What’s the secret sauce of photography?
Secret sauce? No such thing. There’s only one way to improve your camera and photography skills, that’s to take lots of photographs and to focus on key aspects of your photography that you need to improve. Here’s a few that I have done myself over the years that I would highly recommend to anyone.
I’m no pro photographer, this has always been just for fun, but I set out some years ago to learn and develop the skills needed as best I could, but on a shoe string budget. My camera, a Sony NEX5 and hand full of lenses are certainly not pro by a long shot, but doesn’t matter as long as you can switch your camera to manual and experiment with the different settings you will learn heaps with a few simple exercises and a couple of decent photography books.
A photograph a day
This is the foundation for all the other projects. It’s not just about taking any old snap each day, it’s about getting a photograph you are happy with publishing. It will force you to get out in all sorts of weather and light which will be invaluable practice for that time when you need to set up your camera quickly to suit the conditions. It will also challenge you to spend at least 10 minutes a day on taking photographs and a bit more on locations, subjects, framing, etc. This is key to turning the creative process into second nature. It may be hard at first but with repetition it gets much easier.
As I said though this is the foundation. It will only sustain you for a while and soon you will have other skills you want to improve. This is where you add extra components.
Limiting your photographic borders
If one of the things you need to develop is your photographic eye, the ability to spot and frame interesting photographs then I would highly recommend this technique. Continue with the photo a day but now set a virtual border around the area you are allowed to photograph in. For me this meant getting a map of the area for my home and drawing a 100 meter circle round the house. I could have just as easily chosen my place of work but the important thing is being able to take photographs there every day so home is ideal.
Now you have a piece of paper clearly showing where you are allowed to take your daily photos. Things will be really easy at first, you’ll pick of the obvious shots in a week or two, then it starts to get rapidly harder. You’ll end up sharpening your eye looking for interesting shapes, colours, objects and after a few weeks this is going to really test you but stick at it, you’ll find when your outside your border things will start to pop out that you wouldn’t have picked up before. You’ll also develop the ability to abstract which can be really useful for matching subjects with an interesting background later on.
If you like your Macro photography this will really exercise your creative ability. Now instead of 100 meters, lets bring that border right in to cover a really small area, something like a 5 meter diameter.
When I did this project I chose my back garden because I work long hours so it had to be easy to reach. Again it needs to be a small enough area that it will become challenging, with the changing light and weather this will stretch you. Especially if you like me insist on using only natural light to develop the necessary camera skills to cope with imperfect lighting. It will also help to do this in summer when the days are longer.
Just take photographs
At the end of the day it’s all about practice. If you don’t fancy the rigor of anything above, just get out there and take photographs the way you want to and don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. Art is about sharing your individuality, your style and your interpretation. Yes practice can and probably should be mostly imitation, but don’t get trapped in other people’s rules, go out there and make it your own.
Even more importantly, have fun while you’re doing it and experiment!
You can find examples of the photographs I took doing these projects and more tips over on my blog Subetha.com in the photography section.
Never stop learning…