1. Take lots of pictures
To get good at anything you need to spend a lot of time doing it. Some say it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. One way to motivate yourself to take more photos is to participate in a 365 project, where you challenge yourself to take a minimum of one photo a day for a whole year.
Spend time studying the photographs in the publications you love, both online and off. Observe, take note, and contemplate what’s going in the image. What makes a photo interesting to you? What elements of composition are being displayed? What rules are being intentionally broken or ignored? What is “the story”? How might this photo be even stronger? Here are a few of my favorite sites for photo inspiration:
Everywhere you walk, every room you enter, imagine you had a camera held up to your eyes. What would this scene look like in a picture? How would you choose to shoot it? From what angle?
4. Challenge yourself to do unfamiliar, uncomfortable, unconventional things
Many times what makes a photo interesting is that we get the pleasure of viewing something from a perspective the human eye normally isn’t privy too. To get the shot we might need to stand on a table, or lay on the floor, or hop a fence. Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. Get your model to wear fairy wings to the farmer’s market, or run through a fountain in a prom-dress. People may look, but just let them look. They have no idea how cool the shot is going to be.
5. Give yourself assignments
When I announced in a Facebook status update that one of my big dreams in life is to work for Conde Naste’s Traveler Magazine, I also asked if anyone knew how I might go about working towards that goal. My friend, and photography mentor, Toni Greaves said I needed to give myself assignments. She gave me the first one: shoot a local business. Assignments help us expand our experience and help push us in directions we want to grow. Real life assignments also come with deadlines, so give yourself one of those too.
6. Get a mentor/befriend other photogs
Take an evening class, participate in workshop, befriend other photogs, locally and online. Search #photog on Twitter. Join a photo-focused Meet-Up group, or start your own. The benefit of being a part of a photographycommunity is that you will have friends to ‘talk shop’ with. You’ll not only meet peeps you can shoot with, but you will also find an amazing source of experience to draw from. Talking with other photogs you’ll gain insider tips, advice, etc on everything from cool places in your region to shoot, to where you can find the best price on a new lens.
7. Volunteer yourself
Non-profits, churches and small local business are hungry for high quality photos. Most of these organizations can’t afford to pay a professional photographer, but would probably welcome an aspiring one come in to take some shots for them. Let them use the photos however they would like–on their website, on a brochure, whatever. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind crediting you. It’s a win-win for everyone. They get updated photos, you get experience.
8. Go to the library
Make a date with yourself to spend one whole afternoon at the library. Spend 2 hours just flipping through gorgeous books featuring the work of photography greats like Richard Avedon and Annie Liebovitz.
9. Read interviews with other photographers
Reading about others who are already doing what you want to do is both inspiring and educational. By reading interviews with other photographers you’ll learn about real life aspects and anecdotes of a photographer’s life and practical hints on how to improve/advance your shooting too.
For those interested in travel photography like I am, here is a list of great interviews to read by the Matador Network:
This is not an area of photography I know a lot about, so those who do, please chime in! I do know there are some amazing and legitimate contest out there that showcase the work of emerging photographers. Center, a non profit organization that supports, promotes and provides opportunity to gifted and committed photographers, is one of them. (Note: Be picky when entering contests. Many have a submission fee, and not all are as beneficial to the photographer as they may seem).
11. Practice translating light
Our eyes and our camera do not see light the same way. Light is like a language. As photographers we need to learn how to translate that language so we can better communicate between the vision for a photo in our mind, and the mechanics of our camera and lens. We can do this by getting comfortable shooting at different times of day and in different lighting conditions.
12. Compile a running list of questions
The beautiful thing about photography, like everything, is that we never half to stop being students. Reaching “professional” status doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Keeping a running list of questions in a notebook reminds you of things you want to learn. Maybe you can ask another photographer, maybe you can google it. Here are a few questions on my list (and if you can offer any answers please share in the comment section below! :What lenses do travel photographers most often shoot with? What is the best time of day to shoot a city? Do I need model releases for people I shoot in public?
13. Search out details & shoot with intention
What do you think the biggest difference is between taking photos just to mark a birthday or graduation, or the first family trip to the zoo, and taking photos with the desire to create a compelling image? It’s all in the intention and theattention to detail. Search out the details in the scene that reveal larger truths about the subject you are photographing. Its okay to not show the whole body, or even to chop off the head in the frame. Just be deliberate and mindfully choose what fills the frame.
14. Rent or borrow new equipment
Many camera stores have a rental department available for you to rent camera bodies, lens, and even lighting. No need to invest in expensive lens until you know what types of things you most enjoy shooting. Spend a weekend with a wide angel lens and just play. Maybe even ask one of your local photog friends to go halfsies with you.
15. Be still and wait for the shot
In the digital age we are in, its easy to get impatient, and even thoughtless. Just because you have room for 400 pictures on your memory card, doesn’t mean you should use all 400 every time you go out to shoot. Play a game with yourself and pretend you are shooting film and only have 24 or 36 exposures (or if you still have a film camera, dust it off and use it again for a day). The point is to make every shot count. Spend more time looking around you then you do clicking the shutter button. Wait for the perfect light, wait for the bus to go by, wait for the moment your subject naturally relaxes her gaze.