How to get better at taking pictures?

Photography is a beautiful form of art. It can be a hobby, a job, or something you do for fun. If you already know how to frame, shoot, and take a picture, try going a step further. Instead of just taking pictures of kids, pets, and holidays, you could make it a hobby or even a career. It’s time to stop taking just good photos and start taking great ones. Follow the described path to get better at taking pictures.

Step 1: Find someone to help you buy a good camera that you can use

Maybe your dad or a friend who is a photographer has an old film SLR lying around. If you don’t have a camera, you can borrow one until you can buy one. Almost every digital camera made in the last 10 years and almost every film camera ever made will be good enough to take great pictures. Having your camera with you will help a lot.

Step 2: If you haven’t already, learn the basics

Composition, which is basically where you put a subject in the frame of a photo, lighting, and how your camera works are all part of the basics of photography. Check out How to Take Better Photographs for some basic information.

Step 3 – Be Ready

At least half of the time, the difference between a good photo and a great one is being in the right place at the right time with a camera. As often as you can, bring your camera with you. Also, don’t forget to use your camera often. It doesn’t help to just carry it around.

Step 4 – Be There

It’s not enough to be “ready.” As Ken Rockwell says about his early life, “anything that presented itself” was the word that gave away my reasoning. I was there to watch. I thought that taking pictures of things as they happened was what photography was all about. No! You need to go out and look for things. The hard part is finding and seeing what you’re looking for. Taking a picture of what you find is the easy part.

Get up and go outside to take pictures. Go out and look for things at all times of the day, every day. Don’t wait for the right chance to come along, but be ready if it does! Instead, go out and look for them. Look for opportunities everywhere you go, whether you’re at the mall or on the other side of the world, and go to places to look for them. If you can imagine something, you can probably set it up and shoot it.

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Step 5 – Stop looking for things to take pictures of and start observing

  • Check out the colors. Or do the opposite: try to find a scene with no color at all, or shoot in black and white.
  • Listen for patterns and rhythms. Or, do the opposite and try to find something completely separate from everything else.
  • Look at the light or the lack of it. Take pictures of shadows, reflections, light shining through something, or completely dark things. Many people think that the last two hours of daylight called the “golden hour,” are the best time to take photos. This is because it makes directional light, which, when used correctly, can add depth to a photo. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find good light during the middle of the day. If you want soft light, look for fog or open shade instead of the sun directly overhead. But rules are made to be broken, so don’t take these too seriously.
  • When you take a picture of a person, look for expressions and movements. Do they show they’re happy? Mischievousness? Sadness? Do they seem to be thinking? Or do they just look like someone who doesn’t like having a camera pointed at them?
  • Look for patterns, shapes, and textures. The beauty of great black-and-white photos comes from the fact that the photographer has to look for these things.
  • Try to find differences. Look for something that makes the shot stand out. Use the widest part of your zoom (or a wide-angle lens) and get closer to make your composition work. Look for contrasts between all of the things listed above, such as color next to dullness, the light next to darkness, etc. If you’re taking pictures of people, try to put (or find) them in a setting that makes them stand out. Look for happiness in places you wouldn’t expect. Look for a person in a place where they don’t seem to belong. Or you can ignore this and completely remove them from their surroundings by opening your lens all the way to blur the background. Briefly…
  • Look for things that will keep people interested that aren’t typical “subjects.” As you find your niche, you may find that you end up taking pictures of the same things again and again. This works. Your photography will improve a lot if you look for things that aren’t subjects. You’ll soon see a whole new world.

Step 6 – Make your pictures as simple as you can

Get as close as you can to your subject. Use your feet and, if you have a zoom lens, your zoom lens to get the perfect shot. Get rid of anything in your photo that doesn’t help people understand it better.

Step 7 – Shoot video film

If you already use film, you should also use digital. Film and digital cameras are both useful tools for a beginning photographer. Both have good and bad things about them, and each will teach you a different set of habits. The worst things about digital are countered by the best things about film, and vice versa.

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Digital cameras let you know right away if you are doing something right or wrong. They also make it so that there is no cost to try something new. For a new photographer, both of these things are very important. But because digital cameras don’t cost anything, it’s too easy to get into the habit of “spraying and hoping” for a good photo.

When you use a film camera, you have to be more careful about what you take. Even a millionaire wouldn’t want to just hang out on his yacht and take 36 pictures of his beach towel. If you want to make more money from your photos, you might not try as many new things, which is bad, but it does make you think more before you take a picture (which can be good, if you have a good idea of what you should do before taking the picture). Also, the film still has its look, and you can get professional-quality film equipment for a ridiculously low price.

Step 8 – Display your best work to others

In other words, find your best work and only show that to other people. Even the best photographers don’t always take great pictures. They just pick and choose what they show other people.

Be hard on yourself. If you don’t think they’re great, don’t show them. Your standards will go up as you get older, and things you used to think were fine will probably seem pretty lame to you in a few months. If this means that you only got one or two photos out of a day of shooting, that’s fine. It’s likely a sign that you’re not being too harsh.

Don’t view images at their full size. Ken says that the most important parts of an image are the ones that can be seen when the image is small enough to be a thumbnail. Some people will criticize your photos for flaws they can only see when they are cropped to 100%. So what? They aren’t worth listening to anyway. Anything that doesn’t look good when it’s a quarter of your screen can be skipped (or less).

Step 9 – Find out what others think and pay attention to what they say

Don’t fall into the trap of posting in “critique my photos” threads on the Internet. These are usually full of the pixel-peepers mentioned above. Still, it’s good to look for constructive criticism, as long as you’re careful about who you listen to.

Pay attention to music. If someone has some great art to show, whether it’s photos, paintings, music, or something else, this is a reason to take them seriously, since other artists understand the visceral impact, whether it’s in their field or not (and if your photo doesn’t make an impact, it’s probably best to delete it).

Most people who aren’t artists do the same thing, but they aren’t as good at telling you what you’re doing right, and they’re more likely to be nice to you so they don’t hurt your feelings.

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Ignore anyone who gives you harsh feedback on your photos but doesn’t have any of their own that are stunning. Their ideas are just not worth considering.

Find out what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. What was it about a picture that made someone like it? What did you do wrong if they didn’t? As was said above, these are probably things that other artists can tell you.

Don’t be modest if someone likes your work. It’s fine, photographers love hearing how great their work is just as much as anyone else. Try not to be too sure of yourself.

Step 10 – Find work that makes you happy

This doesn’t just mean technically perfect. Any (very rich) fool can put a 400mm f/2.8 lens on a $3000 digital SLR and take a well-exposed, super-sharp picture of a bird, but that doesn’t make them Steve Cirone. Rather than looking for work that makes you think “well exposed and focused,” look for work that makes you smile, laugh, cry, or feel anything. If you like pictures of people, check out Steve McCurry’s work (he took the picture of the Afghan Girl) or Annie Leibowitz’s studio work.

Keep an eye on the people who inspire you on Flickr or any other photo-sharing website, but don’t spend so much time on your computer that you don’t go out and take photos.

Step 11 – Gather some technical facts

No, this is not the most important part of taking pictures. It’s one of the less important ones, which is why it’s at the bottom. A great picture taken with a point-and-shoot camera by someone who doesn’t know about these things is much more interesting than a boring picture that is perfectly focused and exposed. It’s also much better than the one that wasn’t taken at all because someone was too busy worrying about things like this.

Still, it’s helpful to know how shutter speed, aperture, focal length, etc. affect your pictures and how to use them. None of this will make a bad photo good, but it can sometimes keep you from losing a good photo because of a technical problem and can make good photos even better.

Step 12 – Find your niche

You might find that you can talk to people well enough to take pictures of them. You might like being outside in all kinds of weather enough to be able to do landscape photography. You might have a big telephoto lens and like motor racing so much that you find it fun to take pictures of it. Try all of these! Find something you like to do and are good at, but don’t just do that.

Step 13 – Take part in programs and make friends

You can make friends by signing up for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or one of many other social sites. You can sign up with Getty images.

You can exhibit people in your area.