Below are 4 simple things that I find can really help improve your photography.
1. Tough the Elements
It’s easy to go out with your camera to work on your photography when it’s warm and sunny, but that’s only going to get you so far. If you really want to improve your portfolio, you have to be willing to shoot under less than desirable conditions. Take your camera out during a rainstorm, when the temperature has plummeted below zero, or during a blizzard. There are a lot of pros to shooting under these types of conditions. Less favorable weather means less people out to interrupt your scenes. Different weather means different lighting conditions and patterns. This gives you an opportunity to learn how to shoot under different lighting conditions and under conditions that don’t arise as often. Of course you should always practice common sense and never go out in dangerous conditions.
If you have taken a look at my portfolio you know that Chicago is one of my favorite places to capture with my camera. I don’t like people in my photos however, which is a problem when shooting in a city with a population of 3 million people. So how do I get around this? I go shooting when its cold out, like really cold, like below zero out. I plan accordingly, put on layers, and go out. Most people won’t be out in conditions like that, making it easier for you to get the shots you want. Thats how I got this photo of the Bean in Millennium Park, usually surrounded by visitors taking selfies of themselves in front of this structure, you’d be surprised how few people want to stand around it when its -11 out. Of course, in a city as big as Chicago, you are never going to the streets totally deserted, which leads me to my next tip.
2. Practice Patience
I will always remember my photography professor telling us that as photographers we created our art in 1/1000 of a second, so we better put some thought behind it. And this is true, all it takes is the click of the shutter and we have our photo so don’t be in a hurry to get it over with. Rarely will you stumble across the perfect scene. Instead you will find that you will stumble across a scene that gets the gears in your head going. You’ll start thinking things like “this would be the perfect photo if only _____” fill in the blank, there were no people in it, the sun came out behind the clouds, the streets were empty, there was more light, the sun was setting, or any number of other things. But instead of waiting for these condition to be right most people will do one of two things, take the photo anyways under less than perfect conditions or take the photo under the current conditions even though they know they won’t be happy with it.
Practice patience and wait for conditions to be right. Just stand there, or take a seat on a bench, pop your headphones in and wait, or plan to come back later. Rarely will you regret doing what you need to do to get the shot you want to get. Don’t settle, be patient. My photograph “Under the L” took over twenty minutes of waiting on a street corner in below zero temperatures to capture. Crossing the street I noticed the pattern of lights on the road and imagined the photo I wanted. I had to dart into the street in-between red lights several times before I finally got a shot without cars or people in it that I was happy with.
3. Review and Reshoot
This one is related to practicing patience, and I am a little surprised I don’t see more people doing it. That is, I am surprised more people don’t review their photos and reshoot the ones they are unhappy with. The easiest way to improve your photography is to take a look at your work decide what you don’t like about shots and then go back and reshoot them trying to fix the things you don’t like. For instance, are you unhappy with how you exposed your shot? How you cropped it? Did you not notice something in the frame that you think ruins the photo? Do you wish the lighting was different? Whatever it is, make note of it and then go back and try again. Remember, be patient, there is no hurry.
When I first shot Lasalle Street I didn’t notice that I accidentally cut off the top of the building in most of my frames and this ruined the photo for me. I really wanted that photo so I made plans to go back to the same spot the next week and try it again. I eventually ended up with a photo I was proud of. Don’t settle for what you have go back and reshoot and fix your photos whenever you can.
4. Get Lost
My finally piece of advice to help you improve your photography is to schedule time to get lost. Back in college my favorite thing to do was to grab my camera, hop in my car and to get lost down a road I hadn’t traveled down before. Today, I love wandering the different neighborhoods of Chicago, but the same concept applies, I love to get lost. Lots of photographers feel they have to have everything planned out, where they are going to go and what they are going to shoot, and there is nothing wrong with doing that…it’s necessary sometimes. However, I find that getting lost always yields way more interesting photos. Theres is something about stumbling across something you haven’t seen before and photographing it for the first time…there is just a little bit of magic in that. Try it, I think you will see that the shots you weren’t expecting to take come out a lot better than the ones you were.
The last time I drove down to Lincoln Park, I saw the frozen piers of Lake Michigan from my car and got excited about photographing them after I was done walking around the neighborhood. I was walking back from the neighborhood trying to figure out how to get over to the beach when I came across a pavilion-like structure that framed the skyline of the city when you stood under it. I was able to get some photos there I was pretty happy with. I never made it to the beach. Get lost, see what you can find when you are not expecting anything.
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