Photographers these days spend so much time on the Internet learning good things about photography that they never make the time to do the things that would be really great for their photography. I've compiled a list of 21 things in this article that you can do today that would completely change your photography forever. THIS is how you learn photography!
If you like these tips, I hope you'll consider learning photography with me in my online class for budding photographers.
Action #1: Learn every function your camera is capable of performing (2 hours)
You know what I mean… not just aperture, shutter speed, and focus. I mean ALL the functions. Do you know how to use the multiple exposure feature on your DSLR? Have you ever taken a time lapse with your camera? How about mirror lock-up? For most photographers–even good ones–there are at least 5 or 6 functions on the camera that are never used. Learning to expand your creativity can change your photography forever by giving you one more tool you can use to capture scenes with a unique perspective. Try something new!
Action #2: Prepare your work for exhibition (Several hours)
This is probably the most difficult action suggested on this page. Preparing your work to be sold or displayed in a gallery is time-intensive and challenging, but it is SOO rewarding to see one of your photos perfectly matted and framed. Even if you don't have anywhere to show your work yet, you might be surprised what opportunities come knocking if you are prepared with your best work perfectly prepared. Not to mention… it's fun!
The first time I sold a photo was life-changing for me. It's SOO exciting to see someone who loves what you have created enough to display it in their home.
Action #3: Enter a photography contest (25 minutes)
Photography contests can be a great way to learn digital photography. Look for a contest that will provide you some feedback on your work. I am disappointed that so many photography contests today are merely “How many people view this photo” or contests that simply decide a winner without saying why the other photos were not chosen. Having said that, there are still some great photo contests out there. Find one and you'll be on your way to excelling in the world of photography.
Action #4: Look up the best photo you have ever seen and decide why YOU like it (15 minutes)
Obviously, it's tough to pick ONE favorite, but a year or two ago, I took a while to sit down and compare some of the best photos I've ever seen on the web. After a grueling decision, I finally determined that this photo is the best picture I have seen in my whole life. From doing this exercise, I learned a lot of things about my taste for photography: (1) Landscape photography is what really gets my heart beating, (2) Despite the craze around HDR, you don't have to expose every dark shadow to make a beautiful picture, and (3) What really makes or breaks a picture is the light.
If you're looking to find great photos, I recommend browsing through the 500px website. It's like Flickr, but the quality of the photos is WAY higher. Great place to get inspired.
Action #5: Print your best 75 photos and have a non-photographer critique them (2 hours)
Photographers are often shocked by the result of this exercise. Print 75 of your favorite all-time images and set them out on the table. Ask a friend or neighbor WHO HAS NEVER SEEN YOUR PICTURES to place them in order from their favorite to their least favorite. After they rank the photos, ask them why they chose what they did. The purpose of this exercise is to help photographers to learn what people notice–and don't notice–in their pictures. Are you really trying to impress other photographers with your work, or are you really shooting so that normal people can enjoy your art? I think this exercise really helps to put things in perspective.
Action #6: Write a guest post for a photography blog (35 minutes)
I hope this doesn't sound self-serving, but writing a guest post for a photography website was one of the best decisions I've ever made to improve my photography. It forced me to learn a concept deeply enough to write an article about it, it provided me with a great link from a popular site that drove TONS of traffic to my photography portfolio, and it inspired me to create a photography blog of my own. Try it! It might just change your life, and it will almost certainly improve your photography business.
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Action #7: Shoot night photography in your own city(2 hours)
Shooting night photography is THE BEST way to learn photography. I think night photography is great for learning photography because it helps photographers to focus on the light, it reinforces proper shooting techniques by requiring a tripod, and it helps photographers to master proper exposure since it often requires balancing high ISOs and long shutter speeds.
Action #8: Make your photography learning a “T.”
I believe that the best education for photography can be represented by the letter “T.” Like the shape of the letter “T”, photographers should cover a lot of topics and learn many styles of photography. This broad knowledge is represented by the long, horizontal top of the “T.” However, so many photographers stop at this point. Their knowledge is an inch deep and a mile wide. The truly great photographers then choose one aspect of photography (such as landscape, portrait, Photoshop, etc), and then delve deeply into that topic. This is represented by the long vertical line on a “T.” Both the broad base and the deep knowledge of a topic help photographers to become great.
So how can you make your photography knowledge more like a “T”? Sit down for a minute and decide where you are in photography. If you feel like you are really good at one style of photography but you don't have the experience to tackle different types of photography, then decide to broaden your horizons. Similarly, if you feel like you're more a jack of all trades in photography, then decide what you really love and learn everything you possibly can about that topic. A properly balanced photography education will certainly impact your photography for the rest of your life.
Action #9: Learn a new Photoshop trick by following a tutorial (10 minutes)
I have a certain photography friend that I follow on social networks. He is a terrific photographer and a good friend, but it is painful for me to look at his work. It's not painful because the photos are bad, but because he has never taken the time to learn Photoshop. Every single one of his photos has precisely the same Photoshop effect applied to it–all of them. That is such a shame! There is so much creative potential available to photographers who will spend the time to learn new things in Photoshop.
So where should you go to find a simple Photoshop tutorial? Head on over to Youtube and simply type in “Photography photoshop tutorial.” You will have access to hundreds of thousands of free tips. You might look for a tutorial on skin softening, how to add clouds to a landscape, changing colors, how to properly sharpen an image, or how to correct exposure problems. The opportunities are endless and learning a new technique will help you to take better pictures for the rest of your life.
If you're looking for an awesome photoshop trick to start off with, check out some of my trick photography tips here.
Action #10: Put together an online photography portfolio (30 minutes)
If you still haven't taken 30 minutes to set up a simple photography portfolio page, you are really missing out on a life-changing opportunity. I personally recommend Smugmug for a simple photography portfolio. Head on over to Smugmug.com and you will be done setting up your whole portfolio in as little as 30 minutes. The tools on Smugmug are easy enough for even a non-techie to understand. The nice thing about Smugmug is that they resize your photos for you, which is a huge time saver. Also, they have a free trial so you can set up your gallery and see if you like it before paying.
Action #11: Create a Facebook fan page for your photography (15 minutes)
Unfortunately, many photographers think that you only create a Facebook fan page for your photography if you want to do photography as a business; however, I think it's a fantastic way to stay motivated. I really don't care what the people on Flickr say about my photos, but I love to hear family and friends comment on my recent photo excursions and ask for a high-res version to use as a desktop background 🙂
If you ever feel unmotivated to get out of the house and take pictures, then it's time to create a Facebook fan page for your photography. Oh, and check out this page for tips on how to get more likes on Facebook.
Oh, and speaking of Facebook fan pages, if you “Like” Improve Photography on our facebook fan page, you will see the Improve Photography articles each morning right in your facebook news feed. It's like getting a newspaper every morning, but we didn't kill any trees to bring it to you, and it's free. Go to http://facebook.com/ImprovePhotography and click “LIKE” at the top.
Action #12: Print one of your photos large, and put it on the wall in your own home or business (1 hour)
This is another tip for keeping motivated in your progress as a photographer. By printing a large photo and hanging it in your home, you will receive compliments and comments for many years to come. Also, it's a great way to advertise your photography to people who come to your home or place of business. I did this a few months ago and it made me happy every time I walked into the room for weeks.
This can change your photography forever by motivating you to capture that great “wall hanger” of a photo that you are always seeking to create.
Action #13: Take your camera into a dark room and learn it! (10 minutes)
No, not the kind of darkroom where you work with film, but a regular room with no lights on. Then, change your shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus mode, focus point, etc. Can you do it without thinking or trying to look at the buttons? It might seem silly, but whenever I hold a workshop, this is one of the biggest limitations of my students–they simply don't know their camera well enough that they can focus on the art rather than the technology.
How long will you let the buttons keep you from taking great pictures? Make today the day you sit down and get things sorted out so you can start enjoying photography again. It's time.
Action #14: Create a photography bucket list (30 minutes)
Decide what you want to accomplish in the world of photography. Would you eventually like to shoot professionally? Would you like to travel to distant countries to shoot photography? Is it your goal to participate in charity events like Help Portrait? Do you want to get published? Want to become a photojournalist? Do you dream of shooting the cover of a magazine? Whatever your aspirations, commit to them and start working.
I personally created a bucket list (not photography specific) when I was a teenager. That simple list has pushed me to accomplish things that I never would have accomplished otherwise. I learned a second language, broke a Guinness World Record, was a student body officer in college, and will soon complete my goal of earning a doctorate degree. Making a list of photography goals will change your photography forever if you commit to accomplishing them.
Action #15: If you love shooting portraits, discover Model Mayhem
In teaching photography workshops, I am shocked at the number of photographers who enjoy shooting portraits, but never feel they are “good enough” to do a model shoot. What a shame! If you enjoy shooting portraits but are getting tired of shooting your friends and family all the time, then take that next step and get a model for a shoot. ModelMayhem is a website that lists photographers and models so you can get together with a model for a shoot. Many, or most, of the models are willing to do a shoot for free if you give them copies of the pictures and explain some of the details about what you want to do.
It's easy, it can be fun for portrait photographers, and it will give you a boost in your confidence as a photographer that will affect your photography for years to come. Also, it's the PERFECT way to help you start a photography business, because you'll have pictures of great looking people to feature on your site.
Action #16: Learn photography with a photo essay (1 hour)
A photo essay or photo project is simply a collection of 10 or 15 photos with a similar theme. Starting a photo essay can not only help you get some recognition, it can help you to take pictures that truly communicate feelings or messages to the viewer. Learning this vital skill will benefit your photography for the rest of your life.
Action #17: If you live in the United States, go register your photos (30 minutes)
In a former life I was a law student, so I'm a sucker for the legal aspects of photography. If you take photos, you already own the copyright to them; however, if someone takes your photo and plasters it on a billboard, you will not be nearly as protected if you haven't registered your photos. Among other things, registration will allow you to collect statutory damages. No clue what statutory damages are? Just trust me… it would put a smile on your face. For more information on how to register your photos, read this article by the Photo Attorney.
Protecting your legal rights as photographer will certainly change your photography forever.
Action #18: Make some photo buddies (20 minutes)
Photography is fun and exciting when practiced alone, but it can be lots more fun when you have someone to do it with. If you spend 20 minutes on Flickr looking for local photographers, or search for a local photography club, or even email another local photographer, you could be well on your way to establishing a relationship with a local photographer who you can enjoy your hobby with. This makes photography trips more fun, you can share gear, you can learn new tips, and you'll have someone to be excited for you when you get a great shot.
Another great place to find photo buddies is through Meetup.com. In most cities, there are a few groups of photographers who you can meet up with for free!
Action #19: Make a list of 20 locations you want to shoot this year (1 hour)
I can't stand to hear photographers say that they didn't get up to shoot the sunrise because they weren't sure what to take pictures of. As the old quote goes, “There are only a fixed number of sunrises and sunsets to be enjoyed in a lifetime. The wise photographer will do the math and not waste any of them.” Writing down a list of 20 interesting places in your town will help you to get out of the house because you won't have the “there's nothing to shoot” excuse. Every town has great places to shoot if you just put your mind to it.
Action #20: Rent a new lens
Buying a new lens can be quite expensive, but renting is very affordable. By renting a new lens, you'll see things in a whole new way. Often, when I'm going on a big photography trip, I try to get my hands on a new lens so I can see things with a fresh perspective. If you haven't rented before, then I would recommend BorrowLenses.com. They are honest people with high-quality gear, and they give back to the photo community. If you're not sure what to rent from BorrowLenses, then check out my list of the most outstanding lenses available.
Treating yourself to a new lens can change your photography forever by helping you to break out of your box and develop a new technique that you will likely use for the rest of your life. Rent something fun. If you shoot landscape, then rent a long wildlife lens; If you shoot portraits, then rent a fisheye; If you usually shoot macro, then try a wide-angle lens. Renting a lens can definitely help you get out of a rut.
Action #21: Go read the two best photography tutorials ever written (35 minutes)
In my opinion, the two best photography tutorials ever written are The HDR Tutorial by Trey Ratcliff and The Off-Camera Lighting Tutorial by David Hobby. If you haven't read these tutorials or learned about these two techniques, your photography is not as good as it could be. These are the only two articles I can recommend that would actually change your photography forever. They are that good!
Action #22: Share this article on Facebook or Twitter by pressing the button at the top right
Okay… fine. This definitely won't change your photography forever, but I would appreciate you paying it forward by sharing your knowledge of this article with the people on your social networks. It's easy and it's a big help to me.
To become part of the Improve Photography community, LIKE our Facebook fan page. I personally answer every photography question posted on the Facebook page.
Oh, and I got the idea for this post from a totally unrelated website, ManVsDebt. If you're into entrepreneurship and personal finance, it's a great blog.