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The one thing that will really make you a better photographer

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You really want to become a better photographer? Stop reading that gear review, and start posting new images online!

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20 thoughts on “The one thing that will really make you a better photographer

  1. Marine says:

    Hey !

    Merci pour ces conseils, ça m’a donné envie de m’y mettre !
    Je sais pas trop si Maéva t’avait dit mais je me suis mise à la photo il y a un an et tout en ayant conscience que ce que je fais n’est pas extraordinaire, je suis persuadée que ça me plait.

    Du coup, je pense que je vais suivre ton conseil. Le plus dur pour moi est de lancer la galerie (j’avais un peu cherché mais rien ne me plaisait). J’utilise Lightroom, donc c’est sans doute le meilleur moyen d’éditer sur le Web à partir de ce logiciel lorsqu’on l’utilise.

    Et bravo pour tes photos !

    biz,
    Marine

  2. Thank you so much. This was very inspiring!

    I haven’t posted any photos in ages. I was doing a photo a day for awhile a few years ago and when I look at those photos now, I”m really proud of them. When they aren’t great, they’re at least interesting!

    I’m about to go on vacation, so I think I’ll make a commitment right now to start up the photo a day again.

  3. Great article! I had been working on a project365 earlier this year, but I let things lapse.

    This is a great inspiration to me, I needed a kick in the pants to get started again!

    I saw great improvements in my photography in the 120 days or so I had worked on it, and I don’t doubt at all that I’ll see more as i continue!

  4. I totally agree, practice is key and having something like publishing a photo a day to keep you accountable is great. I’ve been doing that myself this year – going around taking portraits of random strangers all over my city (http://www.sheffield365project.co.u…)

    I’ve not only seen my photography develop, but also myself generally as I meet people from all levels of society. I’d definitely recommend anyone do this, maybe not for a whole year, but definitely for a month. Just see what happens…

  5. Isn’t this the case with any skill? You need to practice it to get better at it. I just started learning photography and felt that, the way to get better is to post one image online everyday. Thats what I started doing, just in case anyone is interested(http://www.flickr.com/photos/scream…).

    The only thing is that I get carried away and end up posting more than one image a day. I guess posting just one would help you develop the ability to critique a photograph and help better understand the principles of photography.

  6. Ryan says:

    I agree with a lot of your points about getting motivated to shoot more. Positive stuff indeed. However I disagree with daily photo, sharing your mediocre photos with the world is one way to be forgotten. If you can support a daily photo with quality then go for it, but as you say, you have to be shooting a lot more to get to that quality. If you build your reputation on quality rather than quantity you’re far better off.

    No matter how many times I go through the archives there’s no forgotten masterpiece, I can’t turn straw into gold, how about you?

  7. Great advice. This is something I try to do on my personal blog. At first I didn’t have much traffic, but now I’m starting to gradually pick up more and more traffic (not from my mother).

    I figure if you publish it, they will come. Online content is king.

  8. Nicely said. I’ve been trying to do this every year since 2005 and this is the first year that I’ve been able to relatively keep up daily.

    My one exception to the rule, is that for every day I miss, I must post 2 the following day. Anything less then 365 will be a failure.

  9. Sound and nicely written advice. But why root through the archives. Take/make a new photo every day. Of course they wont all be genius – but they all make you more efficient with your camera – so it gets in the way less when genius strikes – and they force you to look for photo oportunities everywhere – not just the nice easy places.

  10. Well said. I agree with you and have over 2,000 pictures on Flickr, I have a blog and a website but…
    If nobody looks at them then what?
    The answer of course is to carry on because you love photography as I do.
    Another point is few people seem comfortable giving negative or critical comments, especially on Flickr and if you give a critical point on a photo you can be hounded out by the ‘community’. It is not as easy as you might think to get some real, critical assessment of your work.
    That said, I 100% agree with you – take pictures. Get out of your comfort zone and try new things; stretch yourself; work VERY hard at it.

    Regards

  11. Luke says:

    Apart from the fact you made my eyes bleed with this horrible web typography, the article was really good.

  12. I can definitely attest to this advice. I’ve been posting a new music photo to my Facebook group basically every day for over three years now, and I’ve seen miles of progress made both in my shooting and editing abilities anyway.

  13. I was worried about not having “it”. I am a beginner and self-doubt is strong.

    Your article reassured and encouraged me much more than my teachers… I’m so glad I read and thankful you wrote it. :)

  14. Great post. In the African perspective, one photo a day is virtually impossible. But i have developed my commitment to posting on a weekly basis.

    When i get time on my hands though, i can do it more regularly.

    My discovery though is that when you start getting a following, you automatically get the pressure of keeping your followers updated.

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