Many times I have been asked via email, Facebook messages for providing few tips on improving individual’s photography skills. Whenever possible I reply back with some basic tips. Today while doing something similar I thought why not to write a blog which can be shared with everyone. I understand the phase of the photographers who coins such questions towards me because I can identify myself when I was used to send such mails to the photographers I was following. We all are always in the process of learning. Only the subject or level of questions varies.
When I self analyse the phases of a photographer from my experience I can see a initial phase where photographer has a thrust of producing quality images which are at least good looking better enough to get acknowledged & praised. He is in the process to prove that he can also take good photographs. In later phase he strives to discover his style of work irrespective of proving something. He shoots to really enjoy by presenting his ideas.
In initial phase he tries to shoot a lot which is good thing actually. In that process he understands his equipments and availability of the subjects to an extent. I have tried to categorize the different things required in the process of developing a novice photographer into a good photographer to the limit I know. This is just to share my feelings & in a hope it addresses some of the questions I often being asked.
In first reading they may look very basic but believe me no magic exists which can turn overnight into interesting image maker. The more you follow these tips with trust & self belief more they are going to help you.
1. Know your Gears.
Don’t you like to complain that you don’t have pro gears to capture the quality shots like whom you follow? If your answer is NO then chances are you are lying. I agree every gear has its own limitations but at this stage your target is to understand basics, isn’t it? You can work on basics with any camera including cell phones. It’s a process of understanding what you see, what you capture & what you get. If you are not getting what you see then you should take efforts to trace the applicable reasons for it. For that you should give sufficient time to analyse your work.
Most of the time we are unaware of full capabilities of the gears which we use. If you feel you better understand your equipments then my immediate suggestion will be you need to go through the manual of the device again. You will definitely find something new. I have updated my gears only after finding its features are limiting me in some way.
2. Keep on reading.
There is so much to understand & practice on technical aspects. Fortunately there is huge information available to read to the limit how much time do you have to invest? You can get it on internet, ebooks or help from your friend. So I am not rewriting again on various aspects like basics of composition, exposure etc. I agree art can not be bound in the rule set of composition but I strongly believe one need to know & understand what they tell us about. They have been developed after lot of analysis & understanding psychology of visual reading. Understanding exposure is necessary since camera is a machine & can not identify your subject, its tonal range. Practicing on getting proper focus, sharpness, understanding importance of tripod, using shutter speed creatively, observing the light, importance of external lighting & their arrangement (I am still not clear on this), the importance of colors, understanding when color photographs works, how to process your images complimenting the mood of images, the character of various lenses … a never ending list.
Image 1: My daughter Mansi posing while reading.
3. Observe a lot.
Once you start going through basics, understanding technical aspects you can analyse the work you came across. In this phase you have to restrict your instinct of passing on critiques to others work because that is supposed to happen knowingly/unknowingly. I am telling you based on my experience. I always share with my friends that observing good work of others is very important. It develops our vision towards photography. Further try to self analyse why you liked a work? The more you ask, to self, analyse the more you get. The good thing is that for observing we don’t have to do anything extra. Only we have to keep our eyes open & override our habit of not to see which we develop with the age. The things we observe can be work of our favorite photographers, images published in magazines, newspapers, advertise banners, daily life, nature, objects so many.
In the nature see how the shapes of clouds forms, how drops of rain refreshes the leaves, forms waves on water, after rain how sunlight shines through it, how beautifully the sky is reflected in the calm water & how it got interesting distorted effect when it was subtly pinched. The more we observe the more we find interesting enough to capture.
Image 2 : Landscape of Machal Lake in Indore, India while a photographer shooting sunrise.
4. Keep on shooting.
After reading, understanding & observing you will definitely get itching for shooting. If no then you might have skipped the above paragraphs. Don’t restrict the desire to shoot. Shoot as much possible & invest your time with your camera as much you can. Don’t think the subject you are shooting is outstanding or not. You need to observe & practice as much you can stretch yourself. But don’t share your all work. Keep it to yourself. You are shooting just for practicing & getting command over the gears you have. Try to keep attention on all corners of viewfinder. Try to avoid tilting of horizon unless needed. The angle may change the rhythmic relation of lines in the frame. Try to avoid distractions, keep attention on backgrounds. These small things may save your lot of frustration afterwards & processing time too.
5. Be self critic
You shoot, import, process & upload for sharing with your friends, isn’t it? Nothing wrong actually we all do it. But how it will be if you start to self critique? I mean if we start to reject our images & process only those which are unique in some way? I know it’s difficult at least initially but you have to make efforts for developing this kind of habit. The more interesting shot you share more followers you can get. When you will go through the rejected images, you may find out where the scope for improvement in your photography skill is. You can work on those too. I have observed most of the time when I import images I like my average images too but not later. So it’s better to review them after some time. If you are pretty sure you really liked it then only consider them worth to share. I agree it’s a difficult to control, even I struggle over it ;)
6. Don’t Justify.
You get hurt when someone passes bad critiques on your images, isn’t it? It’s natural because you are pleased too when somebody praises your work. There is a strong probability that you may feel somebody has passed that just to pull your leg. If he is doing that then it’s his/her mistake you have to overlook it. You have to restrict yourself of doing another mistake of wasting your time on justifying it. During shooting there may be some practical problems which is not known to the commenter because of which you were not able to capture as you were willing to. If you noticed that problem in the image earlier then you were in hurry to publish it, better option was to re-shoot (if possible) again & published only after your satisfaction. If you didn’t noticed that earlier of criticised then the feedback is constructive for you, which should be welcomed. You should respect the commenter because he is putting some valuable time to leave a feedback, isn’t it?
I know it’s easy to suggest but equally difficult to suppress the itch of pressing your fingers on keyboard for justification. I have too also done such mistakes. If you are sure you wish to improve your skills then you have to learn from my mistakes. The reason for this is once you started throwing justifications you might be blocking way of hope coming towards you for improvement. So if you agree with the received critique then better to thank & try to improve on the suggestion. If you don’t agree then be brave to forgive him (if the comment was from her chances are you already accepted the suggestion ;)).
7. Follow your favorite photographers.
You should not be ashamed of following your favorite photographers with due credit to him whenever possible. I don’t see there is nothing wrong to achieve something similar which you liked. But this should be limited only to develop your skills. We must restrict our instinct to share duplicate work created by inspiration of others work. Because if it is done then it’s only for proving that you can do similar to that but remember it’s not your original creation. You are actually pirating others concepts. But in this process there is always a possibility to discover something new & unique which is purely yours which must be shared. Try to be as much honest with yourself as possible.
Image 3: Closeup shot of papers forming similar to abstract of sand dunes.
8. Discover your way.
Now it’s time to understand the real reason why you are loving photography. Too late I know. But in initial phase you ask this then you may answer some typical answers like you like to share, you like to represent your vision, it’s like meditation, it connects to you with nature etc. I don’t doubt your honesty, it may not be fake and but somewhere I believe everybody has something unique way to represent his work. We all need to discover it. I am still in this process. Unfortunately there is so less to read on developing aesthetic side of photography in contrast to the availability on technical aspect of photography.
But what I understood is we initially work to prove that we can take good photos. But in this phase you are shooting not to prove but rather represent your own idea/ feel/ thought. Once you develop your skills to produce beautiful photographs try to experiment. Try to work for your self, limit your habit of producing the work just to impress your friends. Try to experiment, don’t hesitate. In fact for generating something with novelty you are supposed to experiment. This search for something "new" is, most of the times, an "accidental" process. That is why most artists or painters feel that the success that their work of art achieves is actually still to be received. And that is why artists reject praise.
Happy clicking ! Enjoy your photography!!