Photography is like any other pastime or profession. You need to constantly improve your skills and work on areas where you feel there is room for improvement. It doesn’t matter if you are a pro or an amateur, you are never too good to learn. But people often find it difficult to improve their photography skills as you can get into a habit of a particular style or working in a specific way that becomes difficult to change. Here are a few training methods and ideas that can help you improve your photography.
1 – Only Use Prime Lenses
Prime lenses are ones that have a fixed focal length, unlike zoom lenses that allow you to change the focal length by zooming in or out. Although most people tend to avoid prime lenses simply because zoom lenses offer greater flexibility, the real benefit of prime lenses is that it means you have to actively move around to get the photo you want to capture. This often means moving in closer to your subject which also means you have to engage with them.
So next time you are heading out for the day to photograph, just take a prime lens with your camera and nothing else, so you are not tempted to switch half way through. You may learn a lot about yourself and your photography, and you might surprise yourself with the photos you come back with.
This photo was taken in Turkey with a 50mm prime lens.
2 – Photograph in the Worst Conditions
This is a bit of a contradiction because, as a photographer, you should always look to photograph everything in the best possible way and in the best possible light. However, as a way of training yourself to deal with different conditions, this is a great way to learn to adapt because sometimes you won’t have the luxury of time. If you are required to photograph something specific you may not get another chance so you would need to find a way around the problem.
For example, if you are interested in photographing landscapes, go out at midday or cloudy weather when the conditions might not be ideal. This may mean that you won’t be able to capture the usual vistas that you would normally during the golden hour. So you will have to get creative find other things to capture that still tell the story.
3 – Take Limited Memory Card Space
One of the great advantages of Digital photography is that you don’t have to worry about wasting film when taking a photo. Often with enough memory cards, you can capture as many photos as you want and still have room to spare. However, this has also led to people snapping away in the hope that one of the photos they have taken has turned out okay rather than thinking about each individual photo. If you could only take 24 photos in a day, you would be much more selective about when you click the shutter.
But this is also a great way to train yourself to really think about composition, lighting, and focus before taking a photo. Simply either take a small memory card that only holds a few photos, or set yourself a limit of 20 photos that you are allowed to come home with. You will have to delete one to add another when you have reached your limit.
You can then take this exercise further by replicating the days of film photography by not allowing yourself to delete anything, so when you have reached your limit, then that’s it. Do this enough times and you will become incredibly efficient in taking great photos.
4 – Ask Someone Else to Give You an Assignment
Photographing for your own pleasure is completely different to photographing for a client. But trying to capture someone else’s vision, or photographing for a story can really help you improve your photography. Not only will you have to ensure that you capture their vision, but you also have to ensure to cover off everything on their shot list.
As an exercise, get a family member or friend to give you an assignment to photograph something in the genre that most interests you. Treat it as a real job and present the work to the person who has sent it. Remember that they are the client and they may not necessarily agree with you on some photos, but the exercise is in ensuring that you cover all the necessities of the job.
5 – Shoot Film
Imagine if you couldn’t review your photos on the back of your camera. How would you know if they were any good or if you had composed them properly? The answer is that you can’t until the film has been developed.
There’s no doubt that Digital photography has made it much easier to capture great photos, but if you really want to test yourself as a photographer then using film is the ultimate test. Besides the fact that with film you can only shoot a limited number of photos, but because you can’t see the photos you have taken you have to rely on your instinct, eye, skill, and technical ability as a photographer to capture great photos.
6 – Work to a Time Limit
Another great way to improve your efficiency as a photographer is to set yourself a time limit. Give yourself a certain amount of time and you’ll suddenly become much more organized and efficient at getting around and doing things. You need to have an idea of what you want to photograph (i.e. photograph a specific market in an hour) and with practice, you will become faster and better at capturing great photos every time.
7 – Try Something New
If you have been photographing for a while, you might find yourself falling into the tedious mindset of going through the motions and not really experimenting. One of the great things about photography is that everyone is different and has their own taste and style. So instead of doing the same thing every day, try something completely different for a while. If you are a wedding photographer, take landscapes, if you are a street photographer, photograph sports. Not only will you learn new skills, but you may also find that you find a new passion in something.
8 – Don’t do any Post-Production
There’s no doubt that every photo does benefit from some level of post-production. Sometimes that might just be cropping and straightening, other times to more extensive retouching and colour corrections. But a lot of photographers also use post-production as a get out of jail free card in that they take a photo with the thought of fixing it later in post-production.
But if you really want to improve your photography, you need to learn to take great photos, not create them. The reality is that a great photo should only need a small bit of post-production to enhance it. So set yourself a task of showcasing your work without doing any processing.
This will test you as a photographer and it will mean that you won’t be able to rely on that phrase, “I’ll fix it later in post-production”.
Here is a recent photo without any post-production.
Photography is a great profession to be involved in. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a beginner you should never stop learning and improving. These techniques are to test and push you. With enough hard work and dedication, not to mention practice, you will see vast improvements in your photography.
Do you have any training methods you would like to share? Tell us below.