As photographers, we are always looking at ways of taking better pictures, of becoming better photographers. While most of us usually get better through the process of simply taking pictures, this is a process that doesn't always yield the best results, especially if you are lacking direction.
Popularity of Photography
Over the last decade, the popularity of photography has sky rocketed. Photography is now more accessible than ever. Practically anyone can afford a digital camera or an an entry-level DSLR. The cost of taking pictures has practically diminished if you compare it to the high cost of shooting and processing film. There's an abundance of resources, photography blogs, photo sharing sites, YouTube videos, photography magazines and photography books to learn and draw inspiration from.
As photography has become more accessible, the number of good pictures in proportion to the amount of pictures being taken are on the decrease. Trying to find a good picture in between a sea of noise has literally become like finding a needle in the haystack. Likewise, the amount of good photography resources in proportion to the total number of resources have also drastically decreased.
How do we Become Better Photographers?
1. Don't Buy a Photography Magazine or a Book to Become a Better Photographer
Photography magazines and books usually focus on the wrong problem. The typical photography magazine or book places heavy emphasis on equipment and technique. They usually feature cheap tricks such as how to photograph star trails at night and take macro pictures of flowers. Magazines and books usually cater for an amateur market. To improve you need to look and learn from what the good guys are doing, not the amateurs.
2. Don't Buy a New Camera or a New Lens
It doesn't matter what camera or lens you use. The camera doesn't take good pictures, you do.
Photographers love falling in the gear trap. Most of us, including myself have fallen victim to this trap on numerous occasions, and it never pays off.
Don't believe me? Here's a simple analogy that will change your mind. Today's cheapest DSLR with the cheapest lens is capable of delivering sharper pictures than the professional SLR's from the early to late 20th century.
The majority of Henry Cartier Bresson's pictures aren't tack sharp or even sharp - many of them are slightly out of focus.
3. Adapt the Mind-set of a Film Photographer
Digital photographers no longer need to think before they shoot. In the days of film we only had 36 exposures on a roll of film. Each picture cost you money. You had to buy the film, you had to have the film developed, you had to pay for contact sheets, and you had to pay for the prints. Being a photographer in the film era really made you think before you took a picture. If you just clicked away, you wasted money.
A lot of photographers are quite vocal about this mind-set, with some even making the switch back to film. The truth is, film or digital has nothing to do with it, and switching back to film won't necessarily make you a better photographer. Changing your mindset, working slower, and giving thought to the process of taking pictures will not only yield a higher percentage of good pictures, it will make you a better photographer.
4. Study the Work of Master Photographers
By studying the work of master photographers, you learn to recognize what a good picture looks like, and naturally you will start improving your vision, your way of seeing photographically.
Not sure which master photographers you should start with?
Try any of the following to start with : Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Adams, Joel Meyerowitz, Alfred Stieglitz or William Klein.
5. Shoot More, Practice and Develop Your Vision
Once you are able to see better photographically, practice by shooting as much as you can and develop your vision further. Copy and emulate others as much as you have to - it's all part of the learning process. A good technique is to never critique your own work on the same day of taking pictures. Allow your pictures to sit for at least a few days before applying critique to your own pictures - this takes the excitement and emotion out of equation. It allows you to look at your pictures more objectively.
6. Develop Your Own Style
Once you are able to take good pictures more consistently, it is time to develop your own style. Photographically speaking, this is one of the most difficult things a photographer can do. It's easier for artists to develop a style as we all have a natural distinction when it comes to drawing or painting, but with photography your style is influenced heavily by your vision, and ultimately the style in which your pictures are taken.
A few examples of photographers with a distinct style.