I think we can all agree that photography is an expensive undertaking.
Between buying a camera, a couple of lenses, a good tripod, filters, a bag, and other essentials, you're often lucky to get out of it spending a few thousand dollars.
That means that photographers are often looking for ways that they can up their photography game without spending any money.
Fortunately for you and me, there are plenty of options for becoming a better photographer that are absolutely and completely free.
Let's take a look at a few things you can do right now, today, that will help you build critical photography skills that lead to better photos.
I'm not the world's most patient person, and that hinders me in many ways.
It was a particular problem when I was just starting out in photography because I just jetted from one shot to the next, not really giving a lot of thought about what I was doing and why.
As you might imagine, rushing the photos I was taking resulting in photos that looked rushed.
So guess what happened when I slowed things down?
Patience in photography accomplishes a number of things...
First, it allows you to survey the scene and look past the obvious compositions in search of more complex, unique, or interesting ways of composing the shot.
Second, patience gives you an opportunity to capitalize on the best lighting.
As you probably know, Golden Hour is the ideal time for lighting for just about any kind of photo, but that means waiting to shoot near sunrise and sunset.
And if that doesn't require enough patience, the lighting changes from one minute to the next during Golden Hour, so continuing to survey the scene and capitalize on the light as its quality and color changes will get you the best possible images.
Lastly, being patient with your photography allows you to take a measured approach to learning and growth.
You might challenge yourself this month to focus on landscapes. Next month might be portraits. The month after that might be cityscapes.
The point is that the "run and gun" approach I used was not the way to go.
Sure, I eventually figured things out, but had I just been patient, I would have figured things out much sooner.
Consider the Time of Day
As I mentioned above, being patient and waiting to take your photos during Golden Hour can pay dividends.
But there are other benefits of thinking about the time of day, too.
In the early mornings, for example, you're more likely to encounter landscapes that feature fog.
Photographing fog can be a bit of a challenge in the exposure department, simply because all that white tends to trick the camera's metering system.
However, that challenge is an excellent learning experience, both from the perspective of practicing using your camera controls and from the perspective of working with a different kind of composition.
Since fog restricts the view of the scene, you have to think more purposefully about how you frame the shot.
That means striving to include elements in the photo that add some structure to work well with the ether of the fog. The snow-covered trees peeking through the fog in the image above do just that.
Another benefit of shooting in the morning is the presence of dew.
Not only does dew add some dimension to larger shots of a landscape, but it also provides you with an excellent subject for up-close and macro photography.
Capturing images of dew drops like those seen in the cobweb above is a whole different animal from photographing a landscape.
But, dew drops are the perfect subject to begin exploring macro photography because, unlike insects, dew drops can't crawl or fly away.
The point is that simply by getting up a little earlier one morning, you can work on composition, framing, and with subject matter that you've never worked with before. That's a great cost-free way to beef up your photography chops!
Though it can be scary to put your photos out there for feedback and constructive criticism, it's one of the single most important things you can do to grow as a photographer.
From amateurs to the most seasoned of professional photographers, we all miss things when we create a shot. You might think you have a great portrait on your hands, but when viewed by someone else, they might notice something distracting in the background that you overlooked.
Similarly, you might think you've got a winning landscape photo, but when viewed by others they might notice that the focus is ever so slightly off.
But because we often become so emotionally invested in the photos we take, sometimes it's hard to see the things that might need some attention and improvement.
There are many effective ways to get more eyes on your photos and get the feedback you need to improve your images.
You can start an Instagram account and ask people to comment suggestions for improving your photos. Likewise, you can join a local photography group where you can get some in-person feedback from other photography enthusiasts in your area. There are opportunities like photography forums as well, where you can post your images and get constructive criticism, often from photographers that have much more experience than you do.
The purpose of getting feedback is that it will help you develop a better understanding of how your images are received by others, and it will help you think about how to improve the photos you take. That's not a bad combination if you ask me.
Learn to Visualize Photos, Even Without Your Camera
Part of becoming a better photographer is learning how to see like a photographer. A lot of people call this "developing your photographer's eye."
That process is something that never ends. Ask any professional, and they'll tell you that they still strive to see scenes in a new and different way that can be captured with their camera.
Given that, it's important that you begin the process of learning to visualize photos sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, this is something that's extremely easy to do.
No matter where you are and what you're doing, challenge yourself to find a scene that you could frame up as an image - even if you don't have your camera with you.
In the beginning, it might be helpful to use your fingers to give yourself a frame of reference.
And though it looks a little silly, it will help you develop those visual skills that are needed for framing up the most impactful shots.
That means that when you're out to lunch, shopping, walking the dog, and so forth, you should always be looking for things that would make an interesting image.
Look up and down. Think in both concrete terms (i.e. how to frame a vignette in a larger landscape) and in abstract terms (i.e. how to use color, texture, patterns, and the like as the primary subject).
Another easy way to visualize how an image might be better is to use the palm of your hand to see how light falls on the scene.
As I mentioned earlier, light is best during Golden Hour, but that doesn't mean that you can't squeeze the most out of lighting during other times of the day.
By taking a few moments to see how the light falls upon the palm of your hand, you can get a better understanding of the direction of light, the quality of light, and even the temperature of the light.
Understanding those elements of lighting will only result in better photos. And combined with the other tricks explored above, you have a recipe for success. Sure, there are plenty of other things you can do to improve your photography, but becoming a better photographer without spending any money sure is a great feeling!
For a few more beginner photography tips, have a look at the video below by Eric Rossi: