I have never stopped learning and developing my skills as a photographer and I don’t think I ever will. Technology won’t stand still (!) and there will always be new subjects to explore: wildlife, landscape, low light or night time photography, macro photography, architectural, travel – just some of the areas where I’ve only dabbled a little and would love to have a go at.
But even I have to acknowledge I’ve come a long way since my first professional shoot, taking portraits at my children’s day nursery. I cringe to think how much I didn’t know back then, both about photography and running my own business. In the intervening seven years working more or less full time as a photographer, here’s the 7 things that have helped me to become a better photographer.
1. Saying “Yes” even though I really wanted to say “No!”
To say I lacked confidence when I first started out is a huge understatement and I’m sure many photographers can emphasise with this. When you accept an assignment the buck stops with you, no one is there to bail you out, remind you what camera settings to use, lend you a back up camera if yours fails. And it takes a long time to develop the self belief that you will be alright, you do know what you’re doing and can cope with anything that is thrown at you. The fear of failure could stop you accepting jobs that might be outside of your comfort zone, something you haven’t tried before. I’ve never actually turned a job down for this reason but I’ve stopped the car several times on the way to a shoot to make nerves related visits to the loo! There’s nothing like your first wedding to loosen the bowels and even now I get butterflies in my stomach, although that’s no bad thing to keep you focused and on your game! Feel the fear and do it anyway!
2. Doing photography projects
As you become better at what you do, the work comes in and suddenly you’re busy shooting professional assignments, editing, running the business and you realise you’ve stopped taking photographs for fun, for yourself. For a couple of years all I seemed to do was photograph small children at day nurseries (a great training ground for me) and I felt a bit stale and as if I wasn’t growing and developing my skills in other areas. I stumbled across the concept of taking a photo a day for a year and in 2012 I decided to do my own 366 project (leap year!). I found I was thinking about the day’s shot from the moment I woke up, looking at everything in a new light, exploring new subjects and experimenting with light, techniques, lenses, filters, editing. It was fantastic and having made it into a photo book I now have a visual diary of a year in our life. I would recommend embarking on a photography project to anyone keen on developing their photography skills. I’m now on day 7 of #100happydays (see my images on Pinterest) and am loving it. Just key “photography projects into Google and see what takes your fancy.
3. Working with other photographers
It’s tempting to see other photographers as “the competition” and to fiercely guard your business from them. However, over time I’ve found it much more rewarding to see them as people with a shared passion. It can be a lonely business as a sole trader and having a network of fellow photographers is a great support and resource. And it’s just fantastic to have someone to talk to, who gets why you need to run outside in your pyjamas to grab pictures in the dying rays of the sun like I did last night!
I’ve learned so much from some photographers that I greatly admire and have found them to be extremely generous with their time and advice. Occasionally we’re fishing from the same pond for clients, but I believe that a client will “click” with a photographer for a number of reasons and I don’t need to try to nobble the competition nor see them as the enemy!
Read about a beautiful collaborative shoot I did with some fellow photographers last summer.
4. Becoming a geek – embracing the digital era
Go back 12 years and I did not know my way around a camera and used to leave all equipment purchases to my geek husband. He’d recommend a camera or a lens and do all the talking in the camera shop. In the intervening years I’ve transformed into a complete geek, drooling over new lenses, exclaiming over reviews and building up an impressive wish list of kit. I’m even a relatively early adopter of one of a new breed of cameras – compact sized mirrorless SLRs designed to give full frame large SLRs a run for their money. You can read more about the Sony A7 here.
It’s not just about the kit though. I love all the technology that allows me to make better photographs, from the cameras and lenses, the smart phones, the iPads, the apps, the editing software, Photoshop Actions, the photography forums, e-books and videos.
Then there’s social media allowing me to share my photographs and engage with photographers around the world. And don’t get me started on Pinterest – I’ve lost days if not weeks browsing images, techniques, reviews, locations, gear, camera bags…
5. Creating a studio out of a garage
Suddenly I have space to spontaneously photograph flowers, food, some sea shells or a small child! I don’t need to declutter a room, hide things behind the sofa and then clear all my gear up afterwards. I didn’t realise how much the lack of dedicated space for photography was holding me back and limiting me.
And the light is perfect, more by luck as we could only have the large window in one place. I have cool, even north light all day, until sunset when I get a magical pool of golden light for about half an hour.
I also find I write better, plan the business better and even approach things in a much more business-like way. This is my studio, my office, I am at work and I am a professional! No longer distracted by piles of washing, beckoning chores and noisy children’s TV shows. I can close the door on being mummy, wife, dog walker (for a while at least!).
6. Teaching others
I get so much pleasure and satisfaction from running courses and one to one classes. It’s a win win situation, with the joy of sharing my passion with others and seeing them blossom with confidence and grow in ability.
I’ve also had to expand my knowledge in order to teach effectively and keep one step ahead of my best students. I’ve discovered new resources, found new ways to explain things and taken lots of great photographs to demonstrate techniques that I might not have otherwise used.
My students have taught me things too – new websites I didn’t know about, new ways to promote my business and even new ideas for courses based on their needs. As I said, it’s win win.
7. Learning when to say “No”.
This is just as important as the first point – saying “Yes”. When I first started I said yes to just about everything even if I was afraid. I’ve now become more focused and will turn down work that isn’t very profitable, or isn’t likely to turn into a sustainable relationship or that I simply don’t enjoy. Why go through all the hard work of running your own business if you’re doing things you don’t like, that make you groan as you get out of bed in the morning?
I’m more discerning now, promoting the areas of work I feel really passionate about and I’ve gradually cut down on stuff that was stressful or thankless or joyless. And thankfully the business is thriving, turnover is up and I’m loving it!
I run courses and offer one to one tuition to beginners and improvers, including Let’s Shoot The Kids, and an Introduction to Photoshop Elements, so if you’d like help getting to grips with your camera then click on the links and take a look.
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