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How To Grow As a Photographer

One of the questions you face when you’ve been doing photography a while is how to get to the next level as a photographer. Sometimes, looking at Flickr or Instagram, it’s easy to get depressed when you see the amazing photos on other feeds. And it doesn’t do any good for me to tell you not to get depressed because you will anyway, it’s human nature.

You have a good camera and some decent glass, you’ve been taking pictures for a while and they’re entirely respectable but you just can’t seem to get out of that rut. Photography is not a natural talent for human beings whose brains are trained to see the world in three dimensions. So stick with me after the jump for the steps to up your photography game to the next level.

Take Thousands of Pictures

Good photographers take a lot of pictures, great photographers take thousands. To really capture a place or event, you have to shoot it from many angles. I sometimes will scout locations for days before finding a new angle or perspective. When National Geographic photographers go out, they’ll take tens of thousands of photos per day. It’s not unusual for them to come back with 50,000 to 60,000 photos of a particular place. Okay, you don’t have to take 60,000 pictures of your day at the beach but you probably could be taking more than you are now.

Hang Out With Other Photographers

This is a mistake we all make from time to time. As there’s less and less money in photography, there is more competition among photographers, which has always been kind of a lone wolf profession. Yet, the only way you’re going to get to the next level is by hanging out with other photographers and not just online. You’ll have to get together with other people in actual meatspace! There are regional photography clubs, professional photography associations, photo walks and group model shoots and they’ll all give provide an opportunity to hang out with other, more experienced photographers and learn from one another.

Checking out other people's equipment and technique is part of learning. You can learn a lot by watching.
Checking out other people’s equipment and technique is part of learning. You can learn a lot by watching.

Lighting, Lighting, Lighting

In many ways you could describe best photographers as being the best at lighting. Whether it’s portable lighting for events and weddings or dragging out of bed at zero-dark-thirty to catch the first rose-tinted hint of sunshine on the mountains, the best photographers are the ones up chasing the perfect light. It’s not just a hobby or a profession, it’s an obsession.

Experiment…a Lot

For every photographic trick that works you’re going to try dozens that are spectacular failures. When it does work, it’ll be amazing. You’ll look at your LCD and be delighted at the results. Getting those surprising results means playing with all the features on your camera. It means trying wide apertures and narrow ones, fast shutter speeds and speeds so slow the stars streak during the exposure. It means trying filters, tripods, timers and all types of gadgets. After all that experimenting, some of which costs money, you’ll be left with a handful that work reliably.

That’s the nature of climbing the ladder in photography. Study, practice and spending time hanging out with your fellow photographers. It’s a long road but, if you work at it, you’ll make progress all along the path.

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