Behind the Scenes

January 16, 2020

How to become a better photographer

Being creative on a professional basis is challenging. For a few years photograhy has become super popular. Especially as smartphone cameras have become quite competitive and pretty much everyone can take decent images. Over the past few weeks, I thought about what it takes to improve your skills as a photographer to stand out.

More than anything else, it's important to understand the principles of a camera. From aperture to ISO settings, from using different lenses to seeing and understanding light. This should be basic knowledge to everyone of us (photographers). And post production also is extremely important in the world of today. All of this, should pretty much work automatically. So you can operate your camera intuitively, focusing completely on the creative aspects of your work.

Therefore, I won't cover the basics in this article. It's also common knowledge that you need to know the rules to be able to break them. This goes for exposure, sharpness, composition, pretty much everything that has ever been done visually.

When you're mind is relaxed, it's the most creative.

I would like to concentrate on the soft skills. The things that actually make us creative people.

I divided these into seven essentials: taste, curiosity, self-esteem, empathy, communication, vision and passion.

Taste

When I say, there's good taste and there's bad taste, you might argue, it depends on one's point of view. In my opinion, there is not one single good taste, but there sure is a lot of bad taste. Having good taste is extremely underrated. But I believe it's one of the most important things. You need to learn to be able to tell if a picture is good or not good enough. And it will help you selecting the good images among the photographs you took during a shoot.

You can understand taste as sixth sense of yours. One that you can train and learn. So, it's not only a preference, it's an inner feeling that combines beauty, appeal and style. The origin of the word taste relates back to the middle age where it meant something like touching. Maybe this helps learning taste. If the visual is touching you, if you can feel it, you know it stands out.

And while you're tasting, make sure to taste the spirit of the time, too. I have met many photographers who mentally live in the past. But you'll only get commercial jobs, if you have a certain feeling of the Zeitgeist.

Curiosity

Being curious is a great gift. When you are young and experience the world for the first time, everything is new to you. Therefore you are automatically curious. New things are attractive while the things you do on a regular basis start to bore you.

This is why I highly encourage you to go elsewhere. This doesn't mean you need to go far away. Maybe, you just want to take a different route to the supermarket. Change your routine. Look upwards when you're outdoors, towards the rooftops. Change your perspective.

Try out new things. Go eat something you never ate. Do something that scares you. Just re-activate that inner child and stay curious, no matter how grown up you are. People like Astrid Lindgren excelled in being a child forever in life. It's an open secret for creatives, yet the world surrounding us constantly asks us to behave our age. Give it a break!

Self-Esteem

I wasn't sure if this belongs here and I thought back and forth. But hell, yes, it does. You definitely need a realistic portion of self-respect. You need to value your work, otherwise noone else ever will. Of course, there are people who have too much self-esteem, but trust me, those are not reading my blog.

I bet that you often question things and are unsure if your work is good. This is normal! Every sensitive person who is genuinly interested in making progress, has these doubts. You need to accept them and see them as your sparing partner.

But don't make the mistake and ask people on social media if they like your work. In the end you need to blame yourself for every piece of work you create. And I encourage you to celebrate yourself from time to time, too! It's a good motivation.

Empathy

I already mentioned that being sensitive is a quality we need for our job. And along with it goes empathy. Especially when working with other people, you need to be able to identify with their feelings, thoughts or attitudes. This empowers you to connect with the person you're portraying.

I know that this is highly subjective. There are photographers who prefer to play the role of the director, the genious, the untouchable or should I say God? This might work, too. You certainly need to be more extroverted, but if you play your role well, dominance can create connection as well.

It's just not my world and not the way I would recommend to work. I prefer understatement and this doesn't mean you need to give up on control or guidance. Just make sure, you understand your subject.

Being polite is always a good starting point.

Communication

This goes hand in hand with communication. There are many photographers out there who don't talk when shooting. Your subject does not know if she's doing it right. If she's doing what you expect her to do in front of the camera. So, your subject will require guidance. Guidance with words, not with hands. This is important. And it's important how you speak.

Once I met a photographer who said "Show me your tits!". I am not kidding. This was totally going wrong as you can imagine. And the next thing he said was "Look at me like you want to fuck me!". Certainly, his intention was good. He was aiming for a certain look. He knew what he wanted. But it's impossible to make your subject comfortable if you speak like this.

Other things that don't work: Never ask your subject to think of her boyfriend. This will not make them look sexy.

Don't ask your subject to think of something sexy at all. She won't be able to (trust me).

Communication is a little tricky, but full of potential if you find the right scale.

Vision

Being creative always is a process. If you wait for the muse to kiss you, you will wait forever. Just understand that creativity is work, like cleaning your house or preparing a meal. You need to have a certain structure.

For example, I have a paper notebook where I take down notes whenever I see something. Most of these notes don't lead to photo series. But among those, there were some nice ideas that I turned into interesting proejcts years later.

It's a constant process. You can see it as a sport. If you don't train regularly, you won't be good in any sports activity. But with constant training, you can get into a flow and be among the best.

Having a goal and vision of where you want to head, helps a lot. Ask yourself, what and why you are doing things. What do you want to achieve? Only if you know your goals, you can reach them.

Part of the creative process is to consume a lot. We face thousands of images every day and you can direct your brain by selectively aiming it towards the work of others. Other people you admire. They don't have to be photographers. They can be musicians, ballet dancers, any kind of creative profession will do. Go to a museum, slender over a flee market or read books.

Train your brain to collect and help your brain by taking notes. This will help you to slowly create a vision of what you want to do and who you want to be.

To me, vision is like fantasy mixed with experience.

Let go of what is holding you back.

Passion

There are the talkers and the doers. You certainly need doer qualities to move forward. So I encourage you to do things. Don't talk about future projects. Just do them. Don't think about money. If money is your motivation, you have chosen the wrong profession. (That doesn't mean that you can't make money with photography.)

But first of all you need to enjoy what you do. Photography is the biggest thing in my life. I feel blessed that I discovered taking pictures is my strongest lust. I am enthusiastic about visuals. And this acts as a constant drive. It's the perpetum mobile of my inner self.

The origin of the word passion comes from suffering on the cross. An old biblical descent. Isn't it funny? This explains why we suffer from time to time while deeply wanting to become a better photographer.

These seven things sure don't make a complete instruction manual on how to become a better photographer, but to me they act as food for thought. What do you think?

 

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Simon Bolz, Frankfurt
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