While I’ve been practicing photography for quite a while, I haven’t always felt confident in my ability to create images. When I was starting out, I was downright embarrassed to show my photos to people. But I kept trying, and kept improving, and I now feel more comfortable sharing my photography. Recently on Twitter someone requested a post on photography tips, so I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned over the past few years. Keep in mind — I’m no expert. I’m still learning, and I frequently come home and hate every single photo I’ve taken. But I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the ten plus years since I started becoming interested in photography. Hopefully something I learned will help you.
Go out there and take pictures. Just keep taking pictures no matter what. Try to capture the world as you see it. With regular practice, you will improve naturally, because your artistic eye will develop. The same goes for post-processing your photos. The more you practice, the better your photos will look.
I enjoy looking back at my old photos on occasion to see how much I’ve improved. Photos that I was once super proud of I now find mediocre. Sometimes I don’t even notice how much I’ve improved until I look back and see how far I’ve come as a photographer.
Try to learn as much as you can. You’re reading this list of photography tips, which is a good start. Keep doing that. Open up Google and search “photography tips.” Better yet, explore some of my favorite resources for free photography advice: Phlearn, Digital Photography School, and Tuts+. Watch or read a free tutorial, then go out and try the techniques yourself.
In addition to reading photography tips and tutorials, look at photos. Join websites like Flickr, DeviantArt, and 500px and browse the popular photos. Just as writers should read books and filmmakers should watch movies, photographers should look at pictures. When you see a photo you like, think about why you like it. What makes it stand out to you? What draws you to the photo? Knowing what you like and why will help you in your own photography.
Step outside your comfort zone and try different types of photography. Don’t put yourself into a category too early; give yourself time to try everything. I prefer to photograph landscapes, but this hasn’t always been the case. If you browse my Flickr, you’ll see that I’ve experimented with countless types of photography. I’ve tried self-portraiture, product photography, portraits, fine art, and landscapes. You’ll never know what you’re best at until you try — and you might surprise yourself!
As well as trying new genres of photography, experiment with how you use your camera. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to make unique photos. Play around with the settings on your camera to see what results you get. Try framing the photo differently — instead of framing your subject in the center of the photo, put it to one side or in a corner. Play with focus. Shoot through things like bottles, glasses, or other see-through objects. If you want to play with color, try using color cellophane wrapping paper over your lens.
You can do a lot of experimenting when editing your images, too. I learned how to edit images by applying effects and dragging the sliders around until I got an effect I liked. If you do something that you don’t like, you can always undo it!
Keep shooting until you get it right. Take a photo, look at it on the screen, then make necessary adjustments until you’re happy with the photo. We live in a digital world, which means you can see your image immediately. Why not use this to your advantage?
Just to be clear: I don’t condone ripping someone off. You should never copy another photographer’s photo and then pass it off as your own. But there’s no harm in imitation for the sake of practice. Find a photo that you love and try to figure out how the photographer accomplished it. Then try to recreate it yourself. Try different angles, lenses, or camera settings until it looks right. Apply what you learn from copying to your own, original photos.
6. Challenge yourself
A good photography challenge can work wonders in helping you to improve your skills. One of the most popular is the 365 challenge, in which you take a photo every day for an entire year. I participated in the self-portrait version of this challenge back in 2011. I had never tried self-portraiture before, and even though I didn’t end up completing the challenge, I learned a ton. I stepped outside of my comfort zone in trying out a new type of photography. I pushed myself to try and make each photo unique and interesting, despite them all focusing on the same subject. I despise a lot of my photos from the challenge, but there are many that I’m proud of.
If the 365 challenge is a little too ambitious for you, there are tons of other challenges you can try. Another popular one is the 52 weeks challenge. It’s like an easier version of the 365 challenge in which you take one photo every week for a year. You could also try the A-Z challenge, for which you take a photo representing each letter in the alphabet. Then there’s the point-of-view challenge, in which you stick to one lens for an entire month. If you have a camera with a zoom lens, stick to one focal length and don’t change it.
I’ve also seen a lot of cool monthly photo challenges floating around Instagram and Pinterest. Here’s one for December that looks like fun!
When I got my first DSLR and started taking pictures, I thought that I couldn’t be a real photographer unless I was shooting in manual. This way of thinking meant it took me forever to get a decent shot, and I would often upload photos to my laptop later only to realize they were out of focus. I finally realized I was making things difficult on myself, and started to use autofocus and experiment with the more automated shooting modes on my camera. Instantly, my photos started turning out better. I had time to think about what I wanted to photograph, rather than thinking about all the settings and whether I had them set correctly.
If you’re serious about getting better at photography, I recommend investing in some decent photography gear. I’m not saying you should go out and blow your paycheck on top-of-the-line equipment. When I purchased my first DSLR, it was an older model that I was able to buy for a slightly discounted price. I used the kit lens that came with my camera for three years before I purchased another lens: a Canon 50mm for just around $100. I bought a 28mm lens two years later when I started taking more landscape photography. This lens was my biggest splurge on camera gear, but I waited five years before making this purchase. So invest, but don’t go overboard. There are a lot of great lenses you can get for cheap to play around with while you’re still learning.
One of the best parts about these sites is they allow comments from other users, so you can get some feedback on your work. Feedback was incredibly helpful to me when I was first starting out and developing my artistic vision. Follow some photographers you admire, comment on their work, and many of them will likely return the favor. I was also able to get a lot of excellent feedback from the Digital Photography School forum. They have a whole section devoted to critique, and you can get some excellent feedback there. Be prepared, because occasionally the comments can be harsh, but for the most part I found them constructive. Don’t get discouraged!
If sharing your photos for critique with the internet seems too daunting, you can always start out by sharing them with friends and family.
10. Have fun!
The most important tip of all is to have fun with photography. There is no right way to create photographs, so go out there and enjoy yourself! If it makes you happy, it is worthwhile. Don’t get so bogged down in the details and technicalities that it becomes a chore. Take photos of things that inspire you, things that you find beautiful, and things that you love. As long as you keep having fun with it, you will keep learning and improving!
I hope these tips have been helpful and will encourage you to go out and take photos. I’d love to see any photos you take, so add me on Instagram and Flickr. Additionally, if you have any more questions about photography, please feel free to leave a comment below!