I've enjoyed photography since I was a kid, but in 2011 I became "serious" about it. The photos my Canon 400D was producing were - ummm - nice. I suppose. But, I wanted to do better than nice and I started a fascinating, frustrating but ultimately rewarding journey.
These 5 tips are some of the unexpected results from that journey. They are out there if you look hard enough, but they aren't the first bits of advice you find.
TIP 1 - Don't buy a new camera yet
This became obvious several years after spending a small fortune to buy a new camera, lenses and other bits and pieces. Because I didn't like the photos I was taking, and because I'm a technology nerd, I assumed a better camera would take better photos. Under some circumstances, it does. But you've already realised the problem wasn't the camera, or whether I understood the controls - I just didn't know how to take photos because I'm not a photographer. For example, here is a photo of my new camera, a Canon 60D, taken with my older 400D and a $100 lens. Apparently, my old camera takes great photos after all. Who'd have thought?
TIP 2 - Learn why good photos are good
I can't over-emphasise educating yourself using whatever method you like - face-to-face, online, books, whatever. The trick is to not assume you know how things work. Challenge your assumptions and go beyond learning basic exposure and composition. Pick a style you like and research it. Also research the photographers who take the photos you like. Get inside their minds and understand why they think a photo is good.
TIP 3 - Stop taking bad photos
No, I don't mean you should suddenly become a photographic genius overnight. Once you've learned what makes a good photo, ask yourself before you press the shutter whether the shot is worth taking. Is there enough light? Is the subject worth it? Are there background objects that will distract the viewer. I have taken thousands of photos that shouldn't have been taken, only to delete (or even worse - store) them.
TIP 4 - Find interesting subjects
Taking technically-perfect photos isn't the goal, unless you're doing something like product, food or architectural photography. Photography is meant to spark something in the viewer that grabs and holds their interest. A perfect photo of a boring subject won't do that (see my camera image above - a good example unless you're a gear nerd). Instead, find a fascinating subject, shoot it in an unusual way and get the technical bit good enough so that it's not obvious. Otherwise you're chasing the wrong perfection.
TIP 5 - Photograph everything and work out what you like
I caution you against starting a photo-a-day project unless you have the time. But have you're camera around the house and take a camera - any camera - with you when you leave it. Even your smart phone is worth using just to practice finding subjects and capturing them. The photo of the cathedral above was taken using my iPhone. The image of Balmoral, below, is a panorama I took at Balmoral beach on a day off - with my old 400D and the kit lens.
These tips aren't new, but in a world that is gear-obsessed the skills, attitudes and experience that lead to taking better photos are often overlooked. I'm not a professional photographer, but my photos are much better than they used to be. It's amazing how much better my old camera has becomes since I learned what to do with it.
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