Beginning photography can be very frustrating and difficult at first, so this is my advice based on my personal experiences on starting out and what I found to be effective.
Granted, I am no professional-vogue-magazine-printed-million-dollar-photographer at the moment, but I’m a lot better (and a little wiser) than I was 2 years ago. And that speaks volumes.
Sometimes the thought of asking questions may be daunting, but in most cases it helps you more than it does hurt. For me, asking questions was crucial in my learning process. Whenever I found photos I liked, I would look for the photographer’s name, go to their facebook or email (most of them have it linked on their sites!) and send them a message. Surprisingly, most of them would message me back with replies! I would introduce myself, tell them I am a fan of their work and then ask (very kindly) questions like what their favorite lenses are, how they got a certain shot (and showing them the exact photo), or just ask for some general advice. A lot were very receptive when it came to helping me out, and were very kind in their responses. Afterwards I would take down notes and keep the info for future reference. Every photographer has a different style, so you get a broad range of answers…which is great because you will never get the same answer twice. You always have new things to try with the information you’ve been given.
This is extremely valuable because you are going straight to the source to find the answer to your question. It also establishes a connection with the photographer.
I spent a large portion of my time shooting at large apertures on NO FLASH mode (my pre-manual/RAW days), with the same colors and styles to all my photos. When I looked back at my photos, they all looked the same! So I decided to ask another photographer for help on why my photos were so washed out….and he told me to begin shooting in RAW. That was the first step. I probably would still be shooting in NO FLASH if it weren’t for him, heh.
If you see photos you like: look up the photographer and ask them questions. Be polite and specific with your questions. Don’t get too carried away, many of them are super busy! If you ask one or two you have a better chance of getting a great answer. Whether you’re curious about what lens they use, or what inspires them – go for it. There is a 50% chance they will respond, and 50% they won’t. You have nothing to lose.
If you’re shooting the same photo in the same style, prepare to bore your audience. Yes, it’s great to establish your own personal style, but if you are not experimenting and trying out new things you are standing still. When I see one of my favorite photographers posting what looks to be the same photo over and over again, I lose interest in their work. There is nothing captivating about the same picture on a different day.
How will you know what you’re truly good at if you don’t try new things?
Remember: When you get out of your comfort zone you challenge yourself. FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE SOMETIMES. It’s okay!
Try different types of photography and shoot in different ways. Portraits, nature, animals, dive into a little bit of everything. Even if you don’t think you’ll use it or like it, you may learn something from it and be able to use it in what you eventually choose to focus on shooting. Expand your skills beyond what you usually do and you will find yourself being able to use these talents in every type of photoshoot. I love shooting fashion/lookbooks, but I take photos for seniors and children even though I’m not particularly fond of it. It helps me with direction, lighting and communicating. I am always learning new things from every shoot I do. Whether it’s what NOT to do or settings I will never use again.
Next time you are outside and want to take photos: shoot something you normally wouldn’t. Do you not like photographing kids? Well, today you love kids. Maybe when you shoot 3 professional models at once you will have a handle on it. And see that leaf? Doesn’t it look great? Get 50 different shots of it with different apertures. When you shoot details for lookbooks you’ll have it down. If you’re working with a model, take photos from new angles. Use a ladder, or shoot through things. You can use that when you do weddings. Try. New. Things.
You’re not going to start out as a professional photographer right away. It may take months to even years until you really see any progress. Even then you may not be as good as you had hoped and dreamed: but that is the journey. Accept that you will not become a legendary photographer overnight, and that there will be plenty of rejection and hardship before you see the light at the end of that tunnel.
Never accepting where you are leaves you a lot of room for what is ahead. If you accept the skills you currently have, you won’t see progress. I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I was finally in a good place but I never accepted it. I knew I could learn more and this wasn’t it for me…which brings me to my last point that is most important.
DON’T BELIEVE YOUR OWN HYPE
When someone tells you that your photography is good, they are lying to you.
Well, okay, not always and not exactly. But this is the thought process I live by. It may not be that sugarcoated positive reinforcement that we’re all used too and love dearly, but it has gotten me to where I am now.
A few years ago when I first began shooting everyone kept complimenting me on how great my photos were. It was nice to be recognized, sure! But I never let it get to me. It wasn’t because I was trying to be holy and humble, it’s just that my photos weren’t that great and I knew it because I’ve SEEN a lot better. Knowing what was possible made me second guess everything I was doing. At the end of every “your photos are so good!” “love your pictures!!” I always said thank you (I really did mean it!) and then made sure that compliment was out of my head 5 seconds after it was said. I kept pushing myself.
You see, people had complimented me when my photos were mediocre (my own personal opinion) and then even when I got better they would still praise me. Over my entire photography career only one person told me that one of my photos (that had ended up in a magazine) was amateur, and that one comment motivated me to become better. I appreciate it every day, no matter how much it hurt at the time.
Your friends and family don’t see photography the way you do. Their basis for what is good and what is not good is what they see on their facebook feed from friends weddings and events, and occasional articles online.
Just like how makeup artists know what is amazing makeup from bad better than we do, is because they have seen THE BEST of the best… or how chefs know what true culinary genius is, despite the fact that everyone in America loves hamburgers and any real chef would frown upon it.
People who aren’t photographers will give you compliments because they love your work and then you will take it, hold onto it and live with on it forever. That’s great, you don’t have to shrug off every compliment. There is nothing wrong with receiving positive feedback about your work! But holding onto compliments and using them as a means to justify not learning and trying new things will stunt your learning progress, as well as your integrity as an artist. Just ask yourself: could you be better? Why or why not?
When you’re pampered with compliments you won’t grow or become better at what you do – because according to everyone else: you’re already amazing! So why bother doing new things? Your current work is substantial. Once you start convincing yourself that you belong in a hall of fame: you won’t grow. Gordon Ramsay once said (loosely quoted haha because my memory sucks): “I don’t care about what’s good – I only want the negatives.”
Negatives are what keep you from becoming better. Negatives can be improved on. If no one brings them to light then how will you move forward? Welcome critiques and accept criticism with an open mind. Use it as motivation to become better, don’t dwell on it because eventually we will have to learn how to deal with negative comments from ‘haters’ and critics.
I spent four years standing in front large groups of people having my work up for discussion and criticism – every time it ended I could see that my work was ALWAYS better after critique.
So with every compliment you get: just say thank you and let it escape your head. Because if it stays there – you won’t get anywhere. That is the only way I got better… by thinking I suck. Haha.
When you’re feeling down about your work, remember why you began in the first place. Don’t depend on others to fuel the fire. Be your own support system and biggest advocate.
With that, I wish you the best of luck in every photo you take. And don’t give up so easily, okay?!