And am sure the moment some of you saw the title, you exclaimed “Oh no! not again!” There are thousands of such posts on internet and most are repetitive in nature and content. I personally believe that improving photography requires substantial change of habits. So am trying to write something which I felt I had to do to improve my own photography.
I. DO NOT RELY ON SOCIAL MEDIA viz. FACEBOOK FOR IMPROVEMENT
Facebook is a wonderful social media platform but certainly not a photo sharing / critique site. When I look back, I thank my stars that I was not on FB when I started learning. I am a typical person who gets carried away very easily and it would have been a disaster if I started getting “likes” on my images in my initial days. Remember the “Likes” and “wows” that you get on your images are not for the images but for you. And they can distract you very easily and soon you will start hating the people who give sincere constructive feedback and you will stop learning and growing as a photographer. No wonder, there are new categories in photography today – Facebook Photography and Instagram Photography.
II. BE HONEST TO YOURSELF
What’s this got to do with photography let alone improving photography? I organise many workshops on photography and keep getting questions like:
“Why should I join?”
“I already know whatever you are teaching then convince me with reasons of attending your workshop.”
My answer is always that it is not for me or anyone else to convince you; it is for you to be honest with yourself while analyzing your own progress as a photographer.
So you have been photographing from last 2 years or even 5 years and this is what you have done in these 2-5 years of photography journey:
– Attended tons of Photo Walks in your city?
– Downloaded tons of tutorials from Google?
– Gone through that thingy called Exposure Triangle and seem to have understood it thoroughly?
– Changed your camera gear atleast once and may be even purchased that perfect full frame camera?
Now you do just one thing – BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
Dig out atleast 2-3 best images (what you thought were your best) from each year of your photography journey and compare them.
– Do they all look alike with just minor improvements here and there?
– Do you still shoot the same flower or person exactly the same way?
– Do you still struggle with nailing exposure when the light gets tricky and then spend hours in front of computer trying to “manage” your image?
Remember your photography will start improving the day you become honest with analysing your own work and know where exactly you stand in comparison to where you were a year ago.
III. DO NOT QUESTION – Take severest of critique with a pinch of salt and try finding some value in each critique.
Now that is the tough part. Everybody says that they want their images to be critiqued but when someone does it they start defending, explaining and cursing. Lets be honest friends, we all suffer from diseases called“Defendomonia” and “Explainicitis”. We defend a lot and explain a lot and that too unnecessarily. We also start questioning the knowledge and intent of the person who is critiquing. Now tell me how does it serve the purpose? Will it help you in any which way?
Let me try and create an image here of what goes on and this is from my own growing and learning days. Hope that should clarify.
I get up early in the morning trying to capture that Dahlia flower in my garden in the best possible way I know. I spend an hour or so working hard to get the best shot. Come back and spend another couple of hours sorting the images and doing post processing on them. Imagine the excitement of having clicked that “Perfect Shot” which I am going to share with all on FB / other public forum. I finally post the image and the first comments are like these:
– Very bad image. This is not photography.
– Learn to focus first.
– Its all out of focus. Learn to do photography the right way.
Grrrrrrrrrrr! Well those are harsh comments. And believe me friends, these are the comments I recd. on my first few pictures I was posting. Well what did I do? though I really wanted to kill that person but instead I got into lot of justifying and explaining.
…and this trend continued. I soon realised it was not taking me anywhere. Since I was into justifying every bad image I was clicking, I was not trying to understand the reasons behind those “bad” comments.
Just understand this and climb up the ladder of improvement:
– I cannot control how someone else reacts to my image. So why get hassled. Also there is subjectivity involved; what sounds polite to someone else may sound offending to me.
– I can certainly control how do I react to those comments and more than anything else I can certainly control how to improve my own photography.
Just try and see value in each comment or critique. Absorb what is right and brush aside what you feel is wrong and move on.
But remember its these critical comments which will make you see what is wrong with your image.
IV. USE DISAPPOINTMENTS AS STEPPING STONES
Photography is no different from the life we lead. And it would be so simple to move up the skill levels if we treat everything that happens like we do in life. The problem is that we treat photography as totally different. We are ready to wait and work hard to succeed in our professional career but when it comes to photography we want to succeed in couple of hours.
So you participated in a contest and your “best image” did not even get shortlisted for final round?
So you shared an image in a group hoping to get some appreciation and all you got was ripping apart comments?
And now you are up against everyone who was remotely associated with the contest / group forum? You get into fault finding with the jury / admins. You accuse them of being biased! You behave as if the world has fallen apart; as if it was the end of the world!
But what you do not do is to evaluate, use that “small disappointment / rejection” as a stepping stone to work harder and come back with images that are much better than your previous ones.
The people who you think “have it all” are people who have endured more rejection than most. No one tasted success as a gift on a platter. And you know it well. Its just time to accept it.
Use these small rejections as pace-setters and climb up the ladder of success much faster!
V. SHOOT DAILY; YOU DID NOT BUY CAMERA FOR IT TO LIE IN A FANCY CAMERA BAG
So you purchased a new camera; the excitement is high and you shoot everything that comes your way. You click, you post and get critical comments with almost everyone asking you to improve this or improve that!
Its been a month, you feel tired; you get frustrated and now you suddenly get busy with your job / profession! You hardly get time to take out the camera. You have stopped enjoying the learning process!
This phase comes in every beginner’s journey in photography. And it is this phase when we see one of these two things happening:
– The camera getting packed in that fancy and expensive camera bag and kept in the darkness of a cupboard.
– The ad being put for the sale of camera gear – Almost New, no scratches, still in Warranty…..
I have always said and let me repeat here at the cost of sounding a fool, photography journey is no different than the journey of life. If things don’t work for you in life, you work harder; you do not quit. Then why is that you want to quit when things aren’t working for you in photography?
Who said am quitting? Have not sold my camera! I still have it. Its just that I got a little tied up in that new project at office!
So you got busy at office and do not get time. Right? It must have been really hard for you. No social outing, evening get togethers, no movies? Oh! you still managed to find time to do all this?
Oh really! Get real; show some resolve and work harder towards improving your photography. Do not pack your camera in bag.
Have you heard of the word Riyaaz (Dedicated Practice)? Riyaaz is a term used for music practice for honing vocal and instrumental skills! There is no other way for them to get better in their craft.
Do “Photography Riyaaz” on daily basis.
Shoot as regularly as you can and ensure your each new click is better that the previous one. There is no better teacher than experience or should I say “honest experience”!
VI. DON’T REST ON YOUR PAST LAURELS. IF THE IMAGE YOU SHOT YESTERDAY STILL LOOKS GOOD, YOU HAVEN’T DONE ENOUGH TODAY
The worst thing a photographer can do to himself is to start feeling content after taking one winning image. Just because you have clicked one good image does not mean that you need to create banners of it, may be hire a PR agency and keep announcing and showing the same image for next 2 years!
Resting on laurels is like crossing a busy road and sitting right in the middle of it to take rest. You know the results!
Choice is really yours, either be a “One Image Wonder” or be a “Good Photographer”.
VII. ITS ALL ABOUT YOU! NO CAMERA GEAR WILL BE OF ANY USE IF YOU HAVE YOUR EGO TRAVELLING ONE STEP AHEAD OF YOU.
And you thought that if you buy a better camera you will be able to shoot better? The answer is a big NO! And am not even going to say that it your skills which will make you a better photographer. In the end it all boils down to your behavior. The Ego that could have been your asset but has instead become narcissistic!
Do you know that the loudest person in the room is the weakest. Yes its never easy to stay humble; to stay grounded when “you feel” that you have attained that so called perfection in photography. But remember no matter what you have accomplished, you are just a dot in this huge industry.
Its OK to have an ego because it is this ego which gives you confidence. The trouble is when this ego gets inflated and obnoxious.
I remember a particular situation (and let me be honest that have seen many similar situations) when I organised a Workshop with Hasselblad where one hugely successful International Photographer was coming to share his knowledge. A photographer; oh sorry; a successful fashion photographer wanted to join the workshop. After discussing details with me, he put a condition that he will join only if I guarantee that I will not disclose his identity. The reason in his own words: “Because I am very successful in this industry and I do not want people to get wrong ideas!” Well, I did not accept his participation. And this actually explains the typical mindset of a successful photographer.
To summarise, you know photography because someone before you was much more successful than you and he created a photography language, the photography terms so that you and I can learn how to communicate as a photographer. And he did not flaunt. Just remember your roots and the people who supported you and helped you reach where you are today! Be thankful, be humble and see your photography reach heights which even you never could imagine!
VIII. DO YOU KNOW YOUR CAMERA IS JUST A HUMBLE CAMERA AND NOT A MACHINE GUN.
The worst thing a person can do to his photography is to set the camera in continuous burst mode as default mode and always shoot on that. I call it “Machine gun Shooting Style.” Yes you will end up shooting hundreds of images and yes there are bound to be some good images as well but is that the right way of shooting?
The answer is yes and no.
Yes continuous burst mode is extremely helpful when you are shooting the following:
– Action shots like sports, birds in flight or any other shot where action is involved.
– Shots which are Exposure Bracketed.
– Where you want to take a continuous sequence of shots
Then where is the problem?
The problem is when a person uses this mode in each and every image he wants to shoot. In such situations the person does not apply any thought to the image he wants. Just sees a moment / scene and goes on a thoughtless shooting spree hoping to get some decent images in the end. And then sits hours in front of a computer trying to sort out those couple of good images from a heap of hundred useless trashy images. Y?es he will find them but he would not know how to shoot them if he was to “Create the Shot”.
You are a photographer and are there to “Create your Best Image”. Approach any scene very meticulously. Observe a scene, walk around, see how the lighting changes, see which angle will compliment the overall image, set the camera to get best exposure and then click that single shot. You may want to click the same scene again and by all means do that at different angles, at different camera settings etc which will help you understand better and help you improve your photography much faster and in a much organised manner.
IX. SOIL YOUR KNEES! GET DIRTY! ITS YOUR PLAYGROUND
The logical height to take photos is from 5-6 ft. above the ground, what we call as “eye level”. It might be the easiest height to take a photo but also is very boring height to take the photo from.
You have been doing this for some time and you can continue doing in future as well. But one thing is certain that you will continue to get mediocre shots.
Only photographers who are willing to get down low and strain their knees and back and sometimes getting dirty, are the ones who will always come out with stunning images.
When you explore your subject or scene from low level, new perspective opens in front of you, giving you more control on how to shoot a subject differently. This can certainly make a difference between an ordinary and an extra ordinary shot.
Getting down low is not comfortable and can hurt your knees and back. But then who said photography was easy. Take it as a contact sport, put that extra effort to add that word “extra” as a prefix to “ordinary”. Yes its that simple.
You have been out there shooting nature and you come back spic and span, am sorry you did not do enough and I can tell you without even looking at the images that all you got back with are some ordinary looking snapshots.
So you have taken time out to read it till here? Must be really serious about improving photography! How about posting some of your images of you in action. That will be interesting. right?
X. ALWAYS BE A BEGINNER!
The biggest harm anybody can do to himself is to start feeling that he has arrived as a photographer. This is the moment where the ego takes over, growth stops and it soon starts stinking bad!
I remember having spoken to an ace International Fashion Photographer sometime back requesting him to conduct a workshop in India. He initially just ignored my mails and messages. On me being persistent with the request he spoke to me at length and was very candid in his reply. He said he conducts workshops all across the world but will never do it in India; atleast not for the time being. The reason was as straight as it can be – because in India all are professional photographers and they know it all! And that got me thinking and I too must admit that I related to what he said 200%. Now lets not get into another debate that it was sweeping statement, how could he generalise and all that crap..
The point is simple, do you as a photographer, become professional; not in literal sense; but in your thought process and mannerism, little too early?
Knowledge and expertise is vital for you to succeed in this fiercely competitive photography world and for that continuous learning is the key! All top photographers do that, no matter how big and successful they are. Never stop learning and always stay hungry for more. Set reasonable goals! Don’t expect to earn a fortune overnight; instead work hard and move steadily towards your goal.
To sum it all up:
And always stay a beginner!
With this we end this current series of tips! Hope they were useful! Will come back with new set very soon!
Keep clicking! Keep rocking!
Post By: Jassi Oberai
Jasminder is a Canon Photo Mentor. He is self taught photographer. Though he saw his father pursuing his hobby of photography very seriously and very closely witnessed the dark room secrets, his love for the craft started very late but when it did there was no looking back. As a photographer he does not restrict himself to any particular genre of photography. He likes to shoot mostly anything. He likes the challenge of shooting landscape one day to close up the next and dabbling with portraiture the day after. He loves nature and great use of colors. So in most of his photographs you will see wide use of vibrant colors. In his own words, “Colors can give a whole new look to something rather mundane or something we are used to. To me that’s what I like the most about photography – looking at the world in new ways.”