If there’s one field of art that has more self-educated Pro’s out there than the rest, it’s photography. It’s how I learned photography. It’s how most of the pioneers in the industry learned it And it’s how you can learn it too.
These four steps show you how.
With that said, there’s one prime ingredient you must have if you want to successfully become a rock-star photographer. But I’ll let David Hurn tell you just what that is…
“My advice is: learn from the best or teach yourself. And do not bother at all if you do not have an exaggerated sense of curiosity.”
Step 1: Amass a Wealth of Knowledge and Know-How (But Not Too Much)
To teach yourself photography, you’re going to have to learn some things. It’s a given. The question is, where do you get this information from? And which info is good and which is bad?
Go to Amazon.com and you’ll find thousands of books on photography. Type in “photography tips” in Google and you’ll come up with millions (yes, millions) of web pages trying to teach you.
To sort through this maze of information, you’ll want to focus on two key aspects to photography:
As a beginner just starting out, you’ll want to get books that provide you with a solid introductory understanding of these subjects. While there are many books that cover both topics, generally the more specialized books have better guidance.
The following are a few books I found useful for exposure and composition:
- Chasing the Light: Improving Your Photography with Available Light by Ibarionex Perello
- Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson
- Fundamentals of Photo Composition by Paul Comon
- Designing a Photograph: Visual Techniques for Making your Photographs Work by Bill Smith
These are great starting guides to learning photography. With that said, these books speak very broadly about specific camera features and functions.
To get a more practical understanding of your camera, you’ll want to grab something you may have hidden way back in your closet – your camera manual.
All cameras are set up a bit differently. Your camera manual carefully gives you the specific location of every feature and how to use it.
You don’t have to read the entire little thing. Just use the table of contents to find the features you want to practice with.
Build Your Own Photo Journal
How much can you tell me about a book you read last year? How about several years ago?
If you’re like me, not much!
Our minds naturally forget things very quickly. If you’re serious about teaching yourself photography, you’ll definitely want to get a photo journal to document everything you learn from the books and other resources you absorb.
With every book, article, or resources you find, make it a point to notate the key points into your journal. This will make reviewing what you’ve learned much easier than having to read an entire book over again.
I personally like to use Google Drive to store all of my notes. This makes finding my notes a breeze and also keeps me from losing my notebook in the airport and having to start all over again!
Avoid Clogging Your Brain
While knowledge and know-how are critical to your success, it’s important that you avoid falling into the trap of learning too much.
There’s such a thing?
Yes, and I’ve fallen victim to it time and time again.
It goes a little like this. You read a great book and it’s jam-packed with info. You feel overwhelmed, empowered, and excited because you know so much more now! These emotions are addicting. So you read another book in pursuit of them again. And again.
And when it comes down to it, you still haven’t put any of what you’ve learned to practice.
Make it a point to put every piece of knowledge you learn into practice. You’ll improve drastically. Trust me.
Speaking of practice, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Step 2 will give you the scoop on just what this means.
Step 2: Get Out There and Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.
The more you learn about photography through books, courses, and other available resources, the more empowered you’ll feel. Every time I finish a new how-to book, I always feel like an expert on the topic.
Fortunately, I take the next step and practice the things I learn. And it’s quite humbling. I discover very quickly that reading is much easier than doing. And that’s a good thing to discover.
Trial and error are your secret to great photography.
Applying what you learn and failing miserably mean that you’re getting one step closer to succeeded. All you’ve got to do is suck it up and keep on treading along.
The more you go out there and shoot, the more you’ll get a feel for what various authors meant when they say “avoid the center” or “bracket your exposures”.
What’s more, you’ll get something even more powerful – experience.
As you observe light, compose, and work with your camera, skill-sets naturally develop. A sense of intuition is bred.
And the more you test, try, and fail, the better a photographer you’ll become.
One skill at a time
How does a body builder get ripped biceps? By doing bicep curls. How do they get ripped calves? By doing calf exercises.
So it goes with skill sets in photography.
Each skill set (white balance, aperture, rule of thirds, etc) requires a different mental skill-set.
Realize this and approach these skill-sets just as the body builder approaches their physique.
Isolate each skill you want to develop and work to perform specialized exercises that work that skill.
Instead of trying to become good at composition in general, work at mastering “leading lines”. Spend five minutes each day taking only photos with leading lines. At the end of the week you’ll be much better at composing than if you just tried to “improve your composition.”
Ask Yourself, “But What If I…”
Don’t feel obliged to obey every command that you learn in the books. Instead, approach your shooting with curiosity.
After trying a technique several times, experiment with it a little. See what happens when you, for example, use an aperture you never would’ve thought to use. Or compose in a way that the authors advised against.
By challenging what you learn and pushing the boundaries, you not only master, you innovate. This is key to developing your own personal style.
Step 3: Master the Art of Self Motivation and Inspiration
The greatest photographers have been shooting for decades. To join their ranks and take powerful images, you’re going to need more than just knowledge and know-how.
You’re going to need consistent, continued practice for years. And the only way you’ll be able to accomplish this is through passion.
Find Something You Love
Having a passion for what you photograph will make photography an ingrained part of your life. When that happens, practice is easy.
Hiking and nature, for example, are two things I can’t live without. Through my hikes,one day I got the idea to bring a camera along. And it’s fueled me to where I am today.
When the subject you capture most is something you interact with on a daily basis, practicing becomes second-nature.
Making it known that you love being the family photographer or the shooter for social events are a couple ways to make this happen.
Step 4: Get Realistic, Honest Feedback
Nothing is more dangerous to success than teaching yourself photography without a feedback mechanism.
It leads to blind spots which, if you don’t catch and correct soon enough, will be nearly impossible to remedy.
One simple example I personally dealt with was horizon calibration. It took my art school buddy pointing out that all my sunset photos have crooked horizons for me to realize what I was doing.
We can make countless photo mistakes and not even realize them. Feedback from an experienced shooter can easily pinpoint problems and move us back on the right path.
Here are a few low-no cost options for getting feedback for your photos:
- Join a local meetup or class
- Make photographer friends
- Join an online photo forum
- Search for and email pro photographers in your area
You Are Your Environment
There are a lot of great photography books, websites, and resources out there for you to learn. And practicing what you learn will help you improve immensely.
But getting personal, live feedback from other people is still one of the most valuable things you can do.
It’s said that you have to hear something ten times before you actually understand it. Hearing advice and feedback from a real person adds much more impact to that equation.
The more viewpoints and perspectives on photography you get, the more of an open mind you’ll develop. You’ll be challenged.
And only when you are challenged and forced to open your mind will true transformation occur.