I was thinking of putting off this week’s Hello, Friday because I feel that we’ve seen enough personal posts from me so far this week. But then an interesting conversation on Twitter started up and I thought it might help to write it. You know, casually, but not 140-characters-casual.
I’ve been asked more and more lately (and I butt into conversations where more and more people are asking) how to improve their photographic eye. As I’ve mentioned before, I got my business started on what definitely felt like a shoestring budget and my father’s lessons about “never going into debt” and “not spending money you don’t have” bumping around in my head. Every move I made during my first two years was calculated for the best return of investment possible, and maximum personal growth possible, aside from the occasional gamble with advertising. (Hint: some paid ads work; some do absolutely nothing but suck your wallet dry. And nope, no one knows ahead of time which ones will work and which one won’t.)
Here are a few tips for those budding photographers out there who want to get a little more serious about their craft. If you’ve been shooting and shooting for a while, you feel like you’ve hit a wall, and you have a good foundation of the basics of photography but don’t know what to do next, here are some cheap or free (it will only cost you your time!) suggestions on how to grow further.
1. Study other photographers, or even other artists. Dissect their work; figure out why it works. How is the composition? Where is/are the light source(s)? How is the light used? Is it natural light or artificial? Study classical artists — painters, sculptors… look at all the elements of a masterpiece painting and draw them out. Leading lines, layering, composition, symmetry? They know better than you do. You can do this from books at the library, from Google search, or even places like Flickr. There’s good stuff and bad stuff out there. Figure out what you like or don’t like.
2. Take what you’ve learned and start playing. Experiment and emulate other photographers’ work. (Don’t steal every element. Borrow their light configuration. Try their techniques.) Success or failure will help you hone your skills.
3. Join a photo forum. There are lots of free ones out there — on Flickr there are thousands. Fred Miranda is another good one. There are some that will want money but you don’t need to join those. Read and learn. Submit your stuff for critique by other photographers. Take it all with a grain of salt — some people are horrible at critiquing — but even if it stings there’s probably something to learn from a mass of other photographers.
4. Change up your focal length. If you’re always shooting with a 35mm lens, get a 50mm. If you’re always with a 50mm, try a 24mm. I usually suggest to people that they invest in prime lenses (that’s fixed focal length lenses… no zooming) because the composition is fixed. You’re constrained to the rectangle that you’re given, so you have to think more about what to put in it. You have to move your body to get a better view. A 50mm 1.8 for Canon or Nikon can be found for really cheap — like, less than $100, used — and is totally worth it. 50mm is also the “friendliest” focal length, in my opinion; it’s not too wide, not too close.
5. If you do have extra money and you feel that you’re really stagnant, or if cash is really just burning a hole in your pocket, go to a workshop. Make sure you know the artist giving the workshop and that you respect their work, and know that you can learn something from them. My first year of business, I wanted to go to about fifteen workshops but didn’t have the money. I made do. Maybe my work would have elevated faster had I gone; who knows? But I also saved money.
The priority, though, is to keep shooting. Read about a new technique? Try it. Get a different lens? Use it. Go to a workshop and learn something? Do it. Of course visualizing stuff is helpful and all, but applying theories or techniques to the real world is the only way to know for sure if you can pull it off.
I hope this helped someone! Anyone.
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And Hello, Friday is not Hello, Friday without some nails, so here’s this week’s. China Glaze’s “Dress Me Up” (gosh, I love this color!) with a coat of “Fast Track” and then gold glitter from Orly on the ring finger.
Great post Elissa! I agree with everything you said. I would love it if you did more of these photography related posts (if you get more ideas for any).