There is no substitute for hard work when it come to being a photographer. In my opinion, the best way to improve your work is to shoot as much as possible. If you want to be a surf photographer, shoot surfers, if you want to be a portrait photographer, shoot portraits, and so on. However, for photographers just starting out, chances are it's going to take some time and experience to build your skills to the point where you are able to specialize in one thing. While this is not always the case, here are some tips to help you make the most of the simple things and improve your photography.
I would love to travel and shoot in a new, breathtaking location everyday. This is a reality for some people, but for a majority of photographers, traveling isn’t always an option. One of my favorite ways to shoot is to just get out and drive. I love back roads, hiking, and exploring abandoned buildings. Take some time to explore your hometown and you will be surprised with what you find. I love exploring bodies of water, whether it is a lake or the ocean. There are always great photo opportunities by the water. If you have a boat, or even better, a friend with a boat, ask them to take you out. Don’t be afraid to bring your camera and see what being on the water has to offer your photographic eye.
Oftentimes when I am out on an afternoon drive to take some photos, I am not only shooting, but scouting locations for future shoots. Always have an open mind, learn to watch the sun and pay attention to weather. Although a spot might not be perfect under the current conditions, if you are observant you may realize that when the conditions line up, the spot may have the potential for a great shot. Or, pick out spots that you can plan on coming back to with a friend or model. Having a plan in place for a future shoot is always a good idea.
One of my favorite ways to simplify and get back to the basics of shooting photos is to leave my DSLR at home and use my iPhone to shoot. This forces me to focus on composition and always seems to inspire me in my work. Sometimes it is nice to keep it simple. Focus on capturing the moment, shooting from unique angles and framing shots in creative ways. Even the video quality on most phones today is insane. My iPhone 6 shoots 240fps. I love playing with the slow motion. There have been entire films and commercials shot on mobile devices, so take some time and work with what you have. The iPhone even shoots time-lapse. If you are interested in shooting time-lapses, there's no better way to start then the simplest way.
For anyone who has followed any of my other articles, you know that I am into fly fishing. While most of the time I have my camera by my side, sometimes leaving it behind is best for my mental health. On days like this, I turn my phone on airplane mode and bring it along to snap a few pictures. When I go surfing, I'll usually snap a few shots with my phone before I paddle out. While I usually use a telephoto lens on my camera, I have shot some great images with a wider perspective just from having my phone there to snap a photo.
Now days, if you're using a DSLR, chances are it is capable of shooting decent quality video. Taking time for video projects is a great way to take a break from shooting photos and stay creative and comfortable with your camera. It is a great way to get a fresh outlook and learn some new techniques that could translate into your photography. I believe that using your camera and getting out of your comfort zone is very valuable when it comes to staying creative and motivated in your work.
Most of the video projects that I have worked on have been in groups. Whether it is a group of your friends, someone from school, or other professionals, collaboration is a great way to network. I am a firm believer that working in groups yields the best results. When everyone can get on the same level and work together, the level of production always seems to increase. Shooting for video takes a tremendous amount of attention to detail. Paying close attention in your video work will definitely translate into your photography.
Maybe Ben Moons' "Denali" got to me, or maybe I just like my dog more than most people. Either way, I am always taking pictures of my dog. Chances are if I get a new lens, my dog is going to be the first subject I test it on. It’s not always the easiest, but shooting with animals teaches you patience. It can also be a good lesson in depth of field. Go and try to photograph any dog using a fast lens. Getting the focal point correct can be harder than it sounds. If you are an animal person, this can be a great way to learn new techniques and practice for wildlife photography. It can also help us practice our portrait lighting and shooting techniques, or even spark an interest in pet photography.
Since I have a black lab, getting the light correct can be difficult. I have learned a lot about exposure over the years just snapping photos of her, oftentimes having to overexpose an image to compensate for her dark face. Because I have done this so many times, it initially gave me confidence to slightly overexpose images to get the look I was going for when shooting portraits. It has also paid off here and there when someone sees a shot of her and asks if I will photograph their pet. You never know what kind of business this type of practice will bring you.
Family and Friends
While I would rather photograph my dog than my family or friends any day, sometimes you need people. If you ever plan on shooting weddings, I highly suggest you practice posing groups of people before you shoot your first one. What better way to practice than with your own family. If they are willing, take time to pose them all together in different ways, experiment, and ask them what they like the most. Not only is photographing family great for preserving family memories, but it is also a great way to experiment with lighting techniques and camera settings. It can also be a great way to network. Once you end up with some good family photos, send them to everyone in your family and encourage them to share the photos on Facebook and with their friends. This is a great way to get referrals and possibly work in the future.
The same usually goes for friends as well. Find people that you know are comfortable getting in front of the camera. Everybody likes a good picture of themselves and chances are they are going to post it on some form of social media. Bring your friends with you on adventures and bring your camera with you everywhere you go. Whether you are out to specifically shoot or going to a cook out, the more you are using the camera, the more comfortable you will be when it comes time for bigger shoots. After a few years of shooting, I figured out which friends of mine are more willing to have their picture taken and which ones aren’t. Having friends share photos I have taken of them has been a great source of exposure as well as a great time.
Staying creative and inspired in your work is essential to being a great photographer. It takes time to build up your body of work, to gain experience, and have the luxury of shooting exactly what you want. Even then, chances are you will still shoot a wide variety of subjects. By working with what you have in front of you, you are exercising your creativity and making the best out of what you have. So no matter what your main interests are, don’t be afraid to take some time to get back to the basics and don’t take the simple things for granted. Take time to work with what you have in front of you; sometimes it is simple and you are inspired while other times it can take awhile to figure what you're looking for. There are opportunities to learn and improve everywhere, don’t be afraid to try some out.