Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and happy shooting to all! This time of year is a great time to reflect on the last 12 months of photography. As we turn the page on 2017, it is also a time to look ahead to the coming year and how you can have the best year of photography ever.
I believe that I speak for us all by saying that we want to become better photographers. That's why I'm writing this, why you are reading it, and why we all try to shoot as much as possible. There's no doubt that we all have slightly different goals and shoot for different reasons. However, our overriding objective remains the same: to make better images.
So, whether you are primarily a portrait photographer, like to shoot mostly wildlife, or lean toward landscape (or anything else), there are a few things to keep in mind heading into this new year that may just help you level-up your photography. Mind you, this is a long list and you don't have to do them all, but hopefully there are a few things here that could help. Also note that these are in no particular order of importance. Without further delay, let's jump headfirst into getting a great start to 2018.
Tip #1 – Go on a workshop
I said these are in no particular order, but do believe this to be a very important one. At least it has been for me. Attending photography workshops has been so pivotal in my development as a photographer. If you've been on workshops before, then you know what I mean. If you have never been on a workshop, start planning now. I promise you will learn a lot and could begin new friendships to last a lifetime.
Think about it for a minute. A photography workshop is all about photography. You will literally spend 3, 5, or 7 days or more focusing only on photography. No distracting day jobs, businesses, or other responsibilities to hamper your learning. Depending on where you are in your photography journey, you may see huge improvements in your photography skills. Regardless, there is little doubt that you'll have the most enjoyable few days you've ever had with a camera. One excellent option is the Improve Photography Retreat. I had the pleasure of attending the first event in March 2017, and have the privilege of being one of the speakers for the March 2018 event in Charleston. Don't forget to look me up and say “hi”.
It should be noted that not all workshops (and workshop leaders) are created equally. Do your research to choose one that is right for you. Talk to other photographers who have been on workshops to learn of their experiences and find a workshop with great reviews. I guarantee you won't regret it!
Tip #2 – Do an annual Top 10
I've been doing this one for several years and it's a great way to see where I've made improvements and in what areas I still need work. (For the record, there are plenty of areas where I still need work). The idea is to select your 10 very best images from the year. If you already do this, then you probably already have a separate folder somewhere with “top 10 candidates”. If not, then it may take a little time going through your library, but it will be worth it. After making your selections, study them. What do you like about them? What can you do in the coming year to make them even better? Don't be afraid to share them with other photographers. A little bit of constructive critique can go a long way.
Tip #3 – Print some images
I have a confession to make: most of my images sit rotting on my hard drive, and never see the light of day. In that regard, this tip (along with many others on this list) is just as much for me as for those reading this article. Pick out some of your favorite images from the year and print them. Maybe a good idea would be to print your top 10 images. There's just something about holding a print in your hands. It's even more rewarding to hang it on your wall, or especially if someone else wants to hang it on their wall, to admire. Making prints can be inspiring and can also help you make better images by providing a visual reminder of things that can be improved.
Tip #4 – Get a portfolio review
Getting a portfolio review can be one of the most informative ways to learn how you are doing as a photographer and what you can do to improve your images. Your portfolio should be the very best 10 to 15 images you have ever created. Many professional photographers – including Jim Harmer – provide this service.
Tip #5 – Invest in education
There are tons of free video tutorials on Youtube and other websites that have tips and tricks. The internet is packed with great content to help all of us learn. In fact, Julian Baird just published this great article about many Youtube channels to subscribe to. If you want to really step it up, however, take a look at some of the premium content that is available. Most of these are offered on a month-by-month subscription or you can pay for a full year. While they are not free, paid courses and tutorials really hone in on specific techniques and skills to help you learn. Improve Photography Plus in one example, which is packed with high quality video trainings to help take your photography to the next level. Consider it an investment in yourself and money well spent.
Tip #6 – Buy some new gear
We've all heard the phrase “gear doesn't matter” a thousand times. But let's face it, new gear is fun. It is motivational and can make taking pictures more enjoyable. It can also make capturing better images easier. New gear won't necessarily make you a better photographer, but it may get you out shooting more, and that's a good thing. I understand and agree that amazing images can be created with any camera kit, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't upgrade when it makes sense to do so.
Tip #7 – Shoot more deliberately
This is a tough one, at least for me. A lot of times, I go out with my camera without planning and just shoot whatever looks interesting. That's fine to some extent, and good to do sometimes. However, make a habit of pre-visualizing shots. This process begins before you even leave home. Plan your photography excursions, based on locations, weather, season, and time of day. If possible, scout out locations before even getting the camera out. Look for interesting compositions and the best lighting situations. Set the bar high. You probably won't get “the shot” on the first try, or maybe not even the 10th try, but the point is to keep trying.
Tip #8 – Join a photo club
Rick Ohnsman just published this great article about how being part of a camera club can improve your photography. There are so many advantages, from learning new things to getting advice about equipment. It's also a great way to meet new photographers in your area and make friends to go out shooting with (see next tip).
Tip #9 – Shoot with other photographers
To go along with the previous tip, shooting with other people can be a great way to improve your own photography. Whether it's through a local camera club, a photography meet-up, or someone you meet on social media that lives in your area, look for “shooting buddies” to share in your photography adventures. You will inspire and motivate one another, learn from each other, and feed off each other's creativity. It's also sometimes safer to not go out shooting alone.
Tip #10 – Plan a photo trip
Start planning a photography trip now. It can be a solo outing or with the friend(s) you meet at the camera club or elsewhere. Getting away from your old stomping grounds and into new territory can be a refreshing change photographically. Someone once said, “if you want to take more interesting pictures, stand in front of more interesting things,” or something like that. Shooting from my backyard may be good practice, but frankly, it's kind of boring.
Tip #11 – Start a portfolio website
If you haven't already done so, set up a website to show off your very best images. Your portfolio should probably follow a particular theme, such as all landscape and nature, or all portraiture work, etc. There are tons of free and paid options for getting your own website running, so just do it. A portfolio website is great for sharing a link for portfolio reviews or to just provide your photography with a little exposure. It's also a great way to see how you improve over time. As your work continues to get better, replace images in your portfolio with better photos.
Tip #12 – Identify a weakness, and crush it!
You could probably identify at least one thing in your photography that could be improved. I know that I could find many things! Maybe you need to work on your composition, or perhaps using off-camera flash. It could be anything, from a small tweak to perfecting a technique. Identify the weakness, then work on it until you crush it. Remember to not bite off more than you can chew. Start with one thing, then after you master that, you can move on to something else if you want. After all, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Tip #13 – Carry your camera everywhere
It seems that some of the best photo opportunities have come when I didn't have my camera with me. I always have my cell phone, which can work in a pinch, but having my DSLR or mirrorless camera would usually work much better. Make a habit of taking your camera with you. Even if it is just a small camera body and lens, there will be times you'll be glad to have it.
Tip #14 – Make more time to shoot
This sounds simple, but we all would probably admit that we don't get to shoot as much as we would like. There are other responsibilities that take precedence over getting the camera out, but it is important to carve out some time to go out shooting. If possible, make it a routine, such as going out every Saturday morning, or whatever works for you. Photography is a lot like working out. We need to exercise our photography “muscles” to keep them in shape and get better.
Tip #15 – Don't forget to have fun
Don't take your photography – or yourself – too seriously. I say that as someone who is a hobbyist photographer. For those who rely on photography to pay the bills and feed the family, those are serious responsibilities that shouldn't be taken lightly. There are still times to let loose and have fun with the camera. Don't worry so much about “rules”, Facebook or Instagram likes, or noise in your photos. Create images that you like, even if no one else does. Stay true to your own vision. It's too easy to get caught up in the busyness and lose sight of why we started taking pictures in the first place. Make some time to just have fun once in a while.