10 ways to improve your photography

Written by Mark Holmes on .

old cameraIn the spirit of the Internet where just about everything is in the form of a few easy-to-read tips, here is a list of ideas that I hope will inspire you. They are all points that I keep revisiting in my own photography and are a great reminder to myself.

Print some nice big prints

The way I choose photographs I like is to view them on my computer as thumbnails. If they don’t make an impact at this size, I think they probably won’t make an impact on me when I blow them up big. However, what looks good as a thumbnail can have glaring issues when it gets blown up to a large canvas size. I’ve found people in my pictures I didn’t know were there or distracting signs I hadn’t noticed before. There’s something about the quality of a print that really makes you study it, plus the definition is much sharper than even an HDTV monitor.

Pick a subject and keep shooting it

Instead of scooting around everywhere taking pictures of everything, find a subject and really concentrate on it. Walk around it; try to capture the essence of it in your photos by getting close and concentrating on detail, form, light, and color. It could be a person, pet, statue, scene, or building. Whatever it is, don’t stop thinking about it and shooting it until you believe you have caught exactly what it is that attracted you to photograph it in the first place.

Pick a technique and learn it

Knowing something thoroughly will help you get the results you want from your camera. Choose a technique and stick with it for at least a week. Shoot everything using the technique. For example, set up a high contrast Film Noir look and keep using it until you know what to expect from your camera. Try learning off-camera flash, shoot a large series of high-key portraits, or put a fisheye lens on your camera.

Never lose your sense of learning

The worst thing you can do is to believe you know everything and don’t need to learn any more. If you are a know-all, you will turn people off from sharing ideas with you. Your photography will become stale and your images will no longer inspire you. It’s a good idea to try and have humility and know that you can learn something from anybody.

Visit museums

Don’t just look at your own pictures, but spend time studying the works of others. Go up to a photograph in a museum and ask yourself “Could I take that?” If yes, then why didn’t you? Study the picture and look at all the elements of composition and tone. Get inspiration and ideas from it that you can put into your photography. Ask yourself what it is about the picture that makes it good and learn to apply the criticism to your own pictures.

Be your own critic

Having learned to be your own critic through studying the works of others, don’t post pictures in Internet forums. You are probably doing so because you think the picture is good and are expecting praise. Try to treat all praise and criticism equally and learn to criticize your own work constructively. Be confident and deliberate in your art and know that if you meant to do something and were successful in executing it then that is all the criticism you need. You should know that if you enter photography competitions and win it does not necessarily mean you’re a good photographer. What it means is you can identify and shoot what the judges are looking for. You do get a warm feeling and a sense of accomplishment though, so I am not knocking competitions.

Don’t become a gear freak

You might be better off spending your money on books or classes to improve your skills rather than buying new equipment. Try to get the very best out of the equipment you have before moving on. Modern cameras and lenses are all very good. For years all I had was an SLR and 50mm F1.7 lens and shot everything with it. I was so busy taking photos I never thought there were more lenses to spend my money on! I was finally forced to upgrade my equipment when my girlfriend left my camera in a café in Germany. (Yes, I am still bitching about it 30 years later!)

Shoot local, shoot often

Don’t wait until you go on vacation to some exotic country to take photographs. Have you noticed that when you go somewhere unfamiliar everything looks interesting, even simply a trash can or sign to a public convenience? Try to capture that freshness and curiosity in your own environment by shooting your local surroundings in detail. Get your camera out every day and shoot something!

Declare a chimp free zone

If you’re the kind of person who reviews a shot on the screen of your DSLR as soon as you take it, now is the time to reach for the black tape! Learn to trust your camera. Learn to know when your meter is going to under or over expose and adjust accordingly. If you are shooting a wedding and have to check the histogram on every shot, maybe you’re out of your depth.  You should be using the screen as a tool and not as a crutch for bad technique.

Gain some computer skills

People who know me might find it strange I’d say this. I try to get the best picture I can in the camera and even frame the way I want it as much as possible.  However, we can’t get away from the fact that it’s a digital world and having a good grounding in Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, etc. will improve the finished look of your pictures and make them more saleable. Maybe instead of a new camera all you need is some good software and a color-calibrated monitor!