Improving your photography

Improving your photography – taken from “The European Landscape” available at –

The aspiration to produce images of a certain technical standard is now within almost everyone’s reach. Photography has become something which nearly everyone does on their phone, pocket camera or DSLR. But for anyone who is trying to improve the artistic potential of their pictures, a less clear ‘upgrade path’ exists. I always had a notion that I had a ‘bit of an eye for it’, as people would say. But despite the many technical improvements at my disposal, better cameras, better lenses etc, I spent many years taking pictures which just didn’t seem to get that much better, artistically speaking. Some photographers talk about having a ‘vision’. Whilst I can understand where they are coming from, this isn’t very helpful if you don’t have one yourself. How does one aquire ‘vision’? Do I have to be born with a ‘vision’, do I need to go to college to find one?

I cannot remember where I heard or read this simple and useful piece of advice but it seems so obvious now in retrospect. Someone said that if you want to improve your photography you need to ‘look’ at photography. You need to look at lots of photography. You don’t necessarily need anyone telling you what it’s about or explaining the ‘artistic motivation behind the piece’ either, you just need to understand what ‘you’ think of it (or even how it makes you feel, if you must go down that road!) and make a mental note of that. When you like something, what is it that you like about it? By understanding your reactions to different types of photography and different photographers you will soon develop a visual style which you are interested in or you’ll at least recognise the visual ques which excite you. I’m not suggesting you will develop from this, your own style of photography but its a good starting point. Everyone has their own eclectic mix of interests and experience and environments and opportunities. Combining these random elements of everyday life with an evolving interest in a visual style will, in my experience, encourage creativity. As I was becoming more aware of what I was interested in, I started making more of the kind of pictures you go out and find. I was living in Devon at the time and I found great inspiration from the pastoral country scenes around me. I imagine that had I been living in a city at that time I would have been just as inspired by the urban landscape. The main thing is that when you start to realise what you like, you become more engaged in photography.

I started building a collection of books from my favourite photographers but today it has never been easier to look at the work of thousands of inspirational photographers using the internet. I discovered that websites where people critique each others photography could be a useful tool to help develop your own taste, they offer a steep learning curve where you can see your work ripped to shreds initially, then praised as you improve. Then ideally the day will come when you don’t really care what anyone thinks because ‘you’ like your picture. People often talk in magazines etc about the virtue of just going out and ‘taking lots of pictures’ as if this is supposed to be helpful. I am one of the least prolific photographers I know, I can go for months without picking up a camera but when I am out making photographs, I at least have some idea of what will make the kind of picture I would find exciting. Yes you do have to pick up your camera and get out there, but if you know what you like from the outset, you’ll be better placed to take advantage of opportunities. From following this simple principle, I now realise that I love saturated colour, I prefer compositions which have a strong focal point or several points of interest, I like soft,natural lighting, I like eyes, I’m naturally drawn to the rule of thirds, but I also like panoramic and linear compositions and I tend to favour portrait orientation. These are some of the general things I can say about my visual preferences, or as some would put it, that’s my ‘vision’.

Editing your pictures is a hard thing to do but it’s something you must learn to do if you want to improve as a photographer. You have to be able to say “No, I might like this shot because of some emotional attachment to some part of the subject, but I know its a rubbish photo” You’re only as good as the photos you decide to show other people so don’t let yourself down by putting the rubbish on public display. I saw a website the other day from a wonderful advertising photographer, his work was very impressive but his website was totally let down because he had decided to include a section for his “personal work” which were very poor landscapes. Even I, who considers myself a reasonable judge of my own work, will no doubt have selected shots for this book which will have some of you scratching your heads, saying “whats so good about that?” But editing is an important part of improving the quality of your work. If you keep pruning your pictures down to the best few and using those as the benchmark, your standards will rise as you compete with yourself.


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