As photographers, we all want to be constantly improving our work. However, often this can seem like an uphill struggle, especially when you are just starting out. As an art form, photography is all about the creative process and exploring ideas through images, but in order to really create great images you need to put a plan in place for your own development; especially focused on skills, inspiration, purpose and output. By tackling these elements you can focus your mind and develop your work, to help you produce better and more refined art every time you go out on location.
Skills – The Basics
In order to get on to the creative elements, having a solid understanding of the base knowledge first is integral to improving your art as a photographer. I’m not going to go into detail here about understanding exposure, depth of field, composition, etc., but these are key things to spend time on.
It may seem like a huge task, but with solid work you can come to grips with being able to shoot in full manual mode easily within a month. After that point, you need to understand the basics as well as the layout of your camera’s functions, helping to make it an extension of yourself and not a distraction from your intended subject. There are a large number of fantastic tutorials here on dPS that can help you to get up to speed and really understand the basics.
Taking your learning further is all about practice and persistence, so think about spending a few days focused on certain image types. Set yourself the task of going out the door to just shoot panning images, wide angles, bokeh, etc. This will help you to formulate the skills in your photographer’s arsenal and produce more creative images for the future.
No matter how many years you have been shooting, testing yourself and constantly putting in the time will always help you improve. If you can’t find a whole day, why not a lunch break at work? Small efforts done consistently lead to great results.
Creativity is something people often believe thrives with options, but in honesty, having too many things to choose from can often dilute your vision and reduce the creativity within your images. Restrict yourself by focusing on a single subject for an extended period of time. Build a long term project in your garden or local nature reserve and keep returning to build upon your images.
Another option is to work with a single focal length or prime lens to explore how you can make the most of what you’ve got. If you don’t have a prime lens use a piece of gaffer tape to hold your zoom lens in position to stop the temptation of zooming in or out. These practices will enhance your skills when it comes to general shooting, as you will be able to quickly select and formulate the ways and ideas you want to shoot.
In order to get the best out of the images you are taking and the skills you are learning, remember to record them. Working with a simple notebook or online workbook, evaluate the images you have taken for successes and failures, in order to cement the lessons in your mind and learn from your work.
Inspiration is very important for your development as a photographer. Without constant inspiration it can be hard to formulate ideas and develop on past work. Staying inspired doesn’t just mean looking at other photographer’s work, as often over-saturaturation of a single medium can result in less creativity. So it’s better to take input from as wide a range of sources as possible.
A traditional showcase of artwork, galleries are still a fantastic option for gaining some inspiration. The variety of work on show, from ancient works such as stone carvings and cave paintings, through to impressionism and modernism, really do offer a superb variety of visual stimuli. Often, to get the best out of them, attending a tour or showcase day can help, giving you the backstories of the work as well as explaining the techniques and mediums used. This knowledge will inform, and allow you to formulate your own processes when creating images in the field.
As a wildlife photographer, nature is a huge inspiration to me. Heading out on walks, be it with or without a camera, is a great way to soak up some atmosphere. Look at light and shape of the landscape, and pull in ideas for future images.
Buildings offer fantastic inspiration for photography. Lines, form and shape are used to make striking structures and can be a excellent source of inspiration. Focus on looking for the way the shapes are used to form elegant structures or draw your eye to a pivotal point. Additionally, take note of the way shadows form, as this will help you imagine and anticipate lighting for future images.
In the modern world the internet has a huge amount to offer, and with so many fantastic resources it is full of inspiration. Taking a look at photographers’ portfolios, or the feeds of 500px, Flickr, etc. offer superb images that can be the perfect inspiration for your own work. One thing to avoid is that of visual trends, copying styles just because they are popular. It is always worth noting that just because an image doesn’t have many Likes or Favourites” does not deny its worth as inspiration, as images will always mean different things to different people.
A great way to find inspiration is to become part of a community. Heading to events in the photography world such as exhibitions or trade shows can provide a great way to meet like-minded people as well as see some excellent work. Also, think about looking for a local photography group or club. Many areas have these and they offer a great chance to meet up and discuss work and camera techniques with your peers, all the while helping you improve and develop your skills.
Just as above, it’s very important to also record your inspirations. Write down the names of artists and photographers you want to look up, and make notes on what you like and dislike about certain images and media. All of these thoughts and feelings are great to revisit when creating to help formulate and focus your own work. Remember to keep that notebook handy!
Creativity often needs purpose and so do your images.The most powerful images almost always have a purpose behind them, be it to tell stories, stir emotion, tempt us, or give us a glimpse into something we’ve never seen before. Images with purpose have greater strength.
When wanting to improve your own images look for purpose within your shots. Tell stories through single images or start to work on documenting a larger idea through multiple images. Have the story in your head and shoot frames to help tell it pictorially. Stories don’t need to be huge photojournalist essays, instead start off by just showcasing the mundane, everyday occurrences.
Training yourself to make powerful images of these situations will equip you with the necessary skills for more exciting opportunities in the future. Working on a local project, be it in your back garden or local community, means you can spend a great deal of time focused on your images as well as developing your story and vision.
Always ask yourself the following;
- Why am I creating this image?
- What am I trying to show?
- What are the key elements in this story?
- How can I find a unique angle?
These thoughts will help you work toward creating stronger images with purpose and meaning, leading to far more creative photography.
Art deserves to be shown and deciding how you are going to output your final work is a great way to focus your creativity. In the modern world, most images just end up on a hard drive, away from the light of day where no one can see them. With all the work and effort you are putting into them, they deserve more.
In terms of being creative with your work, think about how it should best be shown. Often people lean toward online media, showcasing work through the likes of Flickr or Facebook, Although these are a great way of getting work out there, they can numb the creative and learning process somewhat.
Think about outputting to hard media, printing out your work as well as online platforms. There are loads of great ways to produce photo books, magazines and gallery style prints that will look far better and suit certain bodies of work far more. The creative process of learning to design a photo book, bring together a 12-part print collection, or design a magazine spread, will also be an excellent learning curve to help you when working on future projects.
In addition, there is something to be said for holding a final piece of work in your hands. A finished print really is the ultimate moment for an image. Having passed through all of the creative stages from conception and execution, through to editing and final completion in your hands is a great feeling, and one every photographer deserves after finishing an image.
In order to produce more and more creative work it’s all about focusing on the process. The skills behind creating, the inspiration and purpose behind projects, the final results and how they are output. By taking time to think through these stages you can really focus your mind and produce refined work to be proud of, as well as constant develope your skills and grow as a photographer in the future.