This is a question I frequently asked when starting out in photography just over two years ago. It's a question I continue to ask myself because I know that there is so much more room for improvement. It is only natural that we want to become better at something that we enjoy doing, whether it be sports, music, photography, or any number of other things. So, how do you get better? As with anything, the best way to get better is to just do it. It has been said that "practice makes perfect" or better yet, "perfect practice makes perfect". To be clear, I have no illusions that I will be perfect at anything, but my hope is that I can continue to improve my craft.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the photographer responsible for some of the most iconic images in history once said, "your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." Since Bresson was shooting in the days of film when making a photograph was a much more deliberate act, that number may need to be increased significantly to fit into our digital world. But the message remains the same: if you really expect to get better at photography, you better be prepared to take a lot of pictures. However, there is more to it. One must learn and understand some basic principles and "rules" of photography, and be able to put them into practice. One must also be able to understand and recognize the difference between a good photo, a not-so-good photo, and a simple snapshot. For to become better, one must recognize their deficiencies.
There are a number of things that have helped me to learn and to improve my photography through the first 10,000 images and beyond. Perhaps some or all of these may be helpful for you as well.
Learn Your Camera
This will seem like a tedious and bothersome task, but is necessary in this process. It will be important to know the different modes, functions, and features of the camera and how to use them. This may mean that the camera manual should be read (gasp!). I feel your pain; reading the camera's manual can be about as interesting as watching paint dry. There are other alternatives to simply reading the manual. For instance, there may be books written about your specific camera that could be helpful and a more interesting read. If not, an internet search in your favorite web browser will likely reveal articles and/or video tutorials that will help you to learn. In my opinion, well-executed videos provide a seemingly more interactive and interesting learning experience.
This may include articles, podcasts, or video tutorials covering various topics from basic photographic principles, photographic techniques, camera controls, or post-processing software. Some of these will be paid training in the form of a one-time fee or monthly to annual subscriptions. However, there are a plethora of free options available as well. A quick internet search can yield any number of audio and video podcasts, video tutorials, and tips and tricks to help you improve and push your photography to the next level. Here are just a few links to some that I have enjoyed:
Photography workshops are a great experience. They are an opportunity to spend from one to several days with other photographers of all skill levels and at least one instructor to teach anything from landscape to wildlife photography to everything in between. I attended my first photography workshop last October with Rick Sammon (www.ricksammon.com). Not only did I learn an incredible amount in this hands-on experience, but made a number of wonderful friends from across the country. An internet search will reveal a number of workshops for all skill levels and photographic disciplines all over the world. The costs can be prohibitive, but the payoff can be great. Choose one that is right for you and give it a try.
So, what are you going to do? Learning is something that should never stop. Strive to learn something new every day, whether or not it is related to photography. And if you want to become better at making images, start by picking up the camera, learning what it can do, and where it can take you. Learn to "see" the image even before you press the shutter button. And maybe try some of the other learning tools listed above. These options are based on my own experiences and are certainly not an exhaustive list of ways to learn and become better at photography. Figure out what works for you and what fuels your inspiration.