Most of us want to get better, and keep getting better. Sometimes the process of improving is fun, especially when we can see immediate progress, but sometimes it takes some hard effort too.
A few friends are just starting out on their own journeys as photographers so I thought I'd compile a few notes on what I think has helped me most to progress and keep learning.
The first two are really initial steps, a baseline of competence and technical ability. Those are the more definable skills. But photography is an art form too, so the last three steps are more about vision and direction and finding meaning in what you photograph. You can complete the first two steps, but the last three (or at least the last two) will always be an ongoing process.
1. Nail the technical stuff. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus techniques, basic lighting and post-processing. A little math and a little science but it's nothing too daunting, and understanding these opens up so many creative possibilities.
2. Know your camera. Learn everything. Every button, every setting. You won't necessarily use all of them but you'll know what your camera can do, and how to access it if you do need it sometime.
3. Learn from the Masters. Photography might be a relatively new art form but there are already many photographers that have mastered working with light and color and composition and narrative. Many of the early photographers took their influence from earlier great artists, particularly painters. If you particularly love music or poetry or movies, you could equally seek inspiration in those too.
4. Photograph what you love. The easiest answer if you're stuck for ideas. What do you love doing, what do you find inspiring or fascinating, who you enjoy being with, what catches your eye.
5. Intentional Practice. It’s easy to stick to what we know. What we can already do well. What we feel comfortable with. That might stop us getting rusty, but we won’t learn or grow. Learning comes with doing something uncomfortable or unfamiliar, again and again. A different lens, different types of subjects, manual focus, using flash, whatever it might be. It's the hard work that we most naturally tend to avoid given the choice.