As the collective world readies their New Year’s resolutions, now is a good time to think about your photography and make your own resolutions to improve your skillset. Here is a list of simple habits that every photographer should adopt in the coming year.
Make a conscious effort to look over your frame from corner to corner before taking a photo. I know this seems obvious, but a lot of the time our brain works subconsciously to compose an image. With enough practice, we can achieve strong compositions intuitively, but it is never a bad idea to slow down and think about what you are including or excluding in your photo.
Scan the edges to make sure there are no unintended elements. Watch the corners to make sure they draw your eye into the composition and don’t distract from it. Consider the spacing of your compositional elements and if they fit together the way that you want. Rushing your composition will just leave you disappointed when you are looking at the image later on a computer, wishing you had made some adjustments. An extra 15 seconds examining your composition could save your shot.
Oftentimes the simplest compositions can be the strongest. Think in terms of what is the simplest way to express your idea. A good way to do this is to eliminate elements that do not add to the composition. Break down your composition to the story you want to show and remove anything that gets in the way and slows down the viewer’s visual path through the image. Even complicated scenes can be composed in a way that is direct and simple.
Spend time looking without a camera.
Instead of taking your camera out and shooting until something strikes you. Take your time, walk and look without a camera. Consider the shapes, light, patterns, and relationships between these things. Move around and think about the angles and how one might compose a shot of any given scene. By training your brain to analyze scenes for photography, you allow yourself to be more selective and end up shooting higher-quality images.
Don’t get too hung up on the gear you have or don’t have.
While it is important to have the right tools for the job, the most important thing is getting out and shooting. Photography is a skill that needs to be practiced and that can be done with a $7,000 professional camera or a smartphone. The point is, the art of seeing and capturing moments is the most critical aspect of becoming a better photographer. It is okay to acquire new gear, we all do it, but remember that all the best camera gear in the world isn’t going to improve your photography – practice will.
Keep yourself organized.
Organization is a habit that needs to be implemented early and often. In this day of high-speed cameras and large-capacity hard drives, knowing where your photos are is crucial. There are many methods to organize your photos, and no one way is the right way. The important part is that you take some steps in organizing your catalog of images because as it grows, it will become increasingly more difficult to locate photos. The earlier you put in some sort of organizational system for your files, the better.
Back up your photos.
This may seem like an obvious habit for any photographer, but far too often I hear of photographers who do not have a good backup system for their photos. Similar to how you organize your files, there are many ways of backing up photos. I personally have lots of sets of external hard drives stored in physically different locations. I know people who have had good experiences with digital cloud storage as well. Camera gear can be insured, but your photos are really difficult (if not impossible) to replace. Take precautions to back up your most important files before something bad happens to your computer or hard drive!
Have a plan B.
One of the hardest things to overcome in photography is when your expectations do not match reality. More often than not, light or conditions can be different than what you expected. The easy thing is to put the camera away and hope for better conditions next time. I would encourage you to have a plan B. If your initial idea for a photo falls through, have an idea of what else you can shoot so you don’t leave empty-handed. Be flexible and open your mind to new photo possibilities. You will be far more productive and may even find that the “plan B” was the best shot all along.
Ask for feedback and be your own worst critic.
I know this is cliché, but it is a critical element to improving as an artist. If you believe that everything you do is great and cannot be improved on, then you don’t leave yourself room to get better. Ask others for feedback and take it to heart, even if it is negative. It is important to be tough and honest with yourself about your own work. It can be really difficult to hear negative things about your work, but understanding why a photo doesn’t work is the quickest way to start making images that do work.
Try things you’re not good at.
A great New Year’s resolution for anyone is to try something you are not good at. I believe this is an especially good habit for photographers. If you specialize in landscape photography, try your hand at portraiture. I am not saying you need to learn everything about every genre of photography, but spending time in different disciplines will improve the way you think about your own and make you a more well-rounded photographer.
Good luck and have a great year of photography!