Getting Better at Your Craft

Recently, I came across one of the first photos I took with my DSLR camera when I was learning photography early last year, around April of 2014:

April 2014

 

Compare that to how some of my photos look today, in May 2015:

May 2015

 

I'm really proud of the progress I've made in just a little over a year. In that time, here's some of what I've learned about getting better at your craft:

Practice

It goes without saying, but you can't get better without practicing your craft every day. With few exceptions, I've made an effort to take photos every single day. That's thousands and thousands of photos since I first got started. The same applies to the editing process.

One of my first pet photos. Note the complete lack of focus on the eyes.

One of my first pet photos. Note the complete lack of focus on the eyes.

Hundreds of pet photos later, I've gotten a bit better at focusing. This was taken a few days ago at my parent's house.

Hundreds of pet photos later, I've gotten a bit better at focusing. This was taken a few days ago at my parent's house.

Experiment

Experimenting is a little different than practicing. I think of practicing as perfecting something I already know. Experimenting, on the other hand, is venturing into unfamiliar territory. This step is essential if you want to continue growing.

When I was just beginning, I only shot JPEG instead of RAW. I didn't want to bother learning how to use Lightroom or Photoshop, instead choosing to make minor edits (if any) with the program that came with my laptop.

Then I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new. I Youtubed tutorial videos, read articles, and posted photos on forums for feedback. I discovered new methods of shooting and editing, as well as what kind of equipment I needed to produce the shots I was looking for.

It wasn't until I made the effort to venture into the unknown that I began to see my work slowly transform.

After reading tons about long exposure photography, I finally went out last year with a friend who taught me how to do it.

After reading tons about long exposure photography, I finally went out last year with a friend who taught me how to do it.

Network

Collaboration is a beautiful thing. It drastically shortens the learning curve by letting you build off the wisdom and experience of people who have been exactly where you are now.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that because you're just learning something, you have nothing to offer anyone. Often people are more than willing to teach others what they've learned.

I've reached out to dozens of photographers whose work I admire and asked them if I could pick their brain or join them on their photoshoots. Most of them have been amazingly helpful; providing resources, contacts, and useful tips on how to get better.

Remember to stay humble and be willing and eager to learn. Having this mindset will take you far.

Draw inspiration

Art, no matter the medium, is about expressing yourself. But you can't do that without first taking in the work of others. Find sources of inspiration and use that to motivate you. I'm regularly checking out the work of both local and international photographers on Instagram, Flickr, and 500px who are doing things I want to be doing.

One caveat: Inspiration can quickly turn into discouragement if you're unfairly comparing yourself to people at the top of their game. Remember that everyone starts somewhere; the artists you admire didn't always create amazing work.

I've always been inspired by levitation photography so I decided to try it myself. It turned out way better than I expected, and each time I practice with it I get a little better.

I've always been inspired by levitation photography so I decided to try it myself. It turned out way better than I expected, and each time I practice with it I get a little better.

Progress comes in leaps and bounds

Something interesting I've discovered about the learning process: it's not linear. One of the magical things about working on your craft is you never know when the lightbulb moments will happen. But when they do, everything seems to come together at once.

I recently picked up a new lens and started experimenting with a specific style of editing that has taken my photography to new heights. But I wouldn't have reached this level if I hadn't kept practicing each and every day.

Whenever things start to feel like a grind, take heart in knowing that you could be about to hit your next lightbulb moment.

So what are you waiting for? It's time to get to work.