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1. Learn your camera (s)
One of the common mistakes people make is not learning the ins and outs of their cameras. Whether you're shooting with the latest pro-level DSLR or with a cell phone camera you’ll benefit most from exploring all the features and settings of your camera. Take time to read your DSLR or point & shoot manuals. And explore various apps and features that will give you more control over your phone's camera.
2. Understand lighting and how to manipulate it
Capturing photos is all about capturing light. So, take some time to learn about how light works and how to manipulate it. Experiment with both natural light, available light, and artificial lighting. You don’t need expensive strobes, LEDs, or fancy modifiers to do this. You’d be surprised to know some of the most magical images you’ve seen have been captured with $10 Ikea lights and foil pans for modifiers. There are a ton of DIY lighting tutorials on the internet so just experiment and have fun!
Furthermore, lighting can be a challenging subject to understand. There are a lot of great learning resources out there, but I want to recommend my favorite book for photographic lighting, Light | Science, and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, & Fuqua. I highly recommend this book not only because it was the book my photography professors idolized, but also because it gives an amazing breakdown of the science of light for non-scientists like myself.
3. Gather Inspiration
Stuck in a creative rut and can’t find any ideas? Thanks to the internet you can find all kinds of photography inspiration online. Websites such as 500px, Deviantart, Instagram, Flickr, and inspirational blogs can help you find photography ideas. Just remember while I recommend learning how to recreate someone’s lighting setup, avoid completely copying someone’s image. If you are going to do any type of image recreation, treat it as a personal exercise just for practice. If you’re going to copy someone’s image and post it as your own, I recommend only doing this if it's a tutorial where that artist gave you permission to copy their set up. Make sure you ask, credit, or tag the artist too to avoid any copyright issues.
4. Maintain Your Equipment
I used to be terrible at this. I used to go months without cleaning my camera sensors and lens until I notice all of the horrible dust marks appearing in my pictures. Yeah, that’s right; camera sensors collect dust which can decrease the quality of your images. And even if you know how to retouch them out they can be a pain in the @ss to clean up. So make sure you clean your camera/lens regularly or you can take them to a local camera store and they’ll clean it for you. The prices can vary from place to place, but I recommend letting a professional clean your camera to avoid damaging your equipment. Also, pay attention to firmware updates and any maintenance included in your warranties.
You can find a super cheap and easy to use cleaning kit like this Amazon Basics Cleaning Kit for Cameras & Electronics.
5. Experiment with different equipment
Learn and make the make the most of the equipment you have first, of course. But it helps to learn how to use a variety of equipment especially if you plan to go commercial. Learn how to experiment with DIY to high-end photography equipment. I always recommend trying strobes at some point, they’re super fun to use. But don’t worry, you don’t always have to save to pay an arm and leg for new photo equipment, there a lot of camera rental options out there. Just search camera rentals in your local area or check out camera rental website. *Tip, I recommend always paying the little extra fee for having your rentals insured unless you already have an insurance plan to cover equipment rentals. Accidents do happen :(
6. Learn from photography courses
Although I went to college for photography, I’ll honestly recommend using local or online resources to learn photography skills first. (Honestly, art school is just way to expensive especially when you have so many affordable or free learning resources online.) There are a ton of websites and individuals online who offer photography courses. You may also have some local photography groups or clubs that offer access to photography education. And if you really want to pay for college-level photography courses, there are community colleges and four-year colleges that offer photography courses and degree programs. Just don’t feel pressured to pay so much for formal photography education, there are so many super successful photographers who taught themselves without ever walking into a college class.
Check out my other post 10 Skillshare Photography Classes for Bloggers!
Or you can look at my post on my other blog for a list of 27+ Free Video Courses for Photographers
7. Share your work for feedback
It's always helpful to get another set of eyes to evaluate your work and help you improve. There are a variety of places to share your work such as Instagram, Facebook groups, forums and more. You can also join local photography clubs and MeetUp groups to help you connect with photographers of different skill levels.
8. Capture in RAW (if you can)
RAW image files capture more information than JPEGs do. JPEGs are compressed image files, and while you can do some editing to them; there’s only so much they can take before the image gets overprocessed. RAW images give you the most control over your image when it's time for editing in programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom. Just make sure you keep your photo editing software updated so they can process your specific camera’s RAW file. Unfortunately, this is not always an option with smartphone photography; however, I believe there are some apps that allow your phone to capture RAW files. Just be mindful of your devices’ space when using RAW files, they can range from a few megabytes to several gigabytes depending on the camera you are using.
9. Learn basic photo editing
Get the most of your shots with photo editing. No matter how great your initial capture may be, there is usually something small or big that can be changed to take it to the next level. You can hire a retoucher to manage your photo editing or retouching. Or you can do the minor editing yourself. So take time to learn the basics of programs like Lightroom and Photoshop. I would recommend at least learning Lightroom because it's a great place for both editing and organizing your images. Photoshop is a great program to learn as well.
The Lightroom Mobile App has become one of the easiest and quickest way to edit your photos straight from your phone. Check out my post on How To Get Started With Lightroom Mobile
10. Edit with presets and actions that fit your brand
Whether you are shooting photos for business or for fun, it never hurts to develop a consistent look between your photos. While hiring a retoucher is an option, you can also manage your photographic brand consistency with some basic photo editing skills and using Lightroom Presets/Photoshop Actions that match your brand! These are basically the same as filters you use in apps like Instagram or VSCO to edit your mobile photos. You simply upload your photos into Lightroom or Photoshop and apply the preset or action with one click. You can also add additional tweaks and edits after applying the action or preset. Check out one of my popular preset collections here: