In “Did the Web Kill the Art of Photography”, I mused that “we were at one time (or still are?) terrible photographers.” So how do you graduate to higher levels of photography? Easy, you shoot photos every chance you get, develop your skills, try new techniques, and perfect your eye.
Here’s the caveat. You have to shoot the photos YOU want to shoot and the photos YOU enjoy shooting. Don’t let others dictate what you should enjoy shooting or what photos they think would bring the most success. Accept constructive criticism, but be mindful of who is giving you that criticism. Do they have relevant experience? Do you respect their opinion? The criticism of your art/design professor or mentor should hold more value than the casual comment of your ex or college roommate who majored in managerial accounting.
What if you don’t know what you want to shoot? What if you’re having a difficult time honing in on your particular interests and all you can say for sure is that you’re a photographer, and you like to shoot, um, photos? Discovering what inspires you involves a bit of legwork. Do your research. Pay close attention to all the images you encounter and save them if you can. You know that aunt of yours who hasn’t thrown out a single possession since 1972? Channel that pack-rat energy and become an image collector of sorts. Then, study them. Analyze them. Try to figure out how a photo was lit. If it was a magazine shoot, there might be behind-the-scenes videos on the web. Observe the process and take notes. Don’t straight up copy what you see, but draw out what vibes/moods are being communicated in the image.
Some photographers and art directors like pinning images on a wall or board. Recently, I’ve been going through old magazines and tearing out images that I find appealing or create a mood that I enjoy. Recently, I’ve been doing some house cleaning and recycling some old magazines over the past 5 years. The photo below is a wall of some tear sheets in my apartment.
This is a great exercise for visual stimulation. And, since I tend to find most of my inspiration on the web, I save all electronic images into different folders on my computer, separated into categories like style, sports, couples, fashion, etc. for future reference. The more you evaluate what makes an image speak to you, the more refined your visual palette will become. Pretty soon, you’ll know exactly what YOU want out of your photography.
And, remember to specialize! So when you land an assignment, you’ll get a subject/shot that you’ll enjoy shooting.