Well, I was certain to get your full attention with this title, wasn’t I! We are always looking for the magic bullet that will suddenly turn us into the lovechild of Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson and, when we find things to be a bit more complicated, we turn to our secret weapon: our wallet. Surely with the latest 2.8 zoom, or if we switch to a full frame camera, then our images will get better. Right?
Well, things don’t quite work this way, and deep down, we all know the truth: there is no magic bullet. We can’t buy our way into being a good photographer any more than we can buy our way into becoming a good writer. Talent might give you a head start, but in the end, the only way to become any good at creating images is, like for everything else, to practice it a lot. Nothing can replace hard work and shooting tens of thousands of frames, day in and day out. As brilliant as HCB, Adams, Weston and any of your photographic heroes might have been, they have worked very hard to become as good as they were, and they shot a lot of crap to get there, just as everybody else.
At this point, you might simply shrug, thinking that there is nothing new here and you would be right to find the title of this post misleading. Indeed, just accepting the reality and saying “I need to work hard” is great, but it isn’t of very concrete help.
But I didn’t lie: there is a thing, simple and relatively easy, that you can start doing right now and that is guaranteed to make you a much better photographer than any amount of money you could spend on gear or even workshops. I was lucky enough to discover it by chance when I started getting serious about photography, and I have no doubt that it was the main factor in making me reach where I am today (wherever that is).
Ok, enough waiting, here it is: get your photos out there. But even more: publish at least one new picture every day, no matter how crappy, no matter how tired you are, no matter that no one except two friends and your mom ever look at them.
The “daily” part is crucial. There are plenty of people with photoblogs who publish once in a while when they feel that they have a good image, but that is not enough. You should force yourself to go dig in your archives and find that hidden gem, or simply that decent image you had forgotten about. That will make you a better critic, force you to go through the editing process, find out what works and what doesn’t in your images. It will also force you to go out and shoot when your archives have really run dry.
It is not a significant time investment – usually no more than 10 minutes a day, though it can be done even faster when in a hurry, or several hours can be spent on a single image. But this time adds up quickly and, over the years, amounts to a lot. One image a day, minus a few missed days every now and then, is about 350 photos a year. That’s significant. To get that amount of decent pictures, you will need to shoot more, a lot more. Several thousands frames at the very least. And that, quite simply, is mileage, the holy grail of any trade.
There are other advantages, too. You are getting your work out there for the whole world to see. Initially, the world probably won’t care very much, but if everyday you keep cranking out pictures of better and better standards, you will soon acquire an audience which can give you very important feedback. You can start learning that most elusive quality of being able to handle rejection, and the very regularity of your schedule means that you will be able to go through the inevitable low phases of creativity, where you hate yourself and everything you produce, better than most.
Finally, this will give you a presence on the internet, a way to be known (or even to become internet-famous if you are lucky), a way for people to easily find your photos in a single place. It is always very interesting to see how style and subject evolve over the years, and this is extremely easy to do by simply browsing the archives.
As I said, you can get started today. There are plenty of photoblog applications out there, or you could even use your wordpress or flickr account. The best way to do it, though, would probably be to use pixelpost on a dedicated server, as this will give you the most power and flexibility.
You can also take a look at my own photoblog, Aperture First, which recently got its 1000th image posted. I am sure you won’t have to dig very deep to find some mediocre images, but I hope that its evolution over the years also shows that dedication pays off.
You really want to become a better photographer? Stop reading that gear review, and start posting new images online!