Increasingly, we live in a visual culture. Strong photography communicates an emotion or idea that written words or audio recording simply cannot. A gruesome image from a conflict zone helps us wrap our head around global realities. A sweeping landscape photograph helps to highlight the vastness of our planet. An intimate portrait exposes identity. The best photos broaden our understanding of our place in the world.
I am not a professional photographer. But I am improving, and these are some of the ways that are helping me develop.
(Yes, photo pun intended.)
1. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. As with any skill, practice is helpful. To truly refine any craft, however, we need a deliberate form practice, one that is purposeful and systematic. This means thinking about angle, framing, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. But don’t try to focus on everything at once. Pick a sub-skill, such as shutter speed, and then hit the streets one evening, play with your settings and see what you can capture.
2. Watch tutorials. The Internet is teeming with information that will not only help you become a better photographer but also become a better photo editor. To help me wrap my head around the holy trinity of photography (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), I watched a selection of videos, each explaining things in a unique yet helpful way. Almost any question you can tap into a YouTube search will lead to some sort of video. Folks such as Peter McKinnon, Julieanne Kost and Ted Forbes have informative YouTube channels, and make a fine place to start.
3. Learn editing software. The vast majority of the photographs we see — whether digital or print — have been edited. It’s tempting to apply prefabricated filters provided by Instagram and apps such as Snapseed. However, to move past amateur status, photographers must have a variety of tools in their tool belts, and effective editing skills is one of them. I’m gradually becoming more versed in using Adobe’s Lightroom. Other programs include Photoshop, Corel, Affinity Photo and Apple Photos. Dabble around and see what works for you.
4. Find a mentor. While online tutorials are great, nothing compares to a teacher. With a real human guide, you’ll be able to fine tune your skills while posing real-time questions. Ideally, the mentor will spot and correct any blunders, and together you can review photographs to make immediate adjustments. Finding a mentor is not always obviously, and it involves putting yourself out there. One simple way is to noodle around on Instagram, searching by tags and locations. If you’re interested in photographing skateboarders, for example, then reach out to someone is photographing skateboarders in your region. Tip: Rather than asking, “Will you be my mentor?” (which might overwhelm a busy photographer), ask to tag along on a shoot or help out in another way. Build rapport. You’ll inevitably learn.
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