Unless you’re a professional photographer, it’s likely the only times during your busy week for photography are evenings and weekends. Both can be filled with errands, family activities and other responsibilities that reduce your photography time even more. You’ll find a number of PhotographyTalk.com articles about how to find and make time for photography; but this article presents 6 specific photography activities that will help you improve your skills and the output from your camera. (This is assuming that at least one weekend a month your spouse doesn’t have another “honey-do” list for you.)
Another beneficial “psychological” byproduct is the cumulative effect of a regular schedule of these activities. You may only spend an hour or two doing each, but you’ll be surprised how much you’ll advance after just the first few weekends. It’s very much like exercise: do it regularly, and you’ll start to feel better rather quickly.
1. Beginner and many amateur photographers don’t spend enough time “book learning.” Your groans and moans are noted, but the photography learning process requires that you spend some time in the “classroom.” Schedule at least one hour every weekend. The first order of business is to read your camera, and other equipment, manuals that you’ve never read, or only skimmed. That didn’t work during your high school history class…and it won’t work here!! Don’t just read the manual; read a section at a time and actually refer to your camera and push the buttons and select the settings that are being explained. Again, breakdown the manual into multiple weekends of study, so you aren’t doing just that during your entire educational session.
Of course, then spend the remainder of the hour or more at PhotographyTalk.com reading articles, watching videos and studying portfolios. This is not a random exercise, however. Make a short list, three or four items, of techniques you would like to learn or improve, and then search for those topics on PhotographyTalk.com. If your goal, for example, is to shoot better landscape photos, then go to that subcategory in the portfolio section and study the pictures of 6 or 8 landscape photographers.
You can then try an exercise that young, unknown painters have done for centuries, and that is to duplicate purposely another photographer’s image as exactly as possible. It can be an incredible learning experience!
2. A practical photo activity to schedule during the weekend, although not every weekend, is thoroughly cleaning your camera and all other equipment. Inspect all of it carefully too, especially mounts or where two pieces of equipment connect and the hinges and pins of battery and memory card doors. It’s also a good time to clean the inside of your equipment bag and re-organize it, if needed.
3. Schedule another small block of time to make sure your photography equipment, especially if its value is rapidly increasing, is physically well protected in your house, studio, car, etc. Read the PhotographyTalk.com article, 7 Smart Moves That Will Keep Photography Equipment More Secure, for a number of tips about how to create a safe, locked space or compartment for your equipment.
4. During an occasional weekend, visit your local camera shop to see and inspect new equipment. This is not meant to be an opportunity to spend money. You should probably forget this idea if you are an impulsive shopper. Leave your credit cards at home! Think of it as a “field trip” like you did as a kid in school. You can touch, ask questions, but not buy. For some photographers, this is an important step if they are actively in the market for a new camera, lens, etc. You don’t want to spend your hard-earned money without holding the equipment in your hands. (There are also PhotographyTalk.com articles about the smart-consumer process to buy equipment.)
5. By now, you might have thought there would no time left actually to shoot photos, but that activity should receive the bulk of your weekend time. Don’t just head into the unknown with no plan and shoot a bunch of random images, however. Schedule one or two sessions during Saturday and Sunday. Use some or all of those sessions to put into practice what you learned in the “classroom” in #1 above. Make sure to schedule your shooting sessions at different times of the day: dawn, dusk, midday, twilight and cold, black night. Shoot interiors and exteriors and practice with various forms of lighting.
6. Schedule another hour on most weekends to improve your editing skills. Again, you can tie these exercises into the techniques you learned in #1 above and shot in #5 above. Do a bit of Web research and look for free downloads of editing software. For example, as of January 9th, 2012, you could download the beta version of the soon-to-be released Lightroom 4, and use it for free until March 31st.
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Photo by PhotographyTalk Member Roxanne Baucom