Become a Better Photographer

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I have been pondering about what it takes to become a real good photographer. I mean everyone can capture a decent photo – particularly with today’s cameras that take care of the basic handling. However, to make your photography stand out requires a bit more than just having a camera. The question is, how can we make that transition happening? Yes, understanding and learning the craft is maybe one springboard, but it can only take you this far. The difference between good photography and photography that stands out is subtle, but at the same time makes a substantial difference. As mentioned, I believe everyone can take a good photograph if they just put a little energy into the process. But the next step, how do we get there?

It’s actually not that difficult, either. Yet, it takes commitment and finding a way to connect with you inner self – and finally make that wisdom be expressed through your photography. I know, it sounds a little phony, but it’s quite how it works. There are no simple tricks, really, but just dedicated steps towards mastering photography at a more profound and more personal level. As with everything else in life, we are talking about making priorities, that is, if you really decide to become an accomplished photographer – and this decision gets ingrained in your backbone, then you can become just that, a photographer who creates captivating and even outstanding photography.

The obstacles, of course, are that it takes time, effort and sometimes even money to make such a commitment. In addition, it follows that you’ll need to downgrade other things in life, often things that you care about, things that you enjoy, or just things that simply is easier and more pleasurable to do. The difference between a photographer who creates outstanding photography and one who merely captures good photos, may be that former is the one that works relentlessly and don’t mind standing in muddy water for hours – figuratively speaking. Nevertheless, we can all make progress, and he are a few steps that can help you on the way:

Look to other photographer. Read photography books, go to exhibitions, watch other photographers’ work and find photography online. Surely, there is going to be a lot you will not like, but the point of this is just to find photos and photographers that inspire you. Bury yourself in what you find inspiring and that which gives you energy, whether it is workshops, photo books, exhibitions or anything else. Whatever it is, see as much photography as you can find in any media or outlet, and immerse yourself in it.

Work on a personal project. Nothing brings your photography so much energy and is pushing yourself more than working on a personal photo project. But keep in mind, complete freedom is not inspiring. Instead, set some limits you will have to stick with. Find yourself a project or even a couple of projects, and work within the limits you have set for yourself. Do not be tempted to expand the boundaries simply because it is easier and more relaxing. For something really good to come out of your photography, it must have a core of authenticity and a nerve that is being expressed in the work. That is something you won’t get through boundless and leisurely respite. A project can be done in a weekend or it can take years to accomplish. The theme is not important – as long as it somehow touches or is relevant to you.

Care for more than the photography itself. Remember, photography is a tool, not an end in itself. A tool must be used for something. Whether your goal is an art expression or to tell a story, that goal must be foremost in your thoughts, not photography as such. Some of the world’s best photographers do not see themselves neither as photographers nor as artists: James Nachtwey is primarily a social reformer, and the same can be said about Nick Ut, W. Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and several other of the world’s foremost documentary photographers. This also applies to many of the world’s greatest art photographers, but in a different way. They often choose to turn to the world and the viewer differently, but the desire to tell, ask questions, provoke thoughts, to make the viewer smile, react and feel alive, remain the same.

Seek cultural experiences. Cultural impulses are important, even more so it’s important not only to seek impulses from the same field you feel familiar with. The Matrix films would never have come into being without the inspiration from cartoons and their idiom, and the same applies to famous and beautiful movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Sin City, just to name a few. Photographers such as David LaChapelle are possible largely inspired by film and music, and others are inspired by literature, sculpture, painting or numerous other artistic expressions and cultural forms. Keep an open mind, take your pick and expose yourself to different concepts, cultures, thoughts and impressions. Somewhere in there, you might just find your brilliant idea, which you would never know exactly how in advance.

Photograph a lot and often. It takes a lot of work to master a discipline such as photography. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect – no less true in photography. What you do a lot, you will excel in, and although 99.9 percent of your shots might end up being trash, in the process you have trained your eyes, brain and finger. Moreover, taking 1000 photos of which 0.1 percent is good, well, then you have gotten at least one good shot. Not bad at all, or?

11 thoughts on “Become a Better Photographer

  1. And let’s not forget that every once in a while a magic moment just happens. The more time we spend pursuing our passion, the greater the likelihood that one of those magic moments will occur.

  2. I don’t claim to be a photographer – and once in a while get lucky. But my eyes are about to catch those small things that make an outstanding photograph – and those are the skills that highly-skilled professionals have honed … and I’m gratefully for their contribution!

  3. Your thoughts are really helpful, Otto. I really admire your talent, and listen to you! I will say that having a particular project in mind helps me to do more. Although only an amateur to be sure, I have projects and ideas that center around my family and documenting their lives. I am always hopeful that I’ll become more skilled at capturing the impromptu moments with greater skill. And that definitely takes practice. Thank you.

  4. Excellent points, Otto, and great reminders, too. These nuggets are golden and they tell us that it’s so much more than equipment – it’s about being human.

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