After covering the theoretical side of things in part one and two, this third and last part of the blog series “How to improve your photography” addresses the practical part involved. If you haven’t read part one and two yet, make sure to do so before you read further.
With that being said, here is a short recap of what we have looked at so far.
· What is the exposure triangle
· What is ISO
· What is aperture
· What is shutter speed
· How to improve the handling of your camera
· How to master the cameras menu
· How to test yourself on what you have learned
All of the above are vital elements you need to master in order to improve your overall skills in photography. It’s the foundation of your “career” as a photographer regardless of what you plan on doing with it. On top of that foundation you will have to build a skillset relating to whatever niche of photography you focus on. Whether it is wildlife, weddings, portraits, landscape, food or something else, each of these niches require a different additional skillset. For that reason, I suggest you find what branch YOU are into and enjoy. It doesn’t mean you have to stick to that one area, but it makes sense to narrow it down as much as you can, so that you can put all your focus on learning the “niche specific” skills.
It means nothing to know the content of many textbooks if you don’t go and take action in the right environment.
Theoretical knowledge is very important, but not the most important. You will definitely notice a tremendous increase in your photography confidence once you fully understand how your camera works and what ISO, aperture, etc. means and how it affects your images. However, being familiar with it in theory won’t automatically result in lots of great images.
A little example from my own experience. About a year ago, I started to really enjoy images of birds, both birds in flight and birds sitting on branches on the ground, etc.. While the latter isn’t too complicated to master, getting amazing images of birds in flight is not easy at all. I started diving into the world of bird photography doing some research by reading numerous articles, watching plenty of tutorials and so on in order to improve my “niche specific” skills as good as possible. After a while I had an idea of the principles and most important elements one has to consider for great images of flying birds. That’s when I headed out to find a little lake with lots of birds gathering around it. Every time I went there I tried to put my theoretical knowledge into practice. And even though I felt like I knew what I had to do, I ended up with no useful images for weeks. More often than not, I would have to delete every single image, I took because I just didn’t seem to get it right. You shouldn’t expect to always come home with an image you can present to the public eye. There will be lots of blurry, bad images amongst the images you take, but that is absolutely okay, and it shouldn’t discourage or demotivate you if it happens. It took me many more weeks until I would come home with a few images I liked, but I was still far away from producing clear high-quality images every time I go out. Even today I’m nowhere near where I want to be.
Make use of every chance you get. Whether its on a rainy day or in your garden, it will bring you closer to your goal.
In the end it comes down to practicing as much as you can. Wherever and whenever you can, take your camera with you to take pictures. I believe that every single picture taken, regardless of how good it is, will teach you something.
Memory cards are so affordable these days, that you don’t really have to worry about running out of storage while you are out and about. Take advantage of that and shoot lots of pictures during an outing, always with the goal in mind to expose each and every image properly. Don’t just go out on sunny days, go out on rainy days, on overcast days, on misty days, go out whenever you can because that way you accumulate many pictures taken under many different conditions. The more often you do this, the quicker you will notice that your photographic understanding grows. You will be able to guess the settings needed in certain situations/conditions instead of taking test shots all the time. Even on days where the time you can spend on photography is limited, you could go to your backyard for 15 minutes and find some birds to photograph. I believe, its much like learning to ride a bike. The more often you practice the better you get and after some time it’s just a natural process for you to dial in certain settings for the right exposure.
Something I have done before is, I have put my camera on my tripod in our backyard and started taking pictures of the same subject, e.g. a tree or a house. I started with ISO 100 and increased step by step to 200, 400, 800, etc. Other settings would stay the same. I then did the same with aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, white balance, etc. I repeated this on many days with different weather conditions and ended up with a folder of a few hundred images of the same object taken under changing conditions. All I had to do then, was to import them into Lightroom (any other editing software will work as well), activate metadata info and take note of the differences in the images.
If you have just started out with photography this procedure will obviously have a bigger impact on your learning curve than for people with some experience. But you should never underestimate the importance of small steps in the long run.
The practices I mentioned above aren’t the only way to practice your photography. But you should try it out and you will see whether you get value out of it or not. It all comes down to practice. Keep at it, do it over and over again whenever you get the chance and wherever it suits you. If you can’t go to the next game park, your pet in your garden will do. Find out what style or niche of photography excites you, learn as much about it as possible then go and take action.
The fact that developing skills takes time, patience and commitment won’t be new to you, but I know that many people struggle to stay motivated after some drawbacks. Don’t let that happen to you. Badly exposed and composed images are part of your learning process. There is nothing wrong with it. Especially in the age of digital cameras where you can delete these images with the click of a button. Focus on your theoretical knowledge and trust yourself to know what you’re doing when you’re out in the field. If you should ever get demotivated because things don’t seem to work out, look at images of people you admire, not to let their incredible images get you down even further, but rather to see what is possible when you put in the work.
I hope you enjoyed this blog series and found some tips to take your photography to the next level.
Remember, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.