10 Steps to Being a Better Photographer

Posted on: September 10th, 2012 1

It’s Not What You Think

Right up front I need to state as clearly as possible that there are NO EASY steps to getting better at ANYTHING, much less photography. Zak Arias wrote blog post ranting about some guy who created a website that was hawking “10 Easy Steps to Creating a Successful Photography Business”. There was such an avalanche of responses by those who really know what photography is all about calling this guy out on what was essentially pure bulls**t, that he took the site down to “revise” it (so no, I don’t have a link to it, nor would I provide one if his site was up). Please read Zak’s rant as he does a great job of speaking truth to bulls**t on this a**hole.

Here’s the Deal

I think the toughest thing is to be honest with yourself, especially when you want to get good at something. So I’ve decided to create my own “10 Steps” list to keep myself honest. My hope is you’ll also find them useful:

  1. Know Your Gear

    This is a biggie with me, because I teach people about their cameras. There is no substitute for knowing your gear. When you know what your camera, lenses, flashes, etc., can do, you are in a much better position to create the kind of photos you want. Different focal lengths create different looks for the same scene; same with different exposure settings; same with flash output, position, on and on. Know your gear!!

  2. Think About Light…..ALWAYS!

    Since we take light for granted, being as it is always around us (mostly), we usually aren’t in the habit of noticing it, how it illuminates a given scene, how many light sources are doing same, etc. Yet, without light you ain’t gonna get a photograph. So your camera is nothing more than a light box. Its job is to capture light….period. In fact, it really doesn’t do anything else! So light is really the MAIN thing, not the camera. This is a big subject and I can’t do it justice here, but it’s all about light!

  3. Shoot…A LOT!

    I know! This is like soooooo obvious….hello? But we….er…I don’t do it enough. You can read all the books, watch all the videos, go to all the seminars (all good things to do BTW), but if you don’t take that camera in your hands and USE IT, you won’t get better.


    This is probably the best advice I can give anyone. Refuse to be impressed with yourself! You aren’t all that! Photography is a huge endeavor, one that you can never really master. You have to always be open to learning new and/or better ways of doing things. This is especially important if you want to make money, as in servicing clients. Ultimately, they probably don’t know squat about photography….but they know what they like. If you cannot produce something your clients like, you won’t get paid, or won’t get called again. One great way to stay humble is to check out other shooters’ work! I know it isn’t nearly as simple as I’m making it out to be, but just be humble and learn every day. Get over yourself! 🙂

  5. Honor the REAL Shooters…the FILM Photographers!

    Imagine this; you cannot see the image you just shot. You have to set your exposure, focal length, focus…..everything, without being able to see the results until you develop the film and make a print. Now go back and look at some images shot by the REAL photographers for magazines like Life, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, before say, 2000. You and I are NOTHING compared to these men and women who have literally paved the way for the rest of us. If you are serious about photography you MUST acknowledge the great shooters who’ve come before you. They are better, wiser, more dedicated, than us. They HAD to be. Honor them, because you wouldn’t be shooting without their great work.

  6. Challenge Yourself

    You must practice, as in shooting a lot. But further, you must try things you’ve never done before. You have to challenge yourself in order to improve. Never shot a portrait? Go make one! Never shot a sporting event (guilty)? Go shoot one! Photography is in part about problem-solving. When you step outside your comfort zone you’ll be confronted with issues you probably never anticipated. Great! That’s how you learn.

  7. Be In It for the Long Haul

    Photography is HARD!! You won’t get good in a week or a month. It takes years to really acquire the skills you need to take great photos. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be a pro. I’m talking about getting better, and that only happens over time…..a long time. Stay with it!

  8. Knowledge Beats Gear

    The gear companies and camera outlets want you to buy stuff. As a result, they convince you that you’ll take better photos if you have this lens or that camera body….on and on. That is utter nonsense. You’ll take better photos if you know WTF you’re doing. To put it another way, if you buy that $1500 lens, you won’t take better photos if you don’t know WTF you’re doing. Knowledge beats gear.

  9. Get Ready To Fail….A LOT

    You have to get used to failing. No one, I mean NO ONE takes great photos every time they open the shutter. When you look at a photographer’s portfolio you are seeing his or her best stuff. They aren’t showing you all of the lousy shots, which I guarantee you far outnumber the good ones. Get used to failing (see #4 above).

  10. Finally, and this one is easy….HAVE FUN!

    You’ll get better results if you are having fun….as in enjoying the process. I know this is so obvious, but it’s easy to loose site of that, especially if you take photography seriously. Put your ego aside, don’t judge, and have some FUN SHOOTING!


So there’s my list. Nothing too earth-shattering or wise, just what I’ve come to realize thus far in my own journey. If anyone tries to tell you there’s an easy way to take great photos that circumvents hard work, effort, gaining knowledge, and a lot of time, run away! That person is totally full of s**t! 🙂

One Response

  1. Alberto says:

    Gary i love your 10 steps : are so true!Specially the last one . Sometime you’re getting so frustrated by the results that your fun becomes an obligation to get a good shot.
    …but i keep shooting

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