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Becoming a photographer is something that can happen in a short amount of time. But becoming good at it, often requires a lifetime of practice. The best thing anyone can do after learning about composition and the mechanics behind exposure and photography as a whole is to practice with both passion and discipline.
Some time ago, I thought that the best way for someone to get better at photography was to study at school or earn a photography degree. Personally, I never had the opportunity to formally attend photography or art school, but I always wandered the streets with my camera in hand and only one thing in mind: to always be prepared for moments that deserve to be immortalized.
Years later, I learned something even more important and, from time to time, I replay this video to remind myself to never underestimate the power of practice.
How to Be a Good Photographer
Being a good photographer has nothing to do with gear. If you feel otherwise, please stop reading now. If you share the same feeling with me, let’s continue our conversation.
Every solid, committed and passionate photographer can offer plenty of advice on how to become a better photographer. That is the reason why so many have shared their insights on the topic around the world and across the internet. In fact, engaging with other photographers is one way to become a better photographer yourself. But what else can you do?
Let Yourself Be Inspired
Inspiration often happens the best when you don’t force it. But, in order to be inspired, you need a high level of sensitivity so that anything can inspire you whether its watching movies, listening to music, studying the evolution of other photographers as they work or reading books. These are just a few of many sources that can offer great inspiration.
Constructive criticism of your work is priceless. There’s an excellent forum that offers a venue for constructive criticism, not to mention that many photographers will do this for a small price. Also, keep in mind that it’s important to be constructive when commenting on images across the web. Let people know what you like, offer ways the image could be improved and ask the photographer why he or she did what they did.
While we can’t stop the social media dynamics of immediacy and receiving several “likes” on our photos, we can start building a collective consciousness around giving meaningful comments and critiques on our work. Anything beyond “What camera did you use?” is a great starting point.
Inspiration and criticism are just small parts of the creative process. You need to be disciplined in order to become a better photographer. There are many ways of doing this.
I have a variety of analog and digital utility tools that include a tangible agenda, a small Moleskine Notebook, Google Calendar, Google Notes, and Asana (Ok, so I may be a little OCD!).
One part of being disciplined is to always have a camera with you. A trusty, small and inconspicuous camera is best for convenience because you’re more likely to keep it with you if it isn’t a hassle to handle. Phones are great to use but, using this alone is not ideal when it comes to discipline as it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be prepared to take a meaningful picture when the moment occurs.
Try to take at least one picture each day. This doesn’t mean that you have to create a 365-day project; instead, it’s more about practice because there’s no necessity to instantly post every image on the web. In fact, if you aren’t taking pictures, you could spend a few hours editing others you’ve already taken. Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that discipline has many different faces that all focus on self-encouragement when you do things on a regular basis instead of hoping inspiration will magically come.
Pressing the Shutter Button is Only Part of the Process
Photography is a two-part process when it comes to the final deployment of the image. Setting your aperture and shutter speed and then pressing the shutter button is only part of the process. The image then has to be developed.
In the era of film, editing was done with chemicals and magnificent papers. Today, we edit images by developing our RAW files, which are the digital equivalent of a film’s negative. Even Adobe named their standard RAW files DNG after Digital Negative. Now, with dozens of editing programs available, photographers can develop their Digital Negatives using the software of their choice.
I happen to prefer Lightroom, but many others love Photoshop. Regardless of the software you use, it’s important to learn how to develop your RAW files because this is where your personal vision comes to life. Do an experiment by taking a simple shot of your kitchen. Then, import it into your RAW software such as Lightroom or Photoshop. Tweak the white balance of the RAW file and you’ll instantly see how the mood can be transformed from cozy to gloomy with the touch of a button. It’s truly amazing!
Invest in Books
Photographers typically publish books at the summit of their careers and after years of hard work. Invest in these books to find inspiration in the most sublime form that you can imagine as this is an amazing way of looking through other photographers’ work without the distraction of the internet. What’s even better is that these books usually offer great wisdom and advice in their pages, like the ones from Rocky Nook, for example.
There are many great photographers who have had the amazing opportunity of getting their work published. However, building a collection of your favorite photographers is something that takes time. If you’re looking to add to your list, take a look at the remarkable work on the Magnum website:
You can also take a look at the list of books below that I use as sources for inspiration:
- Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful (Art Institute of Chicago)
- Chema Madoz
- GENESIS – Sebastião Salgado
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment
- Magnum Contact Sheets
Care about People and Be Respectful when Traveling
When traveling and taking street photographs of people, never forget the reason you’re a photographer. Instead of being voyeuristic and cold, show compassion and care for others. Also, when you experience different cultures, always be respectful because this not only creates a more pleasant experience for everyone, it gives a more natural feeling to your photographs. Regardless of whether you are conservative or open-minded, be considerate of the community and culture in which you are visiting.
Commit to Less Gear
Try to commit yourself to less gear during your travels and/or in your daily life. Enjoy the gear you have and stop worrying about the next fancy item or gadget you plan to buy. Because many of us tend to travel with family, friends and loved ones who don’t always share the same passions, we have to respect their interests and needs as well. Enjoy the trip as it is and don’t add stress by carrying more gear than you are actually going to need. Make wise choices and do your research. Ask people who have been there before about the gear they recommend. By reducing the stress and your gear, you’ll learn to enjoy the ride and the trip which will, in turn, produce better photographs.
Define a Workflow
Defining a workflow makes things so much easier by reducing the amount of improvisation you have in the entire process of taking and editing a picture. There are certain things that can be standardized without having a negative impact on your overall creativity. Keep in mind that there isn’t an exact science behind this, which is one of the many reasons why it’s hard to find examples online. What it comes down to is the fact that every photographer and process is different.
All you need to do is breakdown the steps or tasks that you normally do from preparing a concept or idea to the final deployment of the image on a website or in print.
A simple checklist like the one below is extremely helpful to use before every shoot:
- Empty memory cards
- Permissions or Credentials
Like photography books, movies are also a great source for inspiration because they present us with a complete story in an easily digestible format. Through photography-related movies, we can learn more about certain photography processes in addition to studying certain cinematographers to learn more about composition.
To jumpstart your inspiration, here’s a small list of movies that are directly related to photography:The Bang Bang Club
Don’t be afraid to watch these movies a few times to find inspiration when you need it the most. They are all related to the stories behind some of the greatest photographers of human history. As a matter of fact, when it comes to cinematography, anyone can enjoy the breathtaking work of artists like Emmanuel Lubezki and Chung-hoon Chung.