One thing common to many photography students is that they don’t believe they’re making any progress. Usually the problem isn’t that they’re not improving, but that they’re so involved in their photography that they don’t recognise the huge leaps they’re making.
It’s important to always keep learning, of course, but it’s equally important to stand back and see how far you’ve come. Look at your photos on Flickr or wherever you keep your old work. It doesn’t matter if you show them to the world, or just set them to ‘private’ so only you can see them; the point is that the linear nature of Flickr means you can go back in time quite easily.
Every now and again—and especially when you’re feeling you’re not progressing—take a look at the photos you took six months or a year ago. You’ll spot mistakes or decisions in your old photos that you would never have made today. You’ll remember why you liked a photo, but you’ll suddenly spot something you overlooked the first time around. That does two things: If you can fix the problems in post-production, you can go back and improve your old photos. And even if you can’t, you’ve just noticed something you didn’t notice before. That probably means that you have a new perspective, new skills, and new knowledge. Fabulous: you see you’ve improved more than you thought!
There are bound to be days when you feel that a recent photo or set of photos you’ve made isn’t what you ideally want to be producing. Here’s a three-step plan to help you learn from these moments.
What are you unhappy with? Can you put into words what you feel should be better in your photos? Are the issues mostly technical, or do you feel that it’s a lack of inspiration that’s getting in the way of your dream photos? It’s important to be quite clear about what it is you don’t like.
What can you do to improve it? Now that you have a little list of issues with a photo, you can think about your toolbox: do you have the knowledge and the equipment to solve the problem? Usually equipment is rarely the problem—so it’s a case of applying what you know about light, lenses, and camera settings to try to find a solution to your challenges.
The final point in the three-point plan is to analyse whether the solutions you’ve come up with are good enough to save the day. Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve done everything in your power and knowledge to make a photo work, but it just doesn’t want to play nice. Honestly? It happens. But the great news is that the focused approach you’ve chosen throughout these three steps means that you’ve gone through a process of self- critique that will help both these and future photos.
In The Ilex Introduction to Photography, Haje Jan Kamps guides you through the process of turning your everyday snapshots into great pictures that you can be proud of. It doesn’t matter if you shoot with a smartphone or a top-of-the-range dSLR, this book has everything in it that you need to know!
The Ilex Introduction to Photography
Haje Jan Kamps
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RRP for print edition: £14.99