It’s distressingly easy to plateau as a photographer, to reach a certain level of competence and then stay there. Often there’s a simple reason for this. Because I’m good to you, here are five reasons you may be getting stuck and what you can do about it…
My camera’s too complicated
Oh, the good old days. They were great. Cameras were really simple then. The only controls you could fiddle with were the shutter speed dial and aperture ring. Now cameras are festooned with buttons, joysticks and levers. And then there’s menu system. I don’t blame anyone for feeling just the tiniest bit intimidated by the number of options available. To make matters worse, cameras often don’t come with manuals now. Okay, so you can usually download a PDF and print that out, but that’s expensive and not practical. It’s not surprising that a lot of photographers just stick to Auto and let the camera do most of the work. The key is tackling one aspect of your camera at a time, get to know how that works before moving on to the next thing. Photography forums are a good place to lurk to look for answers to problems if you get stuck.
I keep making mistakes, perhaps I should stop
This is a secret so don’t tell anyone I told you this: I still make mistakes more than thirty years after picking up a camera. (I’m talking about photographic mistake here of course, otherwise I’m completely perfect.) Here’s the thing, mistakes shouldn’t be a cause for despair. (Unless you really, really needed to get the shot…) Mistakes are an important part of the learning process. However, in order to benefit from them, you really need to sit down and analyse your mistakes so that you never make the same one again. An image’s metadata – the embedded information that includes the various settings on the camera used to make the photo – is a great tool for this post-shooting evaluation exercise.
I know what I know and that’s fine
Ruts. They’re easy to get into, hard to get out of. It’s all too easy to shoot the same thing over and over again, never varying your technique. And why not? If something works then what’s the point trying something new? Social media can be a trap that encourages this kind of thinking. If you get lots of likes for one type of photo, but not for another, then it’s only natural to shoot (and post) similar images to the type that gets you the approbation. Unfortunately, this won’t help your photography to progress, nor will it give you the impetus to try new things. So, forget social media, try something new and don’t worry if it’s only for your own satisfaction.
When did I last use my camera?
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise! it’s a terrible joke but it contains a wise truth: the more you practise at something the better you get at it. Photography is no exception to this. Weirdly, the life of a professional photographer often means periods when no photographs are made. (All those emails that need to be answered, it’s very time-consuming….) I know from my own experience that I feel a bit rusty if I’ve had a week or so from my camera. So, here’s a challenge for both you and me. Let’s pick up our cameras each and every day and shoot something. For at least a month, though longer is even better. Not every image needs to be high art, but the practise will help keep our artistic eye sharp, and in touch with our cameras.
Life is short and time is precious. The faster a photo is taken, the quicker we can move onto something else. Right? Hmmmm. Sometimes. If a client is breathing down your neck possibly. Generally however, photography really shouldn’t be rushed if it can be helped. It can take time for your creative gyroscope to spin up to speed, which a machine gun approach to photography won’t allow. So, slow down, take your time and think about what you’re doing. It’s always better to finish a photography session with a few quality photos rather than hundreds of mediocre ones.
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David Taylor is a British award-winning landscape and travel photographer, who was born and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne and now lives in the ancient market town of Hexham, Northumberland. He took his first photograph at the age of 14, when his parents gave him a Kodak Instamatic for Christmas, and he has been taking photographs ever since.
His landscape photos have been used in publicity materials by local businesses, councils and tourism organisations, such as the Northumberland National Park Authority. He has also supplied images and articles to both regional and national magazines including Living North, Countryfile, Black & White Photography and Outdoor Photography.