I have been asked how I learned photography. I thought back to try to find the answer and struggled at first.
I used to subscribe to some photography magazines, read and bought some photography books and guess I learned some basics from them but it was just theory and knowledge – that didn’t directly translate into improvement.
The reality is that it was by using my camera where I learned the most. The times when my photography really improved were those times that I put time aside to actually discover how to photograph something, setting myself up for an assignment (of sorts).
One main example was:
The Friends Wedding
I remember the dreaded day that a friend of my wife asked me to shoot her wedding as the ‘main photographer’. She had no money for a Pro and despite my insisting that I wasn’t up to it she talked me into it. The next 2 weeks were an intense time of learning and practicing.
Knowing that I would be responsible for the friend’s wedding photos galvanised me to learn as much as I could (reading, talking to Pros etc)
The day itself actually went really well – so well that it encouraged we to learn even more.
While I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to book yourself as a main photographer for friends (or strangers) weddings – I do think that the principle of setting yourself an assignment and focusing upon a particular event to photograph is something that can lead to big improvements in your photography.
Other examples (most of them less pressurised) come to mind:
Photograph a road trip –driving around a region a few hours from where I live purely doing photography. I’d not done much landscape work before and it forced me to explore a new style of photography.
Attending a sporting venue taking action shots, I learned heaps that day!
Photo walks – I semi-regularly set aside a few hours to take a photo walk in a different part of my area. This is a little different to just going for a walk and taking your camera – the idea is to capture a feeling of the street/suburb etc rather than just get some exercise, use your camera if you see something interesting.
Festivals/Parades – a number of times I’ve set myself the ‘assignment’ to go and cover a festival or parade of some kind. I imagine that I’m covering the event for a news outlet and go with a photo journalistic goal of capturing the event the way a press photographer would.
Booking a portrait session with a friend.
Concerts, ask if you can obtain a pass to cover the event. The intent is to practice that type of photography.
Zoo trips, once or twice I’ve set aside an afternoon to visit the local zoo.
The aim, practising my wildlife photography (even if the wildlife was in captivity).
The list could go on. The key is to set aside time to practice a particular type of photography. Again it’s not about just having your camera with you in case something happens to use it – rather these are more intentional ‘assignments’ that you set yourself, with the intent of improving your photography.
I challenge you to set yourself a photographic assignment in the next week. Choose what you’ll do – lock it in right now! In the lead up to it do some research and preparation on the techniques that you might want to practice and then go for it.
When you’re finished, spend some time analysing your results and try to work out how you think you can improve.
As always practice and enjoy your photography.