The journey of improving your photography skills can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. Many believe that in order to become a better photographer, a newer and more expensive camera is required which isn’t necessarily true. Unless if you can specify exactly why a particular camera will give you a clear advantage over your existing setup, then chances are, a new camera isn’t going to do anything except drain the bank balance.
Before buying new camera gear, I tell beginners that they should invest time (and/or money) into education. Before the internet, the only way was to learn about photography was to read photography magazines or attend photography school and workshops that are expensive and fixed to certain days and time. Nowadays, there are hundreds of websites, online groups and educators out there who are willing to share their experience and advice online.
In the online economy, many photographers offer lessons for free as a segue into paid and advanced courses, but 99% of what a beginner to intermediate photographer needs to know can be found for free and legally online. Here are my tips on how to improve your photography skills without spending out a cent.
Buddy up with a mentor or somebody you can learn off
My first exposure to photography was when I first went to Africa on a work trip. We were lucky enough to have a National Geographic photographer there to coach us as we were on Safari each day, where I was still shooting in automatic mode at the time. It was such a boost to the confidence , having somebody who did it for a living to look at my photos at the end of each day, take me through the basics and explain what to work on the following day.
Photographers are usually nice people and are willing to help if you reach out for advice or help in improving. If you can’t find anybody to buddy up with, just shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to give a few pointers.
Join an online community:
Can’t find anybody to get advice off or find inspiration off? There is a plethora of online groups and in my point of view, Google+ has the largest community of photography enthusiasts. My favourite groups are the Amazing Places To See and Travel Photography groups for which I use for travel inspiration and to gain more exposure for my photographs.
There are various groups on Facebook as well, but my experience with Facebook groups is that many are full of trolls who hide behind their monitors, adding no value and have nothing better to do than make life difficult for others.
Only ask people you respect for their opinion
I stopped asking for a “comments and criticism” on my photos, because everybody will have an opinion. In most cases, most opinions are valid, but the reality is that they will give feedback on what they think is right, based on their style, and not in line with what you may be trying to achieve as a photographer. It’s better to ask one or two people who you respect and whose opinions you trust and who know your shooting style and understand what you want to achieve with photography.
Subscribe to photography blogs
There are quite a few online magazines and blogs that write their own content as well as scour the web for various photography related articles. These articles could include profiling other photographers work, post processing and other educational resources such as how to shoot plants to using flash. A few favourites of mine that I receive daily news articles from are: Phoblographer, Photographyblog and Petapixel.
Follow other photographers and educators online
If you see an article from a blog of a photographer that appeals to you, follow them online as they will all have some sort of social presence. This is how I started discovering that the best photographers not only produce great work, but are humble enough give back to the community in the form of blogs that offer insights into how they work, and offer free tutorials or advice for other aspiring photographers.
The most effective method by far are through online video and most established educators have a YouTube channel or contribute to specific educational sites online. Here are a list of my favourite photographers and educators that have an online presence that you can learn an incredible amount off – for free.
Serge Ramelli – I can’t remember how I came across Serge, but his flamboyant French personality was what caught my attention. He’s a prolific producer of content and produces quite dramatic looking images which influenced my earlier post processing style. His Lightroom videos though, were my saving grace when I was starting out with post processing.
Phlearn – Aaron Nace is the brainchild behind Phlearn and probably has the most likeable personality amongst all of the photography educators. Most of my Photoshop skills have come from watching his videos that focusing on intermediate to advanced techniques, but his style of presenting is easy to understand and his topics are always creative.
Scott Kelby – I’ve been following Scott Kelby for a while and have always enjoyed his sharing approach to photography. He’s known as the “Photoshop guy” and his KelbyOne Youtube channel is full of great bite sized tips on photography, post processing and industry news.
B&H Photo – B&H are the worlds largest audio-visual store in NYC and they also have guest speakers that give in-store seminars that are uploaded onto their YouTube Channel. Some of the biggest names in photography have presented there and they always provide a great insight into their craft and how to take your skill level to another level.
AdoramaTV – Like B&H, they are a NYC based audio and visual store but have their own dedicated photography team who produce great educational content ranging from flash, action, Photoshop post processing and even iPhone photography.
Get outside and shoot NOW
Last, but probably the most important point one is to just get outside, shoot more and more often. When I was learning, I was guilty of spending too much time, watching tutorials and figuring out Lightroom and Photoshop instead of being out and taking photographs. Nowadays, I try to be outside during the day time a leave the computer time to the evenings. Even if it’s during the middle of the day with terrible light, that time can be used to scout locations for future photos.
You don’t have to be a travel photographer, as you should be able to take beautiful images in your own home town. A great scene can be found somewhere on your way to work or on a weekend drive. If you don’t have time to scout, online resources such as 500px can provide inspiration on where and how to shoot a particular location. I also use the OOAK (One Of A Kind) Location Guide App to find out where the great locations are close to me. It is user-generated and location-based app that will display images of awesome locations nearby as well as tips from the photographer on how to get there and achieve the best photograph.
What’s your best tip on how to improve your photography at no little or no cost?