16 Ways to Improve Your Photography

In Features by Rusty Parkhurst

 

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point. Photo by Rusty Parkhurst.

It probably goes without saying that we all want to improve our photography skills.  After all, that is the name of this website, so I assume you are here to learn ways to improve your photography.  That's why I visit here regularly to read the articles from all the great writers and listen to the podcasts in the Improve Photography network.  That's also why I enjoy writing these articles.  Not only to share knowledge that may help others, but also to help me to improve my craft as well.

You see, photography is a journey…in a sense.  However, whereas a “journey”, as we typically would think about it, has a well-defined destination, photography is different.  It's a journey that never really ends.  Learning and improving never really stops.  There's never really a point where one can put down the camera and say, “I've made it; there is nowhere else for me to go”.  At least I don't think so.  Photography is more like a journey with many sojourns along the way.  We all take different paths and progress at a different pace, but the overriding goal to improve our photography is the common thread.

This article offers 16 ways that you can improve your photography.  Some of these are relatively easy to do, and many of you may already be doing them.  Others take a little more effort. Regardless, taking these for what they are and applying some form of them to your own photography journey will undoubtedly result in improvement over time.

 

Get a Portfolio Review

“Is my photography any good?”  I'm sure that at some point we have all asked ourselves that question.  Heck, I wonder that about my work all the time.  Achieving “likes” on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media or photo sharing platforms is nice, but does little to tell how you are really doing.  It's reassuring when friends and family tell you how great your photography is, but that may not provide a clear picture (pun intended) of your work or how to improve it.

Getting a portfolio review from a professional photographer can be a great way to get some honest and unbiased feedback about your photography.  A good portfolio review will not just be all praise, but will also point out some areas that could use some improvement and tips on how to get there.  This type of constructive criticism could be just the thing to push your photography to the next level.

There are tons of places you can go for this, but a good place to start looking would be the portfolio review packages offered by Improve Photography.  Each of the reasonably-priced packages offer features that are specific for your needs and you best photos will be reviewed by some of the top photographers in your particular genre of interest.

 

Learn Your Camera Inside and Out

The first thing to do when you get a new piece of gear is to learn everything about it.  This is particularly true for camera bodies.  Take the time to learn every single button, dial, and menu feature.  This takes time and can be tedious, but it will be worth it.  Go beyond the basics of setting shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  Even learn about features that you may think you'll never use.  Learning about all these features will give you a better understanding of the how you can use your camera to make the best images possible.

Another aspect of learning your camera is to develop the ability to quickly make adjustments on the fly.  Whether this is a change in the exposure or the white balance, focus mode, focus point, exposure compensation, or a host of other things, being able to make the necessary adjustments quickly will minimize the chances that you miss “the shot”.  The camera should essentially become an extension of your hand, and making adjustments to settings should become second nature.  This takes lots of practice, which means lots of shooting.  However, you can do this even while sitting on your couch.  Just grab your camera and practice manipulating the buttons, dials, and menus.  Stick with it until you are able to make at least basic exposure adjustments without even looking at the camera.  The less time you spend fidgeting while out on a shoot, the more confident you will be, and your images will show it.

 

Create a Portfolio Website

Once you have accumulated a nice collection of portfolio images, it is a great idea to create a website to display and share them.  This is where your very best images will be shown off to the world. Creating your own website gives you full control over what gets posted and how the site is used.  You can decide what kind of interaction you want from the viewers, or if you want no interaction at all.

A photography portfolio should have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to 12 of your absolute best images ever captured.  These will typically follow a general theme or a particular genre.  If you shoot a variety of things, you could have multiple portfolios, such as landscapes, portraits, architecture, etc.  It is important to remember to update your portfolio on a regular basis.  As you continue to improve and make better images (which you will), the photos in your portfolio from 6 months ago may not look so great anymore.  Cull those out and continue to update with better and better images.

 

Learn Off-Camera Flash

One of the best and fastest ways to improve your photography is to learn a new technique.  One of the things that will really set your photography apart is learning to use lighting, specifically off-camera flash.  Learning flash photography can be a scary proposition.  I avoided it for a long time, but after getting a speedlight a couple years ago and seeing how it can improve an image, I was sold.

There are many uses for flash in photography, but you can make some drastic improvements in portraiture work.  Not only using flash, but getting it off the camera, will allow you to create amazing images that have a much more professional look.  Your work will really stand out, whether you are simply taking photos of your family, or are looking to build a client base for a portrait photography business.

If you're wondering where to start learning about off-camera flash, check out this video tutorial.

 

Do a Yearly Top Ten

A yearly top ten is a great way to gauge your progress and improvements in your photography.  This is something I've been doing for the last several years and have found it to be tremendously helpful, not only in getting better at culling my best images, but also in providing a visual reference to see how my photography has changed.  The way this works is that you select your 10 best images for the year, kind of like putting together a portfolio, except just for that one year.  What you do with them is up to you, but it is most effective to share these images and possibly even make prints of them.  This is something that is done each year so you can look back at previous years to compare the quality of your work and see where you still need improvements.

Jeff Harmon does a great job of explaining the whys and hows of the annual top ten in this Photo Taco podcast.  The trick is not to wait until the end of the year to select your top ten images. Instead, make a separate folder (or Collection in Lightroom) and place images you think could be candidates as the year progresses.  At the end of the year, there will be a much smaller pool of images to choose from and make this a much more enjoyable task.

This Canyon Overlook sunset from Zion National Park is a top 10 candidate for 2017.  Hopefully I can replace it with even better images!

Be More Selective

Have you ever “sprayed and prayed”?  I know I have, and there is proof of it in my Lightroom catalog.  Don't get me wrong; there are times that using this method may be warranted, such as fast action sports and birds in flight.  For most types of photography, however, it is best to slow down the image making process.  This involves planning, scouting, pre-visualization, and a whole lot of patience.  Become more deliberate in your shooting.  One way to do this is to use a tripod.  This will slow you down and make you think more about the composition; light and shadows; and elements to include and to leave out of the frame.

It's very rewarding to really nail an image; one that could be a portfolio piece or even hang on your wall.  It's even more so when you actually mean to do it.

 

Go on a Photography Workshop

I have sang the praises of attending a photography workshop in previous articles and will continue to do so.  This has been a huge part of my development as a hobbyist photographer.  I believe it can be for anyone.  A photography workshop gets you away from the busyness of everyday life and immerses you in nothing but photography for a few days.  Not only that, but you are surrounded by other people with the same interest who may become life-long friends.  What can be better than that?

I would encourage everyone to go on a photography workshop at some point.  Perhaps even make it an annual thing, if possible.  Instead of buying the new lens or camera body you've been drooling over, save the money for a workshop instead.  You'll be glad you did.

 

Do a Project

It is not uncommon to get stuck in a rut with your photography at times.  When that happens, it seems that there just isn't anything to shoot and no reason to even get the camera out of the bag. One way to get jump started and back on track is to do a project.  There is no shortage of ideas for this.  If you need some help, check out this great article.

A photography project will get you shooting again, and that's what is important.  More shooting means you are practicing.  The difference is that you have a goal.  Instead of just taking random shots, you have a set objective in mind.  More deliberate shooting with a well-defined goal will help you to improve your photography faster.

 

Stay Inspired

I don't know about you, but I often find it difficult to get inspired to go out shooting.  That's not good for me or my photography.  There are many ways to find inspiration, and different things work for different people.  Looking at the work of others in places like 500px or Instagram is one way.  There are some amazing photographers sharing their work every day and it may be just what is needed to get you going.  Perhaps going to an art museum to view the work of the masters would help get the creative juices flowing again.  You may prefer reading books from some of the pioneers of photography to find the edge you need.  Do whatever works for you.  The point is to keep that shutter clicking and keep creating images.  You will see your photography improve by leaps and bounds.

Always be on the lookout for ways to get inspired and improve your photography. Photo by Rusty Parkhurst.

Join a Photography Club

This one can be a bit tricky.  For one thing, not everyone lives in an area with a photography club.  Even if you do, not all photography clubs are created equally.  I've found that some photography clubs take things a little too seriously, making it intimidating just to attend a meeting.  Others are more relaxed and focus on the things that make photography fun.  Then there are plenty of others somewhere between the two extremes.  Try one in your area and see what you think.  If you don't like it, maybe even consider starting one of your own.  Either way, you will meet lots of other photographers.  Some will be more experienced than you and can be a great resource for helping you to improve your photography.

 

Be an Active Member of an On-line Community

Not all on-line photography communities are friendly, so watch out for this one.  However, there are plenty of good ones with great photographers that are happy to share tips and tricks and offer constructive criticism of your work if you ask them to do so.  The Improve Photography Plus Community is one such place.  It is a subscription-based service, but give the free trial a try to see how you like it.  The various Improve Photography Facebook groups are also a good place to go.  These communities are a great place to ask any photography questions you may have and get advice for anything from places to go shoot to pricing for a portrait session.  As with most things, the more you put into it, the more you'll get back in return.  It takes some effort, but could be a big help to improve your photography.

 

Share Your Work

Your own personal portfolio website is the best place to share you best images on-line.  However, it's good to share your other work as well.  Don't leave those images hidden on your hard drive.  Get them out on your social media or photo sharing sites.  Ask for constructive criticism of your images if that's what you want.  It can be very helpful to hear the opinions and advice of other photographers.  Sharing your own work and taking the time to look at the work of other is a great way to improve your photography.

 

Always Take Your Camera

Everyone has probably heard the saying “the best camera is the one you have with you”.  That is true, but don't always just rely on your smartphone for those ‘just in case' moments.  If possible, take your DSLR or mirrorless camera (or whatever other camera you have) with you.  Whether you are going to work or to buy groceries, you never know when the perfect sunrise, sunset, or something else might happen.  I say it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.  What better way to improve your photography than to always have a camera with you for those impromptu captures.

 

Become a Post-Processing Master

Unless you only shoot JPEGs and let the camera do all the processing for you, clicking the shutter button is only half the fun of photography.  Importing your RAW image files into Lightroom, Photoshop, or other editing software allows you the opportunity to really express your creative vision for an image.  Becoming very proficient at using the post-procession software of your choice will give you a better feel for what is possible at the time of capture.  There is tons of detail hidden in the shadow and highlight areas, providing that the detail is not clipped beyond recovery.  There are plenty of video tutorials out there for about any photo editing software you would want to learn.  If Lightroom is your weapon of choice, then take a look at the Lightroom Video Workshop.

 

Know that you'll never know it all

This probably goes without saying and I'm sure everyone realizes this.  However, it's good to be reminded that there are always new things to learn.  There seem to always be some new gear, new shooting technique, or new post-processing technique to try.  Never become too complacent or content with what you are doing.  Challenge yourself to try new things to improve your photography.  If you don't know how to do something, Google is your friend.  There are tutorials for just about anything related to photography.  If you don't find what your are looking for, make one of your own.  You'd be surprised how much you learn when teaching others how to do something.

 

Exercise Your Skills

Shoot, shoot, and shoot.  Oftentimes the best way to learn and to improve at something is to just do it.  Always having your camera with you will help with this.  Put everything you have learned into practice.  Photography tends to make you see the world and little differently.  That boring commute to work will suddenly become another opportunity to seek out cool compositions and amazing light.  Visualize how you would approach a shot, even if you're not taking a shot.  What would the composition look like?  What would the camera settings be?  Photograph things that most people would just overlook.  Your friends and family may wonder why you are taking a picture of a leaf on a park bench, but other photographers will smile knowingly.  This is our passion; this is how we get better at doing something that we love to do.

 

So there you have it.  This is certainly not the be-all end-all list of things to do to improve your photography.  It is a good start, though.  Get that camera out and get to snapping.  There will still be plenty of bad pictures, but there will also be some amazing images created.

 


About the Author

Rusty Parkhurst

Facebook

Rusty has been passionate about learning photography and creating great images since picking up his first 'real' camera 5 years ago. He works in the environmental consulting industry by day, spends evenings and weekends trying to keep up with 3 growing boys, and squeezes in as much photography time as possible. He loves talking photography and welcomes any questions you may have. More of his work can be found on his website.