Improving Your Art: Photography
Increasing the quality of the art you produce can be much easier than you might expect. From taking your time to working with colleagues, there are a number of easy things you can do to make your work stand out and turn heads. The great thing is that it really doesn't take as much effort as you might think it would.
“Oh man, your photos are great. I wish I could shoot like this. How do you do it?”
The best way to improve your photography is through practice. As with all things, frequent practice makes for better quality of output. Of course, practicing doesn’t mean you have to set aside an entire day to just go out and photograph things. In fact the easiest way to practice is simply to take more photos. Take your camera with you more often and when you see something you like, take aim and shoot. Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable taking your expensive DSLR with you all the time. Then try taking a smaller point-and-shoot camera or if you don’t have one, use the camera on your phone. The goal here is not simply to take high quality images to add to your portfolio rather to get you used to the various aspects of a great image. Even if you’re just using the camera on your phone, you can still gain experience on composing an image properly.
“Ok, so shoot as often as I can. But what else can I do?”
Another great way to improve your photos is to know your gear better. Now I’m sure you’re wondering why this wasn’t mentioned first. Well, the primary reason it wasn’t mentioned first is because I don’t feel it’s completely necessary at the beginning. As a matter of fact, I started this way myself. Over the years I’ve done a little reading on the capabilities of my camera and I will pick a feature or two and find ways to use them. I’ll try taking several photos using this newly learned capability. There are many different settings in DSLR cameras today that can greatly affect how your images come out. From several different shooting modes where there with relatively few options you can change to full manual mode where you can change every setting your heart desires. Don’t be afraid to change any setting on your camera. Some people will tell you to shoot only in RAW mode and others will tell you JPEG is just fine. They’re both right. Shoot in a fashion you are comfortable with but learn about your camera and challenge yourself from time to time. Read the manual. There really is some great information in there.
“Sweet! I didn’t realize my camera could do that. This is great. What else ya got?”
Ok, now just slow down a moment. No, really, slow down. Take some time to take in all the details of your setting. Let’s say you’re in an open field with a solitary tree during Spring. It’s a beautiful scene. You’ve already taken the obligatory photo of the lone tree on the horizon but that’s all this area has going for itself and it’s time to move on. Ok, wait a minute. I promise that’s not all there is to see. First of all, stop focusing so much on taking photos. Why don’t you take a seat on the ground under the tree and just enjoy this beautiful setting. Close your eyes and listen to all the sounds you’re hearing. Maybe it’s at this point you notice the bird singing up in the tree. You open your eyes and see a beautiful, bright red cardinal nestled amongst the bright green leaves of the tree as the sun shines through. A shot you would have missed entirely had you not slowed down and admired the scene. Take your time.
“Woah, I almost missed that shot. Thanks. But there’s still something lacking in my photos.”
Well perhaps your photos still seem to lack that certain something because it’s from a perspective you see all the time. If you stand 5 feet tall and you take photos at that height, then it looks like an ordinary photo to you but it may well look different to me as I stand tall at just over six feet. I’m not used to seeing the world from a height of five feet. It’s not often a perceptible difference but it gives it that little extra “something” that makes it pop. But there’s so much more you can do than simply taking photos a few feet higher. Get creative. Find new angles to shoot from. Stand on things that don’t mind being stood on.
Another option is to look at the world through the viewfinder of your camera. This is a great option because your viewfinder does not have peripheral vision. In other words, you’re reading these words but you still see things out of the corner of your eye. Whether you realize it or not, your mind is still processing that data. That could be too much for you to process making it harder to see one solitary image. If you look through your viewfinder, you can narrow down your field of vision and see a limited area. Of course, if you just aren’t feeling it, don’t force it. Come back another time when you see something new in the image you’re trying to shoot. If you have a passion for your art, it can be felt through your images. If your heart isn’t in it, it will show. Besides, sometimes you may see an exciting subject that just doesn’t have enough going for it.
Have you ever worked with a colleague? You may not be as creatively flexible as you think you are. Go on a photowalk with another photographer. I have gone on several photowalks and each time I have caught my friend shooting something I would ever have noticed. They, in turn, shot images that I noticed but they missed.
My final piece of advice is to put down your camera for a while. Everyone, creative or not, gets burned out from time to time. You may have exhausted your creative fuel supply. Try searching out creative outlets. Enjoy the creativity of others in all fields. Seek out photography based art galleries to start with. Proceed to other art mediums no matter what type of art it is. Visit museums, even non-art museums. Inspiration can be found anywhere. I even suggest enjoying live music venues. In the end, the whole idea of this suggestion is to get out and enjoy creativity in person. Sure, you can do most of that online these days but it is much more immersive if you are actually there.
In the end, these are simply suggestions to help you improve your work. We are different people though. Each of us have our own types of beauty inside us. What works as a muse for some is silly for others. Figure out what works for you and run with it. Good luck.
Do you have an issue that you need advice on? Drop me a line and I may feature your question in my next Soapbox article.