Are you just getting started with photography? Perhaps you’ve done it for a while but lack inspiration? Are you unhappy with the images you produce today? Whatever your goals and ambitions might be, the new year is a great time to saddle up and become a better photographer.
The tips shared below are designed to give you the inspiration you need to get out there capturing the best images you can and to introduce you to the essential toolset needed to do so:
#1 Invest time, not money
It’s easy to get carried away with new camera gear and gadgets but the truth is that purchasing an expensive camera isn’t going to instantly make you a better photographer. Stunning images can be created with any type of camera; be it a smartphone, entry-level DSLR or a point-and-shoot.
Sure, professional cameras are better and will result in a better quality of the image files but that shouldn’t matter until you’re at a level where you’ve got ambitions to either make money from your photography or create large prints.
If your main outlet is web and social media, the camera has very little to say.
Rather than investing money in new camera gear, I urge you to invest more time into your photography this coming year. Set aside dedicated time as often as possible and go outside with your camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowing or harsh sunlight; grab your camera and play with it.
You’re not going to come home with amazing images each time. Heck, I’m thrilled if 1% of the images I take throughout the year make it into my portfolio!
The purpose of this exercise isn’t to create only stunning images. That’s not realistic. The purpose is to spend time with your camera and to become familiar with it. Become familiar with how you can use it in various scenarios. Understand how different settings give different results and how changing light creates different moods. It’s all about having fun and getting experience.
#2 Study the art of compositions
It doesn’t matter how great the light is or how good your Lightroom skills are; an image that lacks a solid composition won’t have a big impact. Sure, it might make someone stop up for a moment or two but it’s not going to be one that’s talked about afterward.
Spend time studying compositions in 2020. Pick up a book or course that dives into the topic. Look at images from your favorite photographers and try to learn what compositional guidelines they follow. How can you implement these into your images?
Recommended Reading: 5 Compositional Guidelines in Landscape Photography
Don’t get me wrong; you shouldn’t implement every single compositional guideline on every image but you should learn what they are and when they are beneficial to use.
Sometimes the best rule of them all is to break the rules.
#3 Ask for critique
Receiving honest and valuable feedback is rare in this day and age. Most comments received online goes along the line of “awesome shot”. While this is a nice ego-boost it has absolutely zero value for your creative growth. Most of these comments are given because the commenter wants you to check out their work too.
Instead, try finding a photographer or group of photographers to share your work with. A group that is honest and give you valuable feedback. You might not like everything they say but learn to listen. Constructive criticism is worth more than a million generic comments.
Make sure that you get feedback from someone you consider a better photographer than yourself. Someone you can learn from. If you don’t know anyone personally, it never hurts to send an email to some of your favorite photographers.
#4 Attend a course
If you are going to invest money into your photography in 2020 it should be towards something educational. Attending an online or offline course can not only teach you how to become a better photographer but it can also give you that extra motivational boost you need to grab the camera and head outside.
Try to learn something new even if you’ve been doing photography for a while; study a new technique, dig deeper into the world of compositions, improve your post-processing or attend a seminar with a photographer whose work you admire.
#5 Take time to understand the fundamental settings
Few things are more important to learn than the fundamental settings when you’re getting started with landscape photography. Light changes quickly and you don’t always have much time to sit down go through your settings.
Understanding what the shutter speed, ISO and aperture is, and how they work together, is essential for your growth as a photographer. In fact, having this understanding can be the difference between getting a shot and not.
When you understand how the settings work you should also practice how to quickly adjust them on your camera. You want to be able to change them all without even looking at the camera. This simple exercise from Ugo Cei will teach you exactly that.
#6 Get away from your comfort zone
Comfort zones can be a dangerous place to stay in for too long. It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started with photography or if you’ve been doing it for decades, we all have them.
The ultra-wide-angle and a 6-Stop ND Filter was my comfort zone for a long time. I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to create a decent image and that’s exactly what I did. It all became a routine that ultimately led to me forgetting to be creative. That’s when I challenged myself to leave the wide-angle behind and instead spend months focusing on intimate shots captured with a telezoom.
Stepping out of my comfort zone and spending time focusing on something new was the best creative decision I’ve made in a long time and it made photography so much more fun again.
What is your comfort zone? What aspect of photography are you scared of trying? In 2020, you should spend some time exploring those fields. Maybe it means placing filters in front of your lens, heading out without a tripod, using a different focal length or perhaps photograph during the night. Whatever it is, push yourself and get away from your comfort zone.
#7 Find inspiration outside photography
Inspiration is given to us in a variety of ways. Sometimes it can be found at the most unexpected places.
Though I love browsing through the online galleries of my favorite photographers, I find that my biggest inspirational boosts are given to me when I’m looking at other types of art; when I’m walking through a physical gallery.
My painting skills are on the levels with an infant but certain paintings capture my attention and have me staring for a long time. When looking at such images, I look at how the artist uses light, colors and shadows, how the composition guides the viewer through the image and how the overall atmosphere contributes to the story. While a painter has the benefit of starting with a blank canvas and the freedom to control all the elements within the frame, you got to ask yourself how these elements can be adapted to your photography.
How can we use the light or elements in front of us to capture the attention of viewers? How can we use colors? How can we take advantage of post-processing to emphasize a specific part of the image?
Final thoughts to become a better photographer in 2020
The most important thing I’m urging you to do in 2020 is to have fun with your photography. Never forget why you started photography in the first place and don’t look at it at something you need to do. It should always stay something you want to do.
It can be frustrating to go out day after day and not coming home with great images but that’s part of the process. Trust me, none of your favorite photographers capture award-winning images every time they press the shutter button. For every great image they take, there are hundreds of bad.
I also urge you to slow down and take the time to enjoy being outdoors. Enjoy the scenery. Walk around and explore it before even taking your camera out. Sometimes the best exercise is to not take an image at all.