How to Become a Better Photographer

The Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 lens, here mounted on a Canon EOS Mark IV camera body. The lens is available in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Improving as a photographer requires focus and hard work. And you need a plan. (Copyright 2013 / Andrew Boyd)

THE BACK STORY

So you’ve bought that third camera lens, or maybe second camera body. You’re spending WAY too much time thinking about photo gear and planning shooting trips. You’re definitely hooked on photography–but do you have a plan to get better?

Photography is both art and craft. Like most art forms, it’s always been a melding of these two seemingly disparate elements, one artistic and ethereal, the other mundane and very much nuts-and-bolts. But to improve as a photographer, you can’t leave it to happenstance. You need a plan. What follows sounds deceptively simple, but I guarantee that if you try it faithfully for three months, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve improved as a photographic artist.

1. Build Your Photographic Library

Studying the work of accomplished photogaphers is an important part of any photographer's education. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Studying the work of accomplished photographers is an important part of any photographer’s education. (Copyright 2013 / Andrew Boyd)

Invest in photo books. I remember vividly as a young photographer standing in a bookstore,  agonizing over whether to purchase books or equipment! Usually, once you have your basic kit purchased, books will be the smarter choice. We all need inspiration and instruction; more gear won’t help you improve but will drain your wallet. A library of books you can pull down and really study is an essential, vital piece of your plan if you want to really, really become a decent photographer.

2. Study the work of photographers you admire

Pine barrens, Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge. Canon 70-200mm lens @70mm, 1/320ths sec, f2.8 @ ISO 100. I kept the aperture wide open to keep the distant tree trunks out of focus and thus 'foggier.' (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Pine barrens, Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge. Canon 70-200mm lens @70mm, 1/320ths sec, f2.8 @ ISO 100. I kept the aperture wide open to keep the distant tree trunks out of focus and thus ‘foggier.’ (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Quick: write a list of 5 photographers you really love. Now google them one at a time and see what comes up. Organize some bookmarks of the best sites you find, so you can go back and study them later. This is one of the places where the internet has transformed photography and learning: years ago, it was a struggle to really research a photographer. Now it’s all a few mouse clicks away.

3. Join a photography club

Critique selects from our March submissions to The Discerning Photographer's Flickr group pool.

Critique selects from our March submissions to The Discerning Photographer’s Flickr group pool.

See what’s available in your area, and then check out what’s probably a monthly meeting. This may sound a bit corny and unappealing at first, but I promise it’s worth checking out if you really want to improve. You’ll meet a lot of  like-minded people and probably find you have a lot to discuss. If it’s a decent club, they’ll have guest speakers, occasional shooting trips and group critiques–all things you’ll find interesting as you pursue your passion.

4. Put together your photography ‘portfolio’

Look for themes in your work, things that have been successful that you want to develop further. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Look for themes in your work, things that have been successful that you want to develop further. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Limit this to twelve images. Go through everything you’ve shot in the past year and find the 12 best. Crop, tone and caption these 12. Now load them into a slide program on your computer and show them to your friends and interested associates. Judge their reactions to your photographs.

5. Make a commitment to shoot something, anything, every day

Sago palm fronds, 2012. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Sago palm fronds, 2012. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

This one sounds easy but is actually hard. Let’s take this a step further and say these images must be taken with your ‘real’ camera, not your smart phone. Shooting every day it critical if you want to improve because it will help you transcend your equipment: you’ll be able to finally forget about the gear and concentrate simply on the image-making process. Again, this sounds easy but is hard. But it’s also key: you need to shoot thousands and thousands of photographs to improve.

That’s it: my prescription to measureable improvement in your shooting. If you do these 5 things for 3 months, you’ll be a better photographer. Now get started, and let me know what I’ve left out of this list! Ideas? Questions? Let me know.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

2 Comments on "How to Become a Better Photographer"

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  1. Enivea says:

    Excellent advice thanks Andrew!

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