Learn From My Mistake to Become Better at Photography

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If you’re making this one mistake, you are probably never going to be a great photographer!

This is the mistake that I made at college. I saw others make it too. None of those who failed to spot their mistake became great photographers. Instead they either made an acceptable living but never excelled or gave up on photography altogether and did something else instead.

The people who avoided this mistake tended, on average, to become better at photography and have more success.

I should explain that I was good at college. I was a ‘go to’ guy. If a professor wasn’t available (and even if they were) people would often come to me for my opinion or to ask me something technical. If someone wanted to know how to achieve a certain effect or find out why what they had done hadn’t worked, I was often first on their list of people to consult. I even had people come to me to check whether something a professor had said was correct!

For the first six months at college my grades were fantastic. For those first six months I’m pretty sure I came top in every theory test. Then things began to change. As the emphasis on the course began to shift from the technical mastery to being marked for the quality and creativity of the photographs we took, other people began to creep up the overall rankings. Soon I wasn’t top anymore. And as the months went on my grades slipped until I became despondent and unmotivated. I couldn’t see why this was happening. I stopped trying.

I gave up.

So that was their secret? What made the others gain higher grades while mine just fell?

It wasn’t like I didn’t put in the time. I read the books and learned more and more about photography. I took in everything I was told. But my photography didn’t improve any. By the time I left college I was little better than I was when I started. In fact, I was worse because I had lost all motivation.

The mistake I made was simple. I spent too much time buried in the books and not enough time actually taking photographs.

You see photography is not a book subject. Sure if you’re good at science and computers there’s a lot to learn. The physics is fascinating. Learning all those obscure Photoshop techniques can take hundreds of hours and more. It’s easy to get totally sidetracked by the technical aspects of the subject.

You do need some technical. You need to know how your choice of aperture affects the depth of field within your photographs. You need to know how to use depth of field to isolate the point of interest from the surroundings. You need to know what the controls on your camera do and how to best use them. Knowing about flash lighting can be important. Even studying composition is important. But ultimately the only thing that is going to make you a great photographer is getting out and taking photographs.

Spend more time taking photographs than reading books. Take photographs of everything you like. Talk to people. Give your time for free to every charity, NGO, local band and small business you can in order to learn your trade. Talk to attractive friends and take their pictures. Ask unattractive friends if you can photograph them too. Just get out there and snap.

Photography is not about books. Photography is intuitive. Your brain needs lots of experience and time to develop a ‘feel’ for what looks good and what doesn’t.

Do not make my mistake. Do not bury your head in books. Do not become a technical expert at the expense of your ability to take great photographs. Instead, become a great photographer by taking lots of photographs.

This is a faster to read version of my longer article about the same concept.

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