Lets be honest, learing a new skill isn't easy and it takes time. It can be frustrating, overwhelming and you just want to be accomplished from the onset and when this doesn't happen, we often give up the goose. I get it, we all want to be the best we can instantly, but sadly this isn't reality. I remember when I started to take photography a little more seriously, I was often left highly frustrated that I wasn't taking images as I saw them. I would look at other people's images and wonder why there's were so much better than mine? what was I doing wrong? and should I just throw the damn thing in the bin and give up. However I didn't give up and I made a decision to stick with it and I'm so pleased I did. It takes time to learn new skills but there is light at the end of the tunnel and with a tiny bit of knowledge and plenty of determination you can see your photography go from strength to strength. So to help you along the way I've complied my top tips for how you can start to improve your photography.
Oxendale and the Langdale Valley taken 2012. Just bought my first 'proper camera'.
A little Knowledge goes a long way:
So in order to be able to take better photographs we need to firstly understand the basic theory of photography. Now you don't need to go too in depth at this stage, as your likely to get brain overload, but you do need to have the basic understanding of aperture, Shutter speed and ISO and how they interact and affect one another. In its basic form photography is all about light and how much light your sensor is exposed to, each one of these elements (apeture, shutterspeed and ISO) controls the amount of light that hits the sensor. Altering anyone of them will have an impact on the others and thus changing your exposure. Too much light and you image will be over exposed (light) and two little light and your image will be under exposed (dark). So we need use these three elements called the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) to get a balanced and correctly exposed image. Once you have a basic grasp of these, especially aperture and shutter speed, it will be the foundations in which to build on.
Learn about your camera:
So we now a have a little knowledge about the basics of photography, next on the list is you need to get to know your camera. Now I don't mean take it out on a date, what I mean is you need to know how your camera works in order to get the maximum out of it, If your not getting the most out of your camera, then your not getting the most out of your photography. Learn what your camera is good at, what its limitations are, learn the settings and where they are in the menu so you can quickly navigate your way around the camera so you can adjust to sudden changes or opportunities. You want your camera to be an extension of your arm and eye, this is your tool and you need to know how to use it. So take time to read the manual or sit at home and run through the menus and fully acquaint yourselves......you'll be an old married couple in no time.
Watch, read and learn:
Once you've mastered the basics and are comfortable with these, then you can start to expand your knowledge further. A good way to do this is by reading and watching as much photography based content as you can. There are countless lessons and tutorials online which are really useful in helping taking your skills to the next level. Another way I learned was to look at other photographers work, see what setting they use, what time of day they were at the location, look at their compositions, there editing style etc. You don't have to copy what they do, but you can get great ideas from fellow photographers and don't be afraid to ask them what settings they used etc, usually they will be more than happy to answer your questions. Immersing ourselves into as much content as possible will really help as it will get you into thinking like a photographer.
Shoot when the light is at its best:
The best times of day to get out with your camera are the hours before and after sunrise and sunset otherwise known as 'Golden Hour. At these times of the day the light is softer, diffused, richer and washes the landscape in a warm golden glow which helps to accentuating shadows and giving definition to your images. The use of good light in your photography can make so much difference and can really lift a scene, add depth, impact and make it standout. Light is often the difference between a good image and a great image. The problem with golden hour is that it doesn't last long and is usually found at unsociable times of the day, I find this one of the most difficult parts of photography but if your willing to burn the candle at both ends then you really can get some stunning results.
Get out as much as possible:
Practise does indeed make perfect, simple but true. When I started to take photography more seriously I made the conscious decision to get out as much as I could and its no coincident that I started to see the quality of my images improve significantly as a result. If your willing to put in the hours then you will see an improvement. Even if the weather conditions don't look great, it doesn't matter, get out and experiment using different techniques, go outside of your comfort zone. Be willing to experiment and don't be afraid to make mistakes, as making mistakes will make you a better photographer, I make plenty of mistakes but I've learned from each and every one of them.
Slow down and take your time:
For a long time when I was out with the camera I wanted to grab as many images as I could, if I didn't come back with 100's of images I would be disappointed. Of course we want to produce as many great images as we can but I would rather take one great image than 100 ok images. When I head out with the camera now I have one objective and that is to get one shot I'm really pleased with, If I get more after this then great, but one image is all I want. I like to arrive on location well before sunrise/sunset, I like to take my time in finding potential compositions, think about what I want to achieve, think about how everything interacts in my scene. When I'm happy with composition, I make sure I'm ready to take the shot and all my settings are correct, my focus is set and its just a matter of waiting until the best of the light arrives. If I'm running around like a loony, I'm not having the time to think about my image and refine it etc.
Modern day camera's are pretty smart cookies and in most scenarios they will select the right settings after evaluating the scene to get the shot you want. However sometimes they get it wrong and no camera can interperate, creatively, what we as photographers are trying to achieve. Photography is a creative subject and taking your camera off automatic mode and taking full control over your camera and its settings, will really improve your images. Instead of the camera doing the work you will need to set your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance etc, set your focus point etc. Manual mode allows you to use creative affects like using a slower shutter speed to blur motion, to get those silky smooth dreamy waterfall shots etc. I appreciate this is a daunting prospect, but it isn't as bad as you think and within a few weeks, you will be well away.
Shoot in RAW and edit your images:
Editing, developing and manipulating images has been going on from the very beginning of photography. You may not know it but when you take a picture on your mobile or camera the device you have taken the image on will edit the image for you, it will take the unprocessed file, add some contrast, saturation, sharpen the image to make it more visually apealling, then compress it into a JPEG. Again, this is another extension of the creative process and taking the decisions away from your camera. This is another area which I think people find daunting, but it is such an important element to photography. When we talk about shooting in RAW this is, essentially, a digital negative, an undeveloped image. A RAW file is a large file which contains all the infomation when you take your image, but it needs to be developed to get the maximum out of the image. Instead of the dark room we now have all manner of software where we can process these RAW files, this gives us full creative control over how we want our finished images look, again instead of the camera doing it for us.
Get some help:
Shameless plug time. There is no harm in getting some help, when I was learning I would have loved to have got some pointers and to make sure I was heading in the right direction. Taking a 1-2-1 or workshop can really help to progress your photography. When I've been around more experienced photographers I always asked for guidance, its how we learn. We all approach things in different ways to achieve the same outcome, so getting as many different opinions as possible will really benefit you, you can then take all this information and form a style and work flow which is best suited to you. We never stop learning and I still ask many questions and advice from my peers.
I hope all this information helped. These are my opinions and how I took my photography to the next step, some may work for you and others won't and that's fine. The main thing is to stick with it and get out and about with the camera and you are sure to succeed. Hopefully the two images illustrate that if you do persevere, over time you will see an improvement in you photography.
Oxendale and the Langdale Valley - my most recent image June 19. A little different to my 2012 image.