I hate to admit it, but my photography has leveled off. I have a decent grasp of the use of depth of field, how to make artistic use of long shutter speeds and how to get an accurate exposure. But I know I still have a lot to learn if I want to reach my full potential as a photographer. While I know that time behind the camera is the best teacher, I’m not learning if I’m just going through the same thoughts and actions each time I shoot. But what to do differently? What’s the best way to grow as a photographer?
The answer is not an easy one as everyone learns differently. Maybe you are a visual learner, or maybe you learn best by doing. Maybe you like to work on your own at your own pace, or maybe you prefer a group learning environment or need a team environment to get motivated. Here are a few ideas to get you going, with a little something for everyone:
Take a Class: This is probably the most obvious option, and can be the most expensive. But there is a lot to gain from taking a class, especially if that class is out of your comfort zone. Classes that have a number of sessions can help to keep you on task, with assignments focused specifically on learning the task at hand. Also, a group environment can be very inspirational as each photographer in the class is coming from their own background and experiences and may have different ideas or ways of approaching things. You’re not only learning from the instructor but also the other students. If you choose to take a class, do some research to make sure the class will match your expectations. If possible, talk to the teacher or even others that have taken the class. You’ll get the most out of a class if it’s at the right level for you.
Read a Book: If you work well on your own and can stay on task as a home study student, this is a great option for you. It can take a bit of work to sift through the countless tomes on photography to find the right book for you, but that work can pay off with a lot of lessons for only a little bit of money. If you go this route. make sure to try out the exercises in the book. They will reinforce the lesson and you may learn a bit about your own shooting habits in the process.
Join a Club: Clubs often offer educational events for a lot less than a formal class. These are often in the form of single workshops which give you the chance to learn without the commitment of going to class each week. Also, many clubs have social shooting events which give you a chance to shoot with others, trying your new skills and learning from the other shooters. These events are a great place to gather ideas for your own work. Club members can often recommend books and classes that have worked for them, if you’re thinking options 1 or 2 sound good to you.
Browse the Net: Yes, this is a danger zone for a lot of people, myself included. It can be easy to get sucked into the endless articles and blogs and find yourself at cuteoverload.com looking at kittens when you’re supposed to be learning. But there is a lot of information on the net, from blogs like this or those I’ve listed in the blogroll. Into lighting? Visit Strobist. Need inspiration? Check out Flickr.
Analyze Work You Like: Spend sometime studying photographs you like. Why is the lighting right? What makes the composition work? How is the photographer using color? There is a lot to learn form the work of others that can help your work improve.
Analyze Your Own Work: Even if you’re taking a class or receiving critiques from your photo club, it really helps to analyze your own work. Looking at past work can help you to see how far you’ve come, and also where your weaknesses lie. You may also pick up on patterns. Maybe you always put your subject in the lower right quadrant of the frame, or you always shoot at the same aperture. Finding your comfort zone is the first step in moving out of it. There’s a good chance that the answer to the question “What is my next step?” is right there in your photos.
So what am I doing to take my photography to the next level? All of the above. I’m taking two classes and supplementing them with my own reading, plus I’m keeping up with my photography club. I’m active on Flickr and I shoot every day, which gives me a lot of photography (my own and others) to study. My challenge is to push myself out of my comfort zone and to spend time on my own working with the techniques I’m learning. Little by little, I’m getting there.