music,” the movie is 9 hours long. And let’s face it, you just fast forward to the part where Julie Andrews sings “My Favourite Things.” Yes, its a bit of a stretch, but it validates my point; if you give your audience too much they can lose the big picture. When dealing with photographs, as a viewer, I would much rather view less than more. Selecting only your best image demands being hyper critical of your work, which unfortunately is a double edged sword. On one hand, your ability to trim the fat can produce a polished and respectable portfolio. That same critical eye can stop you from seeing an image’s potential, and be more discouraging than helpful. In the end, your ability to de-clutter your body of work will allow you to say a more poignant statement.

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