I was immune, I thought. Having been looking at Photoshop tutorials for over a year, I thought I knew all the tools needed to make a photo “pop”. I had also been reading up on a bunch of photography theory so I thought I knew the dangers of over-editing.
Resolving myself to not boost contrast +100 or saturation +100 or tonemapping the sh** outta my pictures, I still managed to end up with this eye manure that I had decided to give a 4 star to in LR.
I was the perfect example of all theory and no practice.
Quick side note on my current star system:
0: The majority of pictures. Never going to look at them again
1: Meh. I might edit it if I need a picture in that genre later.
2: Twos are starting to make an impression. I’ll definitely edit them, use them in blog posts and sometimes other social media.
3: Threes are solid pictures. I am proud of them and will most likely post them online in one corner of the internet or another.
4: Four is reserved to special photos. Ones that have all the metrics for a great photo. Lighting, composition and subject are all spot on. There is somehting about them that is special, whether it is a movement, mood or story that can make this photo hold it’s own. Might go into portfolio.
5: The Elusive 5. These are reserved for super special photos. Out of the 20,000 photos I have taken in 2014 so far, 8 are ranked 5 star.
So the photo above passed as 4 star in 2012. This passed as 4 star in 2013, just one year later:
And this is a 4 star in 2014:
I’ve learned a few things in the last two-and-a-half years of pursuing photography and found that the key to advancing is boiled down to a very simple, but not easy, formula. 5 things to keep in mind:
1. Practice, duh
What people say about “practice, practice, practice” as an absolute truth are absolutely right. There has never been a great photographer who hasn’t taken hundreds of thousands of photos first.
When I started out, I bought my camera and started a Facebook page in the same day. I thought I knew all the theory so I am going to leapfrog all the other ‘amateurs’ and be a pro from day one. I had over a hundred hours of reading photography theory online and 0 hours of actual execution.
The result was an over-confident photographer who had all the skills to go nowhere.
2. Conscious Effort
Is this list starting to read like all the things you do not want to do to become great? Want a magic fix? If this is you then I have bad news for you. You aren’t going to make it as a pro. Ever. Just taking thousands of photos is not enough. The next step in separating the wheat from the chaff is making a conscious effort to improve. Look at your pictures and be critical. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the mood of this picture? Did the way I take it compliment the mood? (wide-angle, intimate, grandiose etc)
- What is the subject of the picture? Is it highlighted? Look away from the picture and then look back at it and pay attention to where your eyes go.
- Lighting. In my opinion the hardest thing to master. Ask all the lighting questions. Where is it coming from? How much of the scene is lit? Are there different light sources with different color temperatures? Do those come together to enhance the mood? Do they highlight the subject?
This is the part that catches people. This is why you will see someone who has been shooting for over 20 years and their stuff is exceptionally mediocre.
3. Get Out Of Your Own Way
Being self-critical is bitter sweet. I stopped getting in my own head (at least partly) about how bad my pictures were. Photographers and creatives are always our own worse critics and while this can help speed up the improvement process it can also get in the way while in the moment of taking pictures.
Second guessing yourself. Trying to live up to the standard of those amazing photographers that you think might one day see this picture and scoff and turn their backs on you forever and write your mother and tell her about how much of a disappointment you are and how you’re besmirching the good name of “photographer” is going to get in the way of your photo taking flow.
This is totally something I have never struggled with (written in that special font that indicates sarcasm that hasn’t been invented yet.)
4. CAREFULLY Follow Inspirational Photographers
Following inspirational photographers is the quickest way to destroy step 3. I had been making large improvements in my photography until the day I got Instagram. Suddenly I was comparing myself to Jared Chambers, Ravivora and Abe Kislevitz. I didn’t feel like shooting much for a while.
I’d spend way to many hours doing this:
Scroll……double tap…….scroll……..double tap………scroll………double tap……sighhh…….scroll…….
And not enough time out shooting.
After some time I finally learned how to follow inspirational photographers healthily and learned so much from them. The same set of questions that you should be asking yourself in step two you can ask yourself about their photos and deconstruct WHY that photo is amazerballs.
5. Look Back
Do essentially what I am doing now with this post. Go through your photo catalogue and see the improvements. Nothing helps me take better pictures than confidence. I own the space around me and I get into the “zone” and this is where the good pictures usually happen.
When I first started out, I thought that everyone knew that I was new at this sh** and so I was self conscious about getting in the crouch position to take a photo. I thought, “Are people going to think I am a poser? ‘He’s obviously not a photog and here he is crouching like Mr. Professional.’”
Now I get where I need to be to take the shot and that makes a huge difference between a bad picture and a great picture.
So here I am 2 years later looking back through my Lightroom catalogue and reflecting on how bad I was, amazed at what 2 years can do, and excited to see where I’ll be in 2 more years. Hopefully, I’ll be able to look back at the stuff I am shooting now and think the exact same thing about how terrible I am.
Pictures taken in 2012
This was in my PORTFOLIO! Sh**…
This was also in my portfolio. SMH
Pictures taken in 2014
About the author: Sasha Juliard has been traveling the past 4 years as a remote worker. He is a freelance photographer and web designer with bases in New York and Colorado but spends most of his time on the road. You can follow his adventures on Instagram or find out more about him at his website. This article originally appeared here.