Photographers often spend so much time combing through resources, trying to stumble onto some magical way they can improve their photography. These 17 more things you can do today to change your photography forever are meant as a follow-up to an article that came out here on Improve Photography back in 2011 and are targeted at helping you to find ways to drastically impact your photography today. A lot has changed since the original article but each action still rings true as a solid way that you can alter the trajectory of your photography in a day or less.
Combine the original article and this one for 39 unique things that you can do to change your photography forever!
Action #1: Have your portfolio reviewed by a professional
A portfolio review can feel like a big step and it does take some courage. The main key here is to find someone who can give you honest and helpful feedback on the good, the bad and the ugly in your photos and more importantly, they should be able to tell you how to fix them.
Friends and family are seldom great critical reviewers of your work (with some exceptions, I'm sure). Find mentors through social media, local photography clubs and associations or right here on Improve Photography! I know that portfolio reviews are provided to IP+ members on a regular basis. I took advantage of this before I was a writer on the site and I can tell you, it really did change my photography.
Action #2: Review another photographer's portfolio and give specific feedback
Take some time to review the work of another photographer. Have them provide a sample of images and while sitting down to a cup of coffee, flip through them and tell them what you like and/or what you would change with each image. Art is highly subjective of course but the exercise should help both of you to discover what it is about certain images that speaks to you. Always be sure to back up you criticisms with helpful ideas on how to improve. It's probably best only to do this after you've at least had some experience critiquing images.
Note: you can practice this privately by pulling up a photographer's website and scrolling through the images they have displayed there.
Action #3: Submit your images to a stock agency
If you want to find the ultimate critic, start submitting to stock agencies. Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, iStock (Getty) are some of the most popular places to post your images for licensing. Do pay very close attention to the terms and conditions of each before you start sending off photos.
The purpose of this is not to make truckloads of cash. Without a ton of work putting LOTS of images up, it can be tough to make a decent amount of money. The real purpose is to see how many of your photos get accepted. Generally the quality has to be very high for acceptance and as your acceptance rate climbs it gives you valuable feedback that you are doing something right.
If you have no images that are suitable for stock, here is a suggestion to get you going: Find/create a list of adjectives and then try to shoot photos that depict each adjective. The same can be done with verbs. This is a classic tactic for many stock photographers.
Action #4: Tape up your LCD and go shoot
This is a favorite of mine and an idea I got after I started shooting the occasional roll of 35mm film again. I constantly found myself looking at the back of my EOS Elan 7E and suddenly realizing that there was nothing there to look at other than the little window reminding me what kind of film I had loaded.
This will really force you to slow down and think through your process. It's a neat experience and one that every photographer should have. By blocking your view of your LCD on the back of your camera you will not be able to review an image simulating the experience to some degree.
Physically blocking your ability to review your image makes the experience more real. I'm betting most people would forget or cave to the power of that image review button when out shooting. Some cameras have the ability to flip the LCD screen around completely, which is not only handy to protect the screen but can also be a great way to try this action.
Take this a step further by limiting yourself to a set number of exposures when on an outing. Film rolls typically have 24 or 36 exposures. How many rolls would you want to carry/develop?
BONUS: Shoot film sometime for the experience. DOUBLE BONUS: Develop it yourself
Action #5: Pick one lens and go shoot with it
If you're like me, you probably have at least 10 lenses floating around and whenever you go to shoot, you feel the need to take them all. Go out shooting sometime and pick one lens to bring along. Leave the rest at home. You may find yourself having to dig deep into your creativity to capture the shot you're after and that's the point.
Challenge yourself with this one. One option is to write your lenses down on slips of paper and stick to the one you pull, then go shooting with it for the day.
Starting with something like the 24-105 would be easy and a super-zoom like an 18-400 is just plain cheating. The point is to just pick something and leave the rest at home. If you find yourself needing a different lens, think of a different composition that can make use of the lens you have.
BONUS: Pick a prime lens!
Action #6: Rent a system you've never used and shoot with it for a day
Perhaps you've always wanted to dip your toes into the world of digital medium format. You could rent a Hasselblad X1D-50C for a little under $500 for the weekend. To buy it (and a couple of lenses to go with it) would cost over $15,000 and it is nowhere near the most expensive in the lineup.
Not interested in medium format? No problem. The real point of this action is that you just experience something new. It can really be any system that you've never shot with before. The point is that it will force you to slow down and think about what you're doing. And, you never know…You might just find your new favorite system! It is also distinctly possible that you will discover that your current equipment is perfectly adequate.
Action #7: Invest in a new piece of gear
I chose the wording on this action very carefully. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is very real and many of us are already afflicted with it. The key is INVEST. Make sure you're making a smart purchase that will help your photography. Make no mistake, a new piece of gear CAN help your photography. If for no other reason that it just gets you out shooting. This doesn't have to be something expensive or elaborate, just something that gets you excited.
If it's an expensive lens or camera system, it's not a bad idea to rent it before buying it to make sure you like it. If the novelty wears off during the rental period, it's probably not a great investment.
Action #8: Learn a new technique
There is no shortage of ways to complete this action and it can apply to shooting AND post-processing. Branch out and add something new! Some ideas to get you started:
- Shooting and blending various exposures into one final image
- Try getting double exposures in camera
- Learn flash or expand and take it off camera
- Try sky replacements
- Learn to stitch a panorama (and do it well)
- Light painting
- Give “zoom blur” a try
- The list goes on…
Action #9: Shoot a brand new genre
This is sort of like action #8, but a little different in that it is more broad. Branching into a new genre can really light your creative fire! Some examples of new genres to try:
- Night photography (astro or urban)
- Macro (1:1 and beyond)
- Infrared in color and black and white
- High Speed
- Long Exposure
Action #10: Shoot an “innovative” photograph
We've all seen the shots that have been done time and time again…The classic scenes and shots. While these are fine to capture and I don't discourage it all, there is a tremendous opportunity in forcing yourself to find a new way to capture the same subject.
In landscape photography, an easy example is something like Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ. Do a Google image search of the location and it's almost dizzying looking through the images because they all look exactly the same with only a few exceptions. Try to be one of those exceptions and make it as awesome as possible.
You don't have to travel to Page, AZ or the Maroon Bells or Kirkfufellsfoss to take on this action (though, go ahead and also get the “post card” shot while you're there). There is surely a spot near you that is similar among local photographers where you can push the boundaries of what is typical.
Furthermore, this does not only apply to landscape photography, but can be incorporated into any popular genre.
Action #11: Read a non-photography book
I'll even expand this to read “books” because, why stop at one? There are tons of titles on business practices, interpersonal interaction and personal outlooks on life that can have a profound impact on your art and your overall approach to photography. Don't have the time to sit and read? Try Audible or another audio book service. I've heard that many public libraries offer access to audio books as well.
Some examples I've found useful:
- The Power of Broke by Daymond John
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*— by Mark Manson (If you can get bast the abrasive language, of which there is PLENTY, you will find the message of this one to be life-altering. At least I did, which is why I had to include it)
- Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker (I'm just starting this one, and so far so good…I'll let you know)
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (OK, this one may or may not actually help your photography/life. I just found it delightfully absurd and very entertaining. If you haven't already read it, give it a go 🙂
OK, I admit that for most people, reading a book will take more than a single day, but it could be done. Any of the above could be read in about 10 hours or less…even if you're a slow reader like I am.
Action #12: Take some time to articulate and write out your mission statement
Before you do this, look at the previous Action and read “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. Then go ahead with the formation of a mission statement or re-work an existing one. This statement serves as the guide for everything you do in your photography. It will be a valuable tool if you are a full-time professional photographer, a part-time enthusiast, a purely recreational photographer, a hobbyist, whatever you want to call yourself. Give your work some direction…Write a thoughtful mission statement and display it proudly
Action #13: Study “traditional” art
This action pops up from time to time and can have a real tangible effect on your photography. Go to an art museum or just look at classic pieces online (seeing them in person is always better). Pay attention to what you like as well as what you don't really care for. Then try to emulate (or avoid) those specific elements in your own art form.
The easy specific example is portrait lighting. We have Rembrandt lighting, which of course, is named for the famous Dutch artist and mimics the lighting he used in his portraiture work. It should be noted that he had a very wide body of work extending well beyond portraits.
More contemporary art may include something like abstracts which could be incorporated into an interesting photographic approach. The possibilities are endless. Just chase what you like.
Action #14: Start a photography blog
Perhaps you want to develop a following and get your voice out there. Perhaps not. It doesn't really matter all that much what your end goal is in this action (as long as it fits your “Why”… Seriously, read the book). The point of this is to get your ideas down somewhere.
Think of it as your own journal. A place where you can record your thoughts for posterity or keep your brilliant ideas safe from the perils of forgetfulness.
There are plenty of ways to do this easily and on the cheap. You don't have to learn WordPress and spend a fortune on hosting, etc. You can do something as simple as starting a free page via Blogger, Wix, Weebly and others. Note that many of the free options are somewhat limited under the FREE pricing. You could also use a social media platform for this purpose. If you already have a site setup though Squarespace or another service, look into adding a blog component.
If you want to build an audience and do it quickly, I recommend starting by reading this post on the topic.
Action #15: Donate your photographic efforts to charity
This one, I am excited about. The topic of free photography can be contentious to say the least, but hear me out. If you find a cause to give to that means something special to you the returns you realize in terms of personal satisfaction, pride and community are tremendous.
There are several examples of photographers doing this in a number of areas. The Help-Portrait project is an example of this. We all know how much we treasure the portraits of our family members and those special to us in our lives. Imagine being able to give that gift to someone who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to ever obtain it.
Similar to this, occasionally you will hear of a photographer donating their time to get quality photographs of animals in shelters to help their chances of being adopted.
One could also donate prints, etc. to auctions for charity. I recently donated a canvas print to an auction to help a local family in need. I was excited to learn that the print brought in several hundred dollars. Really gave me a boost to know that something so simple could have such a profound impact on someone else's life.
Action #16: Get involved in an active photography group
This one can be a LOT of fun and not quite as easy as it sounds. The hard part is just deciding which to join, which fits your needs, and then making sure you stay active in the group.
Groups come in all varieties and exist online as well as in face to face group settings (and many times both). Online settings such as Facebook groups are extremely popular but the classic camera club is far from dead. Many people find that the real interaction that you get in a group meeting helps their photography in tremendous ways.
Joining a Facebook group is extremely easy. The hard part is putting yourself out there and publishing posts and not just being a fly on the wall. Don't worry…it's just like all social media, people post their very best work and pretend that all their work is that good. We all have bad shots. If you're struggling, don't be afraid to post what you have and ask for constructive criticism (CC). Many people jump at the opportunity to help their fellow photographer. If all you get is crickets, consider trying a different group.
Action #17: Teach someone else the basics of photography
If you want to figure out exactly how much you know (or don't know) about photography, try teaching someone how to do it. Regardless of the skill being performed, there are few things that will help a person learn something faster and more thoroughly than preparing for and teaching that skill to another human being.
Start with the basics before you move on and try to teach more complex topics. I am sure that you will find yourself learning and growing as much as your student!
Regardless of which action you choose to try out (perhaps you'll even try them all), you will find that it will set you on a new path in your photography and/or reignite you passion for our great art form!
Perhaps you even know someone else who might benefit from one or more of these ideas. Don't be afraid to share it with them so we can all grow together.