Because I’m always trying to improve my photography, I consume dozens of books every year and go through countless photography blogs and articles. It’s not hard to find advice on photography. What’s difficult is getting through the noise and finding the valuable content. Again and again you see and hear the same things being repeated over and over. These mantras given as advice are often full of fluff and not actually helpful.
For example: “Be original”, “Be different from others” or “Find your unique style”. It makes sense, but I don’t find it particularly helpful. Yet anytime you look for photography advice you find this. And it’s worse when you find chapters of photography books dedicated to rephrasing over and over the idea of being different. I doubt that photographers stumble onto this and suddenly a huge epiphany. “OHHH ok so I have to be original, gotcha. Can’t wait to take some awesome pictures now!”
This is just one example and I’ll avoid mentioning more to not sound too negative. :)
But it can be frustrating trying to find concrete actions to improve your photography, especially after spending lots money on these books.
I want to share with you 2 photography tips – concrete actions you can take – that have helped me and I think can help you. I rarely see these mentioned anywhere.
1. Just show less
Go on Facebook. Or your website. Or your blog. What’s the last shoot/event/album you posted? Odds are that you have some strong shots in there that are being brought down by weak ones. I see so many great photographers that just post too much. And mind you, I’m a victim of this myself sometimes, but it’s important to at least be aware of it. For example, say you want to share your travel pictures. It’s hard not to post pictures of every city you went to, but just because you went there and took some pictures, doesn’t mean you need to show them. You have to resist that urge and only post your best. It’ll make your body of work better.
Allow me to demonstrate :)
This is so nerdy but bear with me for a second. This graph shows the number of pictures we take in our lives distributed by picture quality. Most of the pictures we’ll have taken in our lives will be bad and only a few in comparison will be great. This is graph is more or less true for everyone. The degree of the steepness differs, but the shape remains accurate. In the haystack of crappy pictures, only occasionally will we find pictures we are truly happy with. But now look at how the average picture quality increases by only showing our best work.
The average picture quality is now higher than before. That’s right, you can appear as a better photographer without actually being a better photographer. That’s just one thing. The second more important thing is that by forcing yourself to show only a small sample of what you took, you develop a critical eye for your own work. By deciding to show this one and not that one, you start identifying specific aspects about your images that you like or don’t like. And only by identifying those aspects will you be able to make conscious decisions in your next photography outing to improve your craft.
Of course there are some compromises that need to be made at times. Sometimes the moment is more important than the actual image and it’s what you want to share with others. That’s fine. This piece of advice is more directed to people who have a photoshoot and then post dozens of variations of the same person in front of the same tree. One of them is the strongest. Just show that one. Be extremely harsh with your own work. Show no mercy. Next album you post on Facebook, select your pictures as you usually would, then only post half.
2. Feed your creative brain
Do you have an RSS reader? If not, go to Feedly.com and sign up for free. It’s what I use and it works for me. And get the Feedly app on your mobile device while you’re at it! Here’s how I use it. I subscribe to a bunch of different photography blogs (and graphic design blogs). Every time there’s a new post, it pops up on the reader. And with sufficient sources, you will have a constantly updating RSS reader that delivers new content daily. Every day on the bus, I take a quick 5 minutes to go through the work of other photographers.
You discover new styles, new techniques. You accumulate possible ideas for future shoots. You start liking things, disliking others. Without realizing it, your own photography style is being molded simply by going through the body of work of others. And if it isn’t your style that is being molded, it is your taste, and identifying what you like is the first step to eventually being able to shoot what you like.
I think it’s important to separate the blogs that you read from the blogs you follow purely for visual inspiration. With Feedly I keep a category for reading and another one just to consume images. I use it as a hub, linking dozens of different tumblr feeds and photographer blogs. The medium isn’t important. Following the right people on Pinterest would also work for example. What’s important is exposing regularly yourself to new work. Bonus points if you use this to draw inspiration not only from photography but from all forms of art.
Until next time!