How To Improve As A Photographer

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The way to improve as a photographer is to improve your skill level. Some ways are obvious, like learning the controls on your camera – others are not as obvious.

How do you take your photography to the next level, and produce stunning, eye-popping photos? You have to pay attention to what is important.

Composition

One of the ways that you can improve the images that you take is to carefully place just what you want into the photo. For car meets and shows, that generally means that you need to fill the frame with the car – but you shouldn’t cut off any part of the car. I see a lot of shots where guys cut off a bumper or a side. That is not filling the frame or good composition.

For times where you are doing a photoshoot, try to follow the “Rule of Thirds” or the “Golden Spiral“. Since you have more time for each shot, consider the placement of each item in the frame and how it relates to each other.

Try to point the car towards the inside of the frame, and leave a little space in front of it, when you do front corner shots.

Vintage Class Meet - June 2013

Light

A good way to improve your photography skills is to always review how the light falls onto objects and reflects off objects, even when you are not shooting. See how it falls and illuminates areas, and reverse-engineer other peoples photos to see how they lit them. This will help you when you are taking photos and want to manipulate or manage the way that the light falls in your scene.

Since a camera is just recording reflected light, this is an essential skill to master in order to become a great photographer. A good way to shoot a car is to walk around it and move your body and head around to see where the highlights (bright spots) are appearing on the car, before deciding where to shoot from. A lot of times I see that the sun will be reflecting off the windshield, and I will relocate the camera to move that highlight from the windshield to the windshield column/post, which will lessen the size and intensity of the highlight.

Shoot RAW & Post Process

A lot of people go to car meets and snap a lot of photos. Many of them shoot JPGs and upload all of their photos quickly to the internet and post them on the forums and FaceBook. These are just snapshots, not photographs. A lot of these people will have 2-3 of the same shot uploaded, and plenty of shots that are out-of-focus, or poorly composed, showing that they didn’t even cull out the bad photos. This is just sloppy and shows that they are not taking the time to even look at their own photos before they post them. Doing this will keep you from getting any better as a photographer. After all, how will you get any better if you don’t even review your own photos?

When I started shooting photos, I found that I had “keepers” for about 50% of the photos that I shot. Now, I am surprised if I have more than 10 bad shots out of 250 photos. I know what the photo will look like BEFORE I click the shutter button now. The reason that I know this is because I shoot every photo in RAW, and process every photo in Lightroom, Photoshop, NIK, OnOne, etc. This makes me review every photo and see what works and doesn’t.

The first thing that I do after every photo session/event is to load all of the RAW photos into my Lightroom catalog. Then I create a collection, and add that set of photos into that collection. I then assign all of the photos a 2 star rating, and then go through all of the photos, looking for ones that are out-of focus, or duplicates. I set all out-of-focus and duplicate photos to a 1 star rating, which later turns into “rejected” and gets deleted. This culling process keeps me from producing photos that are out-of-focus, have blown out highlights, badly composed, or have poor exposure.

I then go through all of the photos and choose which ones are good enough to keep (3 star), really good (4 star), and good enough to be in my personal gallery (5 star). I tend to process the 3 star photos with Lightroom presets, and do the 4 star photos with combinations of LR and PS. The 5 stars get the most attention, and I process each of them individually in several styles, and pick the style that I like the best to keep. This allows me to fully disect each photos and see what made the photo work and catch my eye. By repeatedly doing this, I “learn to see the photo” before I click the shutter button.

It is critical that you do not skip this self-evaluation process if you wish to improve your photography skill.

Practice

The best way to improve your photography is to practice shooting and editing consistently. No matter how much training you have, if you want to be good at something, you actually have to do it.  This means that you actually need to click the shutter button, record the image, review and edit it, and output it to its final form. just going to training classes will not turn you into a photography master, and this is true of any activity in life – you have to practice it to get good at it.

Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase. – Percy W. Harris

 

Every month, take your latest photo and upload it to a website like myshuttercount.com, and see what the shutter count is at. Keep that number in a spreadsheet, and see how many shots that you shoot each month. Tracking this will let you know if you are shooting enough, or not. Compare how many clicks of the shutter you have, to the number of shots that you kept in your Lightroom catalog. Doing this will let you see how you have less rejects as you get better, and more 5 star photos. It’s a real way to track and document your improvement.

Style

Creating your own personal style is the result of continuous improvement, but don’t let the style that you find yourself developing be a constriction and keep you in that style. Learn to let your style evolve into new styles, and have different styles that you use in different situation.

In my own development, I found that I needed to shoot close to cars to keep people from standing in the way at car shows and meets. I also found that I liked to shoot a shallow DOF, so when I switched to full frame, I sold my crop sensor camera and my 17-55mm f/2.8, and changed my lenses to work with my new full frame setup. For me, this meant that I wanted the fastest wide lens that I could afford. This lead me to getting the 28mm f/1.8. I knew that there would be times that I could get a little more room to shoot the cars the way that I wanted to, so I got the 85mm f/1.8 as well. I knew that my Sigma 10-20mm was only for my old DX camera, so I got a Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 to replace it. These three lens are my main set of lens that I use at car meets and events.

I found that I shot the 28mm f/1.8 at f/2 the most, which gives me a very sharp focus point, and a blurred background, since I like to get as close as possible to the car, and fill the frame, at the same level as the fender. This looks very different from how others shoot the same events, so this type of shot has become known to many as my style of covering automotive show and meets. If you had to place a name on it, I guess that you would call it a 28f2 style. It’s actually not my favorite type of shot, but it is the one that works the best in many situations.

For landscapes, I shoot very differently, and again, very differently for portraits. I have different ways that I like to shoot them.

Just find the way that you like to have your photos look and let others think that is your style – you can always change it if you find that you like a different method.