The Key To Becoming a Better Photographer Is Simpler Than You Think

The Key To Becoming a Better Photographer Is Simpler Than You Think

What is a surefire way to become a better photographer? Especially if you’ve learned all the technical aspects of your field of photography, what more can you do to be better?

Photography is perhaps the art form that has the most diverse fields and genres involving the widest range of people from different walks of life. However, there is one common factor among all photographers, and it's probably safe to say that it is common among all artists, and that is the fact that we all yearn to become better at what we do. But with there being an abundance of ways to learn the craft and no single route for it, how can we attain this goal?

Being a Good Photographer Has No Single Set Path 

There’s no single best way to become a photographer. This is even more true now that cameras are so common that our handheld devices have more than one of them. One might think that this made photography more casual but a better way to look at it might be the fact that it made photography more accessible to a lot more people. While this allowed for more people take the craft lightly, it also gave those who only have passion and perseverance when starting out a reasonable fighting chance.

While there is a wide variety of formal courses to learn photography at different universities and institutions, a large majority of photographers nowadays learn from alternative sources and less structured options. Many photographers start out with just a camera, figuring things out as they go, and learning from experience. Some start out the same way but progress with the help of whatever resources are available such as tutorial videos online, articles, and books. Perhaps the only thing certain is that there are many ways to get into photography and all of them can be a feasible way to success.

What Makes You a Good Photographer?

A challenge that anyone pursuing any form of art has to face is the fact that most of what we use as metrics are entirely subjective. Some of these subjective factors are internal to the artists, while others are based on the response of a supposed audience. Either way, both perspectives are heavily influenced by taste, individual preference, and underlying emotions.

One of the students of my recent real estate photography workshop who is exploring a new genre

Needless to say, one of the biggest factors of our perception of how good we are will be our perception of our own work. The second factor that would kick in would be how others react to seeing the photographs that we take. Because of how subjective these are, we have to consider other factors that may or may not be direct measures of how good we are but can offer additional insight.

In recent years with the emergence of social media, a lot of people tend to correlate how many followers a photographer would have on social media and how many likes their posts would get to how good they are and how much value their art has. However, it is easy to argue that being active on social media, being able to reach a lot of people, and being able to follow trends do not automatically make one a better photographer than another person who simply does not prioritize going on Facebook or Instagram. This does not invalidate talented photographers who have large social media followings but instead is a reminder to photographers that since social media reach and engagement are factors that we cannot control, it is best not to make them the determinant of how you see your art.

The same goes with photography competitions. While it is safe to assume that people who win photography competitions are indeed talented artists, a lot of factors come into play and regardless of whether ten photographers or ten thousand photographers compete, there can only be one winner. Winning a photography competition is of course a good validation that you are doing well but most of the time, losing a competition is also a good validation because you got your work out there.

Lastly, how successful you are as a professional photographer can be a good way to validate your talent because of the simple fact that if a lot of people are willing to spend for your work then you must be doing some things right. However, for any photographer who might be struggling as a professional, remember that other factors such as sales and marketing come into play and that not being that successful as a professional does not automatically make you a bad photographer but you might need to strengthen other pillars of what you do.

All things considered, we all want to be able to call ourselves good photographers and it is important to make use of good controllable metrics that do not rely heavily on subjective factors and unpredictable social media algorithms. At the end of the day, it’s about how we feel about our art and these should not be clouded by external factors.

Now How Do We Become Better?

Regardless of the kind of art that we do, regardless of how good we already are, it is safe to say that we all want to be better. We might want to be better just because it’s what we’re passionate about in life, or we want to be better so we can also do better as professionals. There will be millions of different possible answers to this that may or may not work for you but I personally think that the most effective steps that you can take is to go back to where you started.

By this, what I mean is to go back to how you got enticed to pick up a camera in the first place. What were the things that fascinated you enough to spend thousands of dollars on cameras, lenses, and other equipment? Go back to that state wherein you were willing to learn everything and anything that made you curious. For most people, this might be best summarized by this: Go back to being a hobbyist.

Some photographers mistake being a hobbyist as the opposite being a professional but in reality, you can be both at the same time. A professional does photography to earn money and a hobbyist does it for personal reasons. By making sure that even when you’re a practicing professional, you still do photography as a hobby, you can increase your chances of finding more inspiration and even learning experiences as you go along.

Hobbyists also commonly explore other genres of the craft and this can also benefit even the most seasoned professionals. For most of us, the creative pursuit in photography can be in the form of finding creative solutions to challenges or finding new ideas that will make our work stand out. Being a hobbyist and exploring other fields of the craft can provide you with unlimited sources of experiences and ideas that can benefit even your professional work. A portrait photographer learning landscape photography can definitely infuse what they learn in shooting outdoors. A commercial photographer learning landscape photography can benefit from learning to deal with uncontrollable natural light. Personally, myself as an architectural photographer, I’ve benefited from being a continuously practicing landscape photographer and even exposing myself to inspiration in street photography has had impact on how I give a unique twist to my architectural photographs.

By being hobbyists, we keep ourselves passionate, we keep ourselves curious, and we open up ourselves to an infinite number of learning opportunities. You only ever stop being better at what you do when you consider yourself a master and think that there’s nothing left to learn. For many, that might as well be the end of the line.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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All these articles claiming to offer tips to make you a better photographer. The only way to get better is to go out as often as you can and keep practicing.

Hard to explain exactly in english, but good photography has imo mostly to do with the attention you put into the subject (1000 times more important than any gear or technical perfection). Keep looking, keep playing/searching, dare to try something else. And don't make it a routine (although i love efficient working in some fields; finish with at least one thing different or "risky").

To do this, just as important: try to be free in your head without an extra layer of stress, worries (about photography or something completely different) or negative thoughts about how the model receives you or the client. It has to be yours primarily. That's why they hired you. It's almost like meditation. :)
Oh and don't follow the trend of following trends!!!! Put your own soul into it.

My life moto is also living like it's your first day (instead of the always mentioned last day). In other words: keep being surprised. Sounds vague maybe, but for me after 23 years in this work, this is still key to me. Actually the only way to keep doing this.

My own path to improvement: look deeper; practice and evolve the craft. Period