Like clockwork, I sit here at the start of another new year thinking about all of the things I want to improve in my art. It seems like there is always something I can be doing better. While my focus has shifted to include videography this year, I still plan on cultivating growth the same way I have the last few years with my photography. Whenever I feel like I’m getting stuck, I revisit these tips and adjust my path accordingly. Use the advice below to improve your art, regardless of the medium, in less time than it takes you to stop writing 2016 on everything.
It’s so so obvious, I know, but it’s also easier to overlook than you may think. If we’re talking about photography, this means you have to get out there and shoot. A lot. When you’re first learning or when you’re trying to master a new technique, your images will probably be awful. You might hate what you produce. This is NORMAL and necessary. I cringe when I look at my early work now. Heck, I cringed right after I shot most of it. Keep shooting. Eventually things will start to shift. You’ll have to think less before you press the shutter. You’ll start creating images you’re proud of. And when that happens? Keep shooting. After almost 4 years of shooting daily, I am still learning and still improving.
If shooting daily made me a good photographer, having my work critiqued made me a great one. Simply put, there are things in the work we create that we don’t see. When I take a picture, I know exactly where to look. I know what story I’m trying to tell and I know what’s important and what’s not. It’s easy for me to look at my own images and see my message clearly even if it’s fuzzy for everyone else.
Have someone else look at your work and don’t shut down when things are pointed out to you that you can improve. If you haven’t had your work critiqued before, it’s helpful to start with an image that you know needs work. It can be pretty disheartening to have an image you love and are proud of torn apart. Ideally, your critique will highlight the things that you did well in addition to the things that you need help with. When pointing out things that need work, good feedback will include HOW to improve those things. Ask someone whose opinion you value and trust. Posting an image for feedback in one of the many giant photography groups on Facebook will likely result in a few unhelpful and unkind comments. Those are not true critiques so don’t let them scare you away from a good, solid critique of your work.
It is so easy to get caught up in the endless streams of beautiful images that fill our Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram feeds. I definitely looked up to and followed the works of several photographers when I was learning. I think it’s great to find inspiration and motivation from other photographers, but I encourage you to not stay there long. There is a blurry line between following amazing photographers and feeling inspired versus feeling defeated. What do we tend to do when we’re feeling defeated? Most of us quit.
When I’m not looking at the way other people use the light, composition or editing, I notice subtle shifts in my images that speak to my heart. I become a stronger photographer when I’m not trying to do what other people are doing. Instead of following other photographers, look for inspiration elsewhere. Daily life is a huge inspiration for my photography. Visit an art museum. Pay attention to the composition and color/lighting in your favorite movies. Combine your art with something else you’re passionate about. When you stop focusing on trying to do what others are doing, you’ll have clearer visions for your art and more energy to create.