Regardless of your level of understanding up to this point in your photography pursuits, there is always an opportunity to learn and grow in any art form. There is no point where a photographer has reached 'mastery' of every aspect of the craft. When we think of ways to improve our photography, often the first things that come to mind are things that will cost money. "If I just had that new full frame camera ..." "If I just had all this new lighting gear..." "If only I could go to Iceland..." While there are certainly tangible things that you can spend money on for improvement, here are five completely FREE things that you can do to improve your photography.
1. This Came With A Manual?
Yes. Yes it did! Actually taking the time to read, re-read and triple-read the manuals to your most important equipment is amazingly valuable. Especially when it comes to your camera body. Today's cameras have some astounding capabilities, and until you understand how they function, and how to adjust the controls for various features, you're missing out on a tremendous amount of potential. I really suggest reading your manual with the camera in hand, and actually trying the various settings as you read about them. I do that whenever I get a new camera body, and I go through EVERY menu item, just to make sure I understand what they mean, and how to use each setting. If your brain is anything like mine, you will only retain a certain percentage of that information after a short time. So, it's a very good idea to go back through, and repeat the whole process again, after you have spent more time practicing with your camera. In fact, as I'm writing this advice, I'm thinking: "Hmm... I should go back and re-read my own manual, now that I have been shooting the same body for almost two years."
2. Practice Makes Permanent.
I hate the expression "Practice Makes Perfect." As an artist, that's simply not true. There is no such thing as a perfect artist. But it definitely makes skills permanent! Muscle memory is incredibly powerful when learning to use any tool. Musicians talk about it all the time, when mastering an instrument. Athletes talk about it all the time when they are developing the perfect swing, stroke or motion. Doing something just a few times barely scratches the surface. In order for your practice to be of maximum benefit, you need to do it with a great amount of intention, attention and purpose. Are you a bit unclear with the way aperture changes effect an image? Then shoot a TON where you are trying every different possible aperture range. Of course it isn't just about the shooting - it's about what results you get at each setting, so make sure you go back and really study what impact each changed setting made in the resulting image. Obviously that applies to every different feature on a camera, every shooting technique you decide to try... Practice with focus. (pun only partially intended.)
3. The YouTubes
There is more free educational content today than there has ever been in the history of mankind. There are more than a few of us crazy photographers out there that just LOVE to create information for others. There are a lot of absolutely amazing paid video resources and downloads. But, you can find great information on a nearly endless variety of topics, just by typing your question into YouTube, and seeing what folks have shared out via YouTube. This probably goes without saying, but YouTube content doesn't necessarily have to be 'correct.' Anyone can create a channel, and share out anything they want. But, if you find that a whole bunch of photographers are saying basically the same thing, you can probably surmise that it's good information.
4. Facebook Groups
There are some absolutely toxic, frustrating, and frankly worthless photography groups on Facebook. In many cases they were once a passionate place where some moderators and members had a great community that shared questions and answers, and would chit chat about photography topics. Sometimes as groups reach massive size, they end up having the toxic personalities and 'trolls' that we all know and hate from social media. But don't give up faith on finding a great group of photographers to share information with in a social media group! The first one I would point you to is the one that we run in conjunction with this website: Photographers Cooperative. We have a group of really passionate photographers of a huge range of ability levels. We don't do 'internet drama,' and I'm really proud that we have a place where folks can come ask basic questions without being ridiculed. They can also ask advanced questions, and get quality information!
5. Local Photography Meet-ups
Meeting other photographers in person, and going shooting together is unbelievably helpful! I realize that meeting a group of strangers to go shoot photography together might be entirely outside of someone's comfort zone. Especially for folks who tend to be more introverted, it may take a bit of courage and energy just to put yourself in that situation, but I strongly suspect if you get out there to a meet-up, you will find someone who you really connect with. Having some photography buddies to share your passion for photography can be a huge help. Actually, the "Photographers Cooperative" writers function a lot like that. We're not geographically close, but we have a constant thread in a chat group to just blab about photography. A behind-the-scenes glimpse here: we actually have two separate threads. One is for important site-related info only. That way, when one of us happens to be really busy with something, we know it's ok to just let the other feed slip for a while. But that other feed... that's where we often meet up as we're winding down at the end of the day, and just share. For those who have kids, I think it's probably a bit of an escape time. For those that live very remotely, it's a chance to connect with a few fellow photographers. For us, the online version of a meet-up has been a great thing. I would say, though - nothing replaces in-person contact. So do a little searching, and I bet you can find a meet-up group right in your own back yard. And if there isn't one... you might just be the perfect person to start it!
Mark is a professional photographer working in the eastern United States. He is based in suburban Philadelphia, but shoots regularly in New York and eastern North Carolina, as well. Specializing in wedding & portrait photography, he is particularly a obsessed with capturing special events, moments and emotions.
In July, 2018, he is teaming up with Connor Hibbs to offer a special 3-day workshop in portraiture at the 155th annual Gettysburg re-enactments. If you are interested in Portrait Lighting, and action portraiture, you can learn more about that opportunity here.
In Fall of 2018, he will be presenting a hands-on gear show through the Pennsylvania Center for Photography. Details about that opportunity will be available as the date gets closer!