Photography is such a wonderful pursuit. Everyone at some point in their lives ends up with a camera somehow to capture their memories. Taking pictures is pretty easy if not second nature thanks to the technology out there that is available. There was a time when photography was difficult, but thanks to the early efforts of a company called Kodak, this has forever changed. The most obvious benefit of all of this is that you don’t need to know how to draw. You can make visual art by pressing a button and you can instantly share it with people all over the world via the internet in a huge variety of ways.
But as one begins building an interest with all of this, there comes a point when they decide that they might have a little bit of talent for making images. Then something happens. Author Seth Godin calls this “the dip.” Basically after an initial surge of enthusiasm, natural talent and a “good eye”, we all realize that we need to learn more. We begin to see a vision of where we want our work to be and all of a sudden we have to develop some plan and then figure out how to get there. This is where “the Dip” begins. We see an initial surge, followed by said “dip” which takes a while before we get to the point where we see results based on ambition. This ambition manifests itself in a number of ways – all quite different. For some, its deciding that they just want to be good amateur photographers while others want to make it a big part of their lives and even pursue a career in photography.
So how do you get to this next step? Can you learn it on your own or do you have to go to school for a higher education degree? There’s lots of information online, but most of it revolves around how to use your camera. Of course this is important information, but this doesn’t help you with advanced concepts such as lighting, composition and personal style. So how does one proceed?
The first step is to set your own personal goals. Only then can you start to develop a path of how to get to them. The easiest and hopefully most obvious thing to begin with is to start looking at other photographers and see what inspires you. Start by looking online at museum and gallery websites. Your goal here is to find the best of the best. Start noting what appeals to you.
The second thing you need to do is find a way to start recording this information you’re getting. Get a notebook or a sketchbook. You can even collect this using a variety of services online. It doesn’t matter, but find a way of recording what you’re looking at so you can look back at it later. This will naturally lead to your own research on techniques, methods, processes, etc. But most importantly note what you’re seeing. What is the composition doing? Where does the photographer lead the viewers eye? If there are multiple subjects in the image, how do they relate to one another? Are they close to the edge of the frame? Are they in the middle? How much are they offset? These questions will start to come into your own photography and start making you better at what you do.
The next thing to do is start shooting. Everyday. You must practice in order to get better. Compare this for a second to playing a musical instrument. A concert pianist doesn’t sit around dreaming of playing the piano. A concert pianist practices every day and thinks about it all the time. This level of dedication to photography will vary depending on the photographer (just like it does with musicians). But keep in mind that the level of dedication will be relative to the rate you improve. Its hard work. And that’s just being honest. If you want it bad enough you’ll do it. Quite simply put, you get out of it what you put in.
Finally start to set some real goals for yourself. Use a print on demand service and make a book to give out. Get some friends and find a coffee shop that will let you put work on their walls and have a “show opening” one night. Invite all of your friends. These are the kinds of things that will keep you moving in a direction. Its easy to sit around, study and dream of becoming a better photographer. That can all happen in your mind which is fine, but real application will force your talent to manifest itself.