1. Take Only One Lens With You
When we see a good photograph, many of us will look at the EXIF data to see which focal length or lens was used to capture that image. And then… G.A.S. kicks in and we start craving for that lens. After some time we end up with so many dedicated lenses that we start getting confused.
When I started doing photo walks, I would always take one ultra-wide, one general purpose, and one portrait/macro lens in my bag. Since I was using an APS-C camera back then, the lenses were not too heavy. But if you have too many options your photographic vision starts to blur. You mount your portrait lens, but then you come across what would be a great landscape image, so you mount your wide-angle lens, and then a group of people pass by and you wish you still had your portrait lens mounted. See where I’m going? Too many choices can paralyze you.
So, bring one lens at a time and start looking for subjects and scenes that fit that lens (or experiment and shoot a landscape with your telephoto, or portraits with a wide-angle). This will make your photographic vision much sharper. Also, this forces you to work around the limitations of your current setup, which let you step out of your comfort zone and create images that you may not have thought about in the first place.
2. Take Your Camera With Your Everywhere You Go
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘the best camera is the one that’s with you’. It may be a bit cliché now, but, guess what? It’s true. It doesn’t matter what camera you have with you. It could be your pro full-frame DSLR, or a simple point and shoot camera, or even your phone. Carry some kind of camera with you all the time. It will let you see the world in a different way. You will start to notice subtle moments and compositions during your day to day.
You will be more likely to catch candid moments, unique lighting conditions, and meaningful compositions. You will take more pictures than before and each picture will increase your understanding of light and composition.
Those pictures may not end up as a massive wall print, but they will be in your collection and your portfolio anyway. And you’ll have learned a lot while photographing them.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Raise Your ISO
Once I joined a photo walk group and their only requirement was to shoot at any ISO above 6400! That’s when I started to think it was time to ditch my bulky full-frame camera body. High ISO is one thing that new photographers normally consider a taboo. The more you get to practice this technique, the more you realize that high ISO is not a bad thing at all. After all, how many iconic or legendary photos were shot at ISO 100? Yeah… not a ton.
Shooting at a higher ISO can actually be pretty handy when it comes to capturing quick moments – especially in low light situations. Grain always has that artistic touch and feeling of nostalgia attached to it. Grain and noise are not so bad if you have a strong composition and an interesting moment.
Check out the work of master photographers like Bruce Gilden, Thomas Leuthard, Pieter Hugo and Steve McCurry. You will find noise and grain in their work, but still their pictures are stunning, and evergreen.
4. Practice The Same Situation / Location Multiple Times
We all have access to a few friends willing to model for us, or some street or landscape location nearby, that we are fed up taking pictures of. We all crave for some vacation time to go to some exotic location to capture great photographs. Sure, these trips can help you get great pictures but it’s not like we can all get away all the time to exotic locations. So what should we do? Should we stop taking pictures until our next trip? Of course not!
You can always go to that same street, same location and ask that same friend to model time and again and try to capture it differently every time. This is the best exercise I can recommend if you really want to improve your photographic vision. Capturing an interesting aspect from the most mundane situation or location is the most difficult task for a photographer. Take this as a challenge and compare your images over time. You will be surprised how immensely they are improving over time.
5. Don’t Forget To Enjoy
Once you get into some kind of photography business such as doing freelance assignments or even professional contracts, you start to lack the enjoyment factor that actually dragged you into the world of photography.
Somewhere along the way we become mechanical while doing photography and we simply stop appreciating the difficult and uncertain nature of it. It’s the difficulty and uncertainty of photography that made it so rewarding for so many of us in the first place.
No matter what professional assignments you have on your plate, always take some time off to appreciate and absorb the beauty of photography. There should be days where you’re just lugging your camera around all day without capturing any pictures, but still come back happy because you enjoyed the process of searching for a good picture.