All the whistles and bells of the modern camera should, at least in theory, make crafting great images an easier and more straightforward process than it used to be – with all these exposure modes, focussing tools, picture styles and the like, camera manufacturers would like you to believe that it’s just a matter of squeezing the shutter and hey presto you’re Bailey. Certainly getting the tricky business of exposure right has become more straightforward for the technologically challenged – you really don’t need to know much to get some passable snapshots but what about if you want to take your photography further?
Photography is so very different an activity from that of even ten years ago. Good modern photographers need to be able to do so much more than compose and frame a shot, and whilst the traditional skills required for messing around with chemicals in a darkroom are waning, a whole set of new techniques are needed if you want to develop your photography to a really high standard. Here’s what I think are five key ways to make your photography shine:
1. Know Your Software
Hone your ‘developing’ skills to where you can take an image and get the very best out of it in your digital darkroom. This is a vital capability whether you want to be primarily a ‘photographer’ or an ‘image-maker’ and allows you to take greater control over your work so it’s the very best that it can be. This means choosing a solid piece of editing software and learning how to use it to its full potential. It doesn’t mean buy the most expensive thing and learn that – you have to choose something that best suits your interests and needs. Be prepared to change your mind.
2. Get the Basics Right
You need to know composition, exposure and how to utilise your camera to get the most out of it. It doesn’t matter much what camera you’re using, if you don’t really know how to point it then you’re going to struggle to get anything good out of it. Know your manual and what your camera can (and can’t) do. Study and understand phenomena like depth of field, focal planes and shutter speeds. This stuff can get geeky and bit dull at times but it will help you to understand how to produce a particular effect or look when you start to frame in your mind what you want an image to look like in its final form.
3. Be Flexible
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut taking the same kind of shots and processing them in the same way over and over again. Or just adopting one set of tools and failing to implement new ones as and when they become available. Developing your work means that you do need to develop the way you work. This means being conscious of issues such as workflow and how they impact on your ability to produce good images. Just like the dodo, if you fail to evolve you fail to survive in that will you fail to keep your interest in photography in general but you also need to be able to innovate and change if you’re really going to produce some impressive images.
4. Study Others’ Work
Art rarely develops in isolation, the work of other people can be key in helping you to develop your style, hone your skills and increase your knowledge. Spend time every day looking at the work of others, thinking about how they created a specific look or effect and work out how you could replicate it. An important tool for the modern photographer is networking with other photographers on-line or in real life. On-line communities such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are a great way to get your work ‘out there’ but are an even better resource for inspiration and discussion. They even allow you to engage in collaborative projects which will boost your skills and experience substantially. In real life, you should check out your local camera club or photo-walk group. Interacting with other photographers in the flesh is a great way to learn new things and increase your engagement with photography overall, it might give you access to new shooting opportunities and equipment and will certainly challenge the way you see your own photography.
You can read all the books, internet sites or magazine articles you like but there’s no substitute for actually picking up your camera and using it. Passion for photography comes from the feeling of having created something unique and interesting with your camera – be that a single image, a small portfolio or an entire body of work. There is just no substitute for picking your camera up and pointing it at things in earnest and ideally, you should be using your camera as a portal to show others something you yourself passionate about. Having the ability to show something you love in a new and visually exciting way onlycomes with practice and thus practice is the thing that more that anything else will make your photographs stand out from the crowd. Go do that now!