In today’s world in which we have high-tech cameras at our disposal with all sorts of features that promise to make photography faster, simpler, and easier, it’s hard not to get caught up in the notion that shortcuts will help you become a better photographer. What makes it even more difficult is the sheer volume of things out there to photograph - wildlife, landscapes, portraits of friends and family, street scenes, and so on.
But the fact of the matter is that becoming a better photographer is a process. After all, photography is an artform; a craft that takes years to perfect. What’s more, how one approaches portraits varies greatly from how one approaches landscapes or street scenes. It’s not necessarily a one-skill-set-fits-all situation.
Having said that, there are some strategies you can use to help you develop your skills while also simplifying photography. It’s really just a matter of focusing on a very straightforward workflow that includes three parts.
Pick One Lens and Roll With It
Photographers are notorious gear hoarders, with drawers and bags full of filters, tripod heads, camera bodies, and especially lenses.
While it’s nice to have a solid collection of gear once you get the hang of things, scattering your attention (and money) around on multiple lenses will only complicate matters for a beginner. Each lens does things a little differently, and lenses of different focal lengths have widely varying purposes. The best way to develop an understanding of how each lens in your kit behaves is to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each one.
The key here is not to pull out your wide-angle lens and spend an hour taking photos with it. Instead, spend a significant amount of time getting to know your lens. Explore its features, learn about its behaviors and idiosyncrasies. Photograph different subjects to determine what the lens’ strengths and weaknesses are as well. There’s no prescribed long-term time limit here - for some, a few days of shooting with one lens will be enough time to get to know it inside and out. For others, the process might be weeks or months.
What’s the benefit of the one lens strategy, you ask?
Not only will this help you get to know your gear, but it will also give you an opportunity to focus on the process of taking a photo rather than worrying about changing lenses. If you aren’t constantly waffling back and forth between lenses, you’ll have more time to concentrate on actually composing good photos. It also gives you a clearer picture of what your next lens purchase needs to be so you can fill in the holes that your current lens doesn’t quite fill. In that regard, this strategy helps you on all fronts - becoming familiar with your gear, improving the composition of your photos, and protecting your bottom line.
Simplify the Subject Matter
Given the broad capabilities of today’s camera systems, it’s hard not to get sucked into the idea that it’s easy to take great photos of any subject. If you think about it, how often do you grab your camera and head out to take photos of nature or landscapes, then along the way decide you’re going to take a few portraits and city shots as well?
The problem with hopping from one type of subject matter to another is much like the problem with trying to work with too many lenses - instead of becoming adept with one, you spread your attention across many different areas. More often than not, having this approach means you get more photos, but photos that are of a lesser quality.
Why is that?
The issue is that each subject necessitates different camera settings, if not different lenses as well. So, when you head out to photograph a sunset, you’ll need very different camera settings than if you were to take a portrait of a friend indoors.
Again, part of what will make you a better photographer is practice and experience. Bouncing from one subject to another won’t help you in that endeavor. Instead, strive to simplify things by focusing on one subject at a time. If you’ve set your camera up to take long exposure shots of a waterfall, take long exposure shots of a waterfall. If you’re good to go for natural light portraits, take natural light portraits.
This isn’t to say that you can’t change the subject matter you photograph from one day to the next; but in a single outing, limiting your attention to one type of subject will get you more time to practice your craft. In the long-run, the benefit will be a much deeper level of understanding of the camera settings, equipment, and creative aspects of taking higher-quality photos for that specific subject, the result of which are better photos.
Don’t Get Distracted by Gadgets
There are tons and tons of accessories and gadgets available for photographers. So many, in fact, that it’s easy to get into buying mode and end up with a camera bag full of accessories that you don’t necessarily need.
When you become distracted by gadgets, your attention is taken away from actually learning the processes involved in taking high-quality photos. Sure, it’s neat to be able to control your camera with your smartphone, but how does that help you learn the fundamentals of photography, like shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and the like?
The short answer is that it doesn’t. This isn’t a knock on the cool accessories and gadgets available today as they can certainly add to your ability to create the photos you wish to create. But before you begin investing in a bunch of accessories for your camera, focus first on learning the fundamentals of photography. Doing so will benefit you in the long run because with a deeper level of understanding of composition, lighting, exposure, and the like, you’ll be able to create more compelling photos, and you’ll be able to use the gadgets you buy in a more purposeful manner. Again, it’s a win-win situation!
If anything, limit the accessories you buy (at least initially) to a tripod, a set of filters, and a remote shutter release. These accessories will vastly expand your capabilities in terms of the types of photos you take without overwhelming you with possibilities.
The moral of the story is to simplify your approach and resist distractions. Spend time working with one lens and one type of subject so you can perfect your understanding of the fundamentals of photography. By engaging more deeply in the process of creating a photo, and resisting the urge to jump from subject to subject, lens to lens, and accessory to accessory, you will better your understanding of photography, and, in turn, improve the photos you create. It’s that simple!