Ten steps to improve your photography

Photographs hanging on pegs Image copyright Thinkstock

Whether you take pictures purely for your own pleasure or have ambitions to build a career for yourself through photography, there comes a time when you have to stop snapping and start making pictures. Here, professional photographer, writer and lecturer Grant Scott explains how you can take your photography to the next level.

We all take more photographs than we have ever done or were able to in the past. We post images on social networks, share them with friends and use them as a form of visual shorthand to communicate where we are, what we are doing and often how we feel. Yet few of us would describe ourselves as photographers. Even fewer would describe themselves as professional photographers or understand what that job description means.

So how can you begin to understand what a professional photographer is or does? And start to move your own work into an area of professional photography?

The answer is actually very simple. You need to use photography to document your passions and explore the work of professional photographers who are already doing so.

Image copyright Emma Boyns
Image caption Emma Boyns cooks all of the food she photographs

For example, if you enjoy cooking, look towards food photography. If you enjoy sports, look at the photographers documenting your favourite sport. If you enjoy styling and decorating your home, interiors photography could be the area for you.

These are just a few examples of genres of professional photography, and there are many more such as:

  • fashion
  • music
  • portraiture
  • still life
  • social documentary
  • lifestyle
  • travel
  • gardening
Image copyright Charlotte Stephens
Image caption A portrait by Charlotte Stephens could also be used within the professional genre of of hair photography

By focusing on your passions, you will bring insight and commitment to your photography that will show in your pictures.

Thanks to the advancements in camera technology, most of us can take technically good pictures to what many consider to be a professional standard, but the professional photographer can and has to do this consistently and to order. They also need to understand the importance of telling a story with a series of images and having an area of photographic specialisation that a potential client needs for their business.

Every decision you make in your life from what you wear, what you eat, how you vote, how you decorate your home, where you visit, what you listen to, what you watch and what you believe are influenced by professional photography and professional photographers. They don't just shoot weddings.

Image copyright Louise Boyne

Here are 10 tips to help you get started in taking your photography to a different level:

  • When photographing people, spend time, before, after and during, engaging them in conversation. Be interested in them, their lives and opinions. They should then relax and feel as if the act of you photographing them is a collaborative process
  • Do not be afraid to take a lot of pictures. It demonstrates you are willing to try different compositions, angles, lighting situations and approaches to your photography
  • Be influenced by work you see and admire, but do not try to slavishly copy it.
  • Do not be seduced by post-production software such as Photoshop to create "interesting" or "different" images unless the work you are looking at is similarly reliant on retouching. Bad retouching will ruin a good picture, so try to get your images "right" in camera
  • Spend time taking pictures, and do not expect to succeed every time or the first time. Be prepared to learn from mistakes and revisit images that have not succeeded with a new approach
  • Use your smartphone to "photo sketch", taking pictures every day, focusing on the way in which light works, the composition of shapes, unexpected textures, anything that allows you to have fun and breaks down any expectation you may have of what "good" photography is
  • Find inspiration by looking at all forms of art, film, music, television, clothes, design, online, in museums, in books and in magazines. Absorb popular culture and recognise how it uses photography as a form of communication
  • Listen to friends' opinions on your work, but do not be too influenced by them and do not be discouraged by those giving uninformed or ill-informed advice. Try to find a photographer whose work you admire, contact them and ask for their opinions once you have created a reasonable amount of images you feel are successful
  • Take risks with your photography, and challenge your perceptions of what makes a successful photograph. Have fun
  • Understand technique, but do not be ruled by it

Grant Scott is a professional photographer and senior lecturer in editorial and advertising at the University of Gloucestershire.

He is also the writer of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography.

You can read more of Grant's articles on his website United Nations of Photography and follow him on Twitter @UNofPhoto.

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