Self Progression for Photographers – Part One

It is a natural human behaviour to want to succeed at something we put time and effort into.  When we invest a part of ourselves into something, whether it be passion, vision, skills or money, we want to see a return on that investment, which hopefully becomes greater each time we invest more into it.

In photography I believe that self progression is one of those returns.  The process of getting better with each photograph you make – that is, each little improvement you add, every little thing you remember as part of your routine, every new idea that works, each step of mastering a new technique – adds to your progression as a photographer.  There are many ways to self-progress, but they all require the same thing – an investment on your part.

Before I give a run-down on what I think are some of the best ways to aid your self progression, I would like to first write briefly about two things: equipment, and humility.

Equipment is highly overrated.  Yes, there is no doubt that better quality equipment largely gives you better images.  But, if you don’t know how – or are not going – to use the new functions on that fancy body you just bought, you might as well not have upgraded at all, because your images probably won’t look any different.  If you never use an ISO setting over 1600, you don’t need a body with the capability to take photos at ISO6400.  If you never take high-action shots, you don’t need a burst rate of 8 frames per second.  If you only shoot landscapes you don’t need the latest f/2.8 telephoto lens.  However, if you eventually find yourself regularly limited by your current equipment, THEN is the time to think about upgrading.  Because I DO believe that if you cannot make your vision come to life using all the skills and knowledge you have with your current setup, then you have outgrown your equipment’s capabilities.

The second topic is humility.  You cannot progress if you already think you are the best photographer in the world.  Many of the great photographers that I highly admire are still looking to improve themselves.  They strive to get a unique composition, add their own style, create their own personal touch to each and every photograph they make.  You know you’re on the right track when someone looks at your photo and recognises it as having been made by you.

So, on now to some ways you can progress as a photographer.

Recognise what standard you are at. Your family and friends might say you’re a great photographer, and while this support is absolutely essential and fantastic, you need to also be able to take a step back and truthfully assess your own skills.  Only YOU know what you are capable of, and so YOU have to recognise your shortcomings and take steps to address them.  In any given field of photography, you will find that you are drawn to some images and not to others, and that you will automatically rate them yourself.  Look at your own photos.  Where would you rate them in respect to these images?  When you can look at an image and know how to technically render that same image, it is safe to say you are at that standard technically, and if that’s a highly rated image in your scale of photography, then that is excellent.  If not, then you know where you’re at, and what you need to strive for.  Don’t forget that technical details are only a small part of it though.  You can be spot on technically, but that doesn’t mean it will have the same emotional impact.

Be ruthless. When you get home from a shoot and it comes to looking at your images on the big screen, you need to be able to categorise them so that you spend your best efforts on your absolute best images.  If that’s only one image, then it’s one better than none.  Don’t try to ‘save’ images to increase your ‘keeper’ rate.  You are only lowering your standards.  Cull all the blurred photos.  A slightly blurred image blown up to 30 x 40 inches will no longer be slightly blurred.  Don’t process similar images unless you really cannot decide between them.  No one will look at the final print you present and wonder what it was like 2 steps to the left and half a foot lower (well, mostly no one).  I try to think like this – if I won’t be happy displaying that image in an exhibition at 40 inches wide, I won’t process it.

Accept criticism – and do something about it! It surprises me how often people show others their images, and when an unflattering comment is made about an aspect of the image, they immediately become defensive about it.  Were we all to produce perfect images 100% of the time, there would be no great photographers in the world – because we all would already be those great photographers!  One of the best ways to progress is by peer review.  It happens everywhere and in everything, not just pertaining to photography.  Seek out genuine criticism from fellow photographers you admire.  Learn to distinguish between those who are trying to help you improve and those just looking to bring you down.  Try and implement those suggestions in the making of your next image, or the next time you post-process one.  If you don’t understand the suggested improvements, ask for clarification.  No one will laugh at you – chances are at least one other person was wondering the same thing.

That’s enough food for thought at this stage.  There’ll be a Part Two soon!


Posted on January 12, 2011, in How we..., Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Justin Griffiths

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a interesting and honest blog.
    Time and time again I come across photographers that fall into each category.
    I look forward to Part Two.

  2. That is very well written N interesting. Even I can understand how u produce such amazing photos. I hv learnt to appreciate them more after reading the your blog. Can’t wait for part two. Being a non photographer I couldn’t some of the more technical skills u go thru to finish your photos.

  3. This is spot on Dylan, really looking forward to part II.

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