Photos are my favorite souvenirs. Whether documenting a night out with friends or an international destination, I’m always thankful to have my photos to look back on the memories. Yet travel photography, or even photographing my own local surroundings, isn’t always an easy feat.
Even as a professional photographer, there are definitely opportunities I’ve missed, shots I haven’t taken, and moments I didn’t capture just because I was too self-conscious to whip out my camera or introduce myself to a stranger.
Improving my photography is an ongoing goal, but I thought it was time enough to share some of the more unconventional tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
A few years ago, I read a wedding photography book in which the author, Joe Buissink, gave some advice that’s echoed in my brain ever since. That advice is to turn around. While given in the context of wedding photography, it works in any scenario. If you’re too focused on one angle, person, event, etc, you may miss dozens of others. Your real subject may be what’s behind you. (That was definitely the case in the image above – I was photographing the sunrise and turned around to see the dark, cool clouds contrasting against the vibrant, warm buildings which was very visually appealing.)
Put the camera down
As a photographer, I struggle with the pull between being fully present and the desire to capture each moment that feels significant. This is especially evident during sunsets, when I usually end up seeing the whole event through a screen instead of with my eyes. Our culture is obsessed with capturing and sharing, and I’m definitely guilty. However, there’s a certain power in putting down the camera, and soaking up the moment with your eyes alone. So save some things for your memory bank. How will this improve your photos? Simple: seeing things with your eyes is a great first step towards training your eye and developing your style.
Know the difference between inspiration and comparison
Do not obsess over the work of others and endlessly compare your work. Completely eradicating comparison is impossible, but at least make an effort to engage in comparison as infrequently as possible. When I catch myself in the comparison game, I feel like crap and like I’m not enough. But inspiration is an entirely different animal, because it will light a fire in you to create and improve. I find my inspiration in books about creativity (Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a favorite), travel photography instagram accounts, deep conversations with friends, food/cooking, color, and the beach, so I actively seek out those things to keep me creatively energized. Learn what inspires you and chase it.
If you feel it, photograph it
Emotion is a good indicator when it comes to a great photograph. If a scene is making you feel something strongly, chances are it will also touch someone else. This is another lesson learned from the wedding photography book I mentioned earlier; that shooting from the heart tends to make for better photos. If something is calling to you, capture it.
Let go of the fear of being judged
Be the girl who stands on her chair in a restaurant to take a sweet food pic. Embarrass yourself for the sake of a great shot. Seriously, who cares? My sister likes to call my photography technique “photographer yoga.” For some reason, I just end up in really goofy stances while I take photos. But I totally embrace it. The sooner you can let go of that anxiety surrounding what people might think of you, the sooner you’ll get the photos you truly want.
Hone your eye
In photography, in writing, and even in life, there’s always talk about being “you” and having a particular style. When you’re just starting out, finding that style/voice/personality seems impossible. But it does get easier over time if you’re willing to practice, practice, practice. I gave up photography for a long time due to fear. I stopped taking photos, lost my creative energy, and as a result the photos I did manage to take weren’t that great. This is why practice is so important. The more you practice and focus on photographing what you’re naturally drawn to, the better you’ll get at noticing those things. For me, that’s color, vibrancy, and candid moments. I’ve trained my eye to see those things over time, and continue to do so. The more you practice, the more you photograph, the faster you’ll improve and begin finding your own style.
This is the biggest opportunity I’ve missed, mainly because of fear. It’s hard to walk up to a stranger and ask to take their photograph. I admit I’m still in that phase of “secretly” including people in my photos and catching them unaware, but that’s something I want to improve on majorly. People add a new dimension of storytelling, relatability, and sometimes an air of mystery to photos. I’m greatly influenced by the stories of others, and want to inject that more into my work.
Continue your education
Read books, watch TV shows, read some more books (I love books), listen to podcasts and TED Talks, read blogs. Never stop learning or discovering new perspectives. John recently came across a show on Netflix, Tales By Light, which is one of the most inspiring shows I’ve watched lately. It follows different photographers around the world, giving insight on their techniques, inspiration, and travels while also showing the beauty of the world. Remember, you’re never done learning.
Other quick tips:
If you’re new to the photography game, know that a solid understanding of light and composition will make the biggest difference in your photos. Additionally, don’t rely on editing to “fix” a crappy image. If you start with light and composition, you won’t need to spend hours in front of your computer screen. And lastly, be patient. Be patient in the learning process, be patient when waiting to click the shutter, and be patient with yourself. You’ll get there!