It might be cliche to say, but the phrase "practice makes perfect" has a lot of merit.
That goes for a lot of things in life, and photography is one of them.
I often hear complaints from new photographers that their photos aren't as good as those they see from the pros.
Those complaints are usually accompanied by a wish that they knew how to improve their photos - and fast.
Becoming a better photographer, above all else, takes time and dedication to the process of learning.
But that doesn't mean it has to be a complicated process...
With that in mind, here are nine easy things you can do today, right now, to become a better photographer.
Add Depth to Your Photos
The challenge (well, one of them...) of photography is to represent a three-dimensional subject in a two-dimensional medium that somehow still feels three-dimensional.
It might sound like an impossible task, but really all you need to do is utilize tricks that add depth and dimension to the shot.
Leading lines are a great way to add depth because our eyes are naturally drawn to lines.
Put a line in your photo, and viewers will use that to travel deeper into the shot, inspecting various parts of the image as they go.
Looking at the image above, notice how the line directs our attention to the background of the image. Taking us to the back of the shot helps give it the feeling that there's a dimensionality to it.
Another way to add depth to your photos is to layer the image.
Layering simply involves having foreground, midground, and background elements that draw the viewer's attention.
Again, the practice of layering points of interest in the shot helps move the viewer's eye around the image, taking in one point of interest before moving on to the next, the result of which is a feeling of greater depth.
In the image above, note how the layers and layers of mountain peaks help define the space and give it a sense that the mountains in the foreground are nearer than the mountains in the background.
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- 6 Easy Yet Effective Tips for Better Composition
Get a Prime Lens
Unlike a zoom lens, a prime lens has a fixed focal length.
Though there are many virtues that make a zoom lens a great addition to your camera bag, a prime lens will help you even more in your quest to become a better photographer.
It's simple: you have to think more.
Without the luxury of zooming in and out, you have to physically work to get the shot you want.
That means moving nearer or further from the subject, checking the composition of the shot, and making more adjustments as needed until the framing is spot on.
In other words, you're forced to work harder to get the photo you want, and that's a good thing.
Additionally, prime lenses tend to have very large maximum apertures.
That makes taking photos in low-light situations much easier because the large aperture allows the lens to collect a ton of light.
So, rather than struggling with images that are too dark when you shoot with something like your kit lens, you can keep on shooting even in poor lighting conditions with a prime lens.
It also helps that some really good prime lenses can be found for a bargain price!
Watch the video above by DigitalRev TV to get some insights about what prime lens should be your first purchase.
Learn to Use the Histogram
One problem that many beginning photographers have is that they tend to rely on the camera's LCD to determine if an image is well-exposed.
That's not a good idea because the LCD is usually calibrated to be quite bright, that way you can see it even when shooting under bright lighting.
That means, though, that an image that's too dark might actually look fine on the LCD.
Instead, the histogram should be used to determine exposure because it offers a graphical representation of the brightness of every pixel in the image.
The histogram shows pixels from pure black on the left side of the graph to pure white on the right side. In between are gray values.
Typically, you want the histogram to look like a traditional bell curve (shown above), with the highest peaks in the middle and shorter peaks trailing off to both sides.
This indicates a well-exposed image with the presences of blacks, grays, and whites.
If the graph is skewed to the left, the image has an abundance of black tones and will be dark; if it's skewed to the right, there's a lot of white tones and the image will be too bright.
That means that you have a way to check the exposure without relying on the quality or brightness of the LCD. The result of that is not only a better understanding of exposure but also how to ensure that the exposure of each image you take is improved.
Use the White Balance Presets
Your camera comes equipped with numerous white balance settings that are intended to counteract color irregularities such that the final image has a more natural look, like the one shown above.
For example, if you've ever taken a photo indoors under artificial lighting, you've probably noticed that regular incandescent lights give off a strongly yellow light.
Well, all you have to do in that situation is switch to the incandescent white balance setting, and the camera will counteract that yellowish light by cooling it down with blue tones.
There are a variety of white balance settings - daylight, sunny, cloudy, shade, and so forth, each designed to give you control over how the white tones in the image appear.
Of course, using these settings in the situations they've been intended for will render those white tones white.
However, you can also use these presets in the wrong situation to intentionally add a color cast.
For example, when shooting a sunset, you can actually accentuate the orange and yellow warm tones by using the cloudy or shade white balance setting, as seen in the image above.
Whatever you do, if you want to improve your photos, get away from using auto white balance and start taking control over the colors of your images by using white balance presets.
- White Balance Explained for Beginner Photographers
- Crucial Tips for Improved Sunrise and Sunset Photos
Take Photos Every Single Day
Perhaps the easiest thing you can do to improve your photography skills is to actually take photos.
That means dedicating yourself to taking photos each and every day.
You don't have to go out for hours on end or travel to a pretty location to practice photography, either. Just head to your backyard and see what you can do!
In fact, if you just spend 10 minutes a day taking 10 photos, you'll find that in due time, you'll see a marked improvement in your images.
You can go about your photo-taking in a couple of different ways, too.
On the one hand, you can choose to work on one skill at a time. So, you might work on framing for a few days and then work on using sidelighting for a few days and then move on to other concepts as you master each one.
Another idea is to work on genres. So, perhaps this week it's landscapes, next week it's portraits, and the week after that is street photography.
No matter how you do it, taking photos every day and committing yourself to practicing skill-building will have a positive impact on the photos you take.
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And Then Post Your Photos Each Day...
Though taking photos every day is great practice, it's hard to get feedback on the work you're doing if the photos never see the light of day.
Posting your images online can be a little scary, especially when you're just starting out.
After all, you aren't guaranteed that you'll get nothing but glowing feedback on the quality of your photos.
However, by and large, you'll find that people that comment on your work do so in a way that's constructive, especially if you ask for feedback to help you improve.
What's more, getting into the habit of posting a photo each day allows you to build a collection of images that you can then go back and review.
And if you're like me, you'll find that reviewing those images in chronological order reveals just how much your skills have improved with time.
That is, rather than just posting random photos, give it some thought and select the very best ones to share.
You'll find that doing so enables you to create a collection that might even reveal some interesting tendencies, like a genre you particularly like or a photographic style that really speaks to you.
Learn From Others
Improving your photography isn't just about what you do with your camera each day.
Instead, you can become a better photographer by looking at what other photographers do.
This isn't license to steal other people's ideas or try to copy their work...
But rather, I want to encourage you to take a look at the photos other people take so that you can begin to get a feel for what you think makes a good photo.
In particular, checking out other people's photos helps you develop your creative eye, form an understanding of the genres of photography that speak to you, and identify stylistic choices that you like.
In doing so, you're able to develop your own personal photography style, which will inform how you take and process your photos in the future.
Even something as simple as taking a few minutes each day to check out some photos by famous photographers can help you zero in on what you like and don't like in photography - and on what you want to learn to master, too.
Learn How to Meter
Your camera is equipped with various metering modes that are designed to help it read the light in the scene in varying conditions.
The default setting is typically called matrix or evaluative metering and refers to a metering mode that takes information from various points throughout the scene to get an average light reading.
Though this works fine in many cases, there are instances in which it falls flat and actually hinders the appearance of the image.
In particular, the matrix or evaluative metering mode is easily fooled by very dark or very bright scenes (like the one shown in the image above), so you need to learn how to use other metering modes in those situations.
Most cameras are equipped with metering modes like center-weighted average, partial metering, and spot metering. Check the Learn More section below for links to articles that delve into detail about each one.
For our purposes here, I'd like to focus on spot metering because it gives you the most pinpoint control over where the camera gets its light reading from.
Spot metering mode allows you to get a light reading from a single spot in the image that might only be 2.5-5% of the total frame.
That means if you're taking a portrait and there's very strong backlighting, you can choose to meter off a point that's on your subject's face, and the camera will use that area and that area only to read the light in the scene.
In other words, because it ignores the bright light in the background, the camera will expose the image for the person's face, resulting in a shot that actually allows you to see the person's face rather than it being rendered in silhouette.
Naturally, you have to be careful which metering point you use to meter in spot metering mode. Thankfully, changing the active point is a pretty simple process in most cameras.
Get more details on spot metering on Canon cameras in the video above from CanonUSA.
- A Beginner's Step-by-Step Guide to Metering Modes
- 10 Beginner Photography Tips and Camera Settings You Need to Know
Learn to Shoot in Manual Mode
Last, but certainly not least, learning to shoot in manual mode will have a significant impact on your ability to create stellar shots.
That's because in manual mode, you have control over every camera setting.
Though it's daunting at first, the more you practice shooting in manual, the better you become at a whole lot of things - exposure, white balance, metering, and so on.
Don't get me wrong - using aperture priority, shutter priority, and program modes is a great way to get more familiar with your camera and learn how to take more control over it.
But, ultimately, each of those modes still depends in part on the camera to make crucial decisions about the images you take.
Shooting in manual mode forces you to think about how the image will look and take measures to ensure the shot appears how you want.
And that, in the end, means you will be forced to take the time to learn how to manipulate depth of field, the noise levels, the appearance of movement in the shot, the lightness or darkness of the image, and so forth.
Once you're in control of all those things, all that's left is to practice using those controls to create the most compelling shots you can.
Get a few more tips on shooting in manual mode in the video above by Jana Williams.