How to Get Better at Photography

 

I think you can look around at a lot of the content based around photography on the Internet and extract a theme: people want to be better photographers. At the lower levels of the hobby thats fairly easy. There are a lot of concrete skills and tips to pick up and integrate that are available via a variety of mediums. Doing tutorials for processing. Covering some basic design concepts like composition and other visual elements for shooting. Learning about lens optics and exactly what is going on in your camera. There are a lot of easily articulated skills to practice; it can keep you busy for years just consuming the basic instructional content.

But what happens when you bump into The End of the Internet?

Really its not that simple I suppose. Its not a lack of content because goddamn, theres an infinite amount but rather a lack of applicability. Once you reach an endgame state, there are no more tutorials to make you better. There are no easy answers to the question, How do I get better at photography? You already understand the thirds rule of composition, and you at least have heard about the golden ratio and other compositional rules. Youve probably developed an automatic eye to utilize those. But then it becomes a question repetition. Thousands of times, tens of thousands. Enough to wear out a shutter. And thats soul crushing, because people live through narrative, not repetition. And theres no good, fulfilling story inside And then I tried ten thousand slightly different compositions over ten years to fine tune the exact placement of my foreground elements.

So you need a philosophy. You need a set of rules and a guiding story that can help you down the path of years, instead of down a path of day or weeks. You need to zoom out from your tutorial existence that is one day to the next. You want to be better at taking photos. We all do. And its easy to say, intellectually, that its just practice, time invested. But its hard to live that.

This is my philosophy, my structure for this art. It is not the be-all-end-all. I dont think such a thing exists, mind, but I think there are some universal concepts that are useful and I think theres a good basic way to tie them together. Thats what this is. Its just a net that maybe you can tote out on your fishing boat and cast into the ocean of the world and maybe, if youre lucky and skilled and paying attention, catch some stuff reliably. Im just another person with this net and I didnt even weave it all, I found it and just patched some parts up.

First, you need to idealize something. You need a destination. Where do you want your photos to go? Who is better than you? Identify them. Photography is very ego-laden but I guarantee even the best, most self-assured photographers know someone that they at least suspect is better than them. Find as many examples of this as you can. Learn about those people. Especially learn their process, the thoughts they have as they create. Advanced levels of any art become less about the mechanical details of technique and more about the details of what is going on in the creators mind. Learn their mind. But bottom line, know what looks better than what you are doing. Have a target. Study it.

Then, through study, identify what specifically is better. There is something, its specific, find it. You may not have the vocabulary to understand it, but you can see it visually. Manipulating concepts is difficult without a solid vocabulary, but it is possible. Work on finding a simple word, even just one. Get started on something. Is your ideal photography clearer? Is it emotional? Is it warm? Is it cold? you can find one word, I guarantee it. Then find two words. Then three. It isnt easy, nothing valuable is easy. But find words and apply the internet to them, or even just take it to discussion. Generate more vocabulary. Google that vocabulary. Think about what you already know about processing, shooting, seeing and apply that concept. Apply several concepts! Snowball it, get exponential growth happening.

Then plateau. Because thats what happens. You will plateau, every time you identify a concept that can improve your photography. You will apply it until you get sick of it, master it, and then plateau. And thats when you start the process over. Yeah, youre better now. Maybe youre much better. Hey, maybe youre really f**king gifted and theres hardly anyone whose work you cannot break down into simple concepts in your own mind in moments. But I bet theres at least one that isnt so easily broken down. I bet theres someone thats a little better than you, a little more aware of the medium.