Photography can be a slow process, with lots to learn and improve upon and many mistakes made along the way. As such, it can be hard to tell if and how you’re improving. Here are five signs that you are becoming a better photographer.
1. You Read the Image and Edit With a Purpose
When you’re first starting out, you probably find yourself moving the sliders and editing tools in Lightroom or whatever program you’re using a bit arbitrarily, testing adjustments out and slowly piecing the edit together as you happen upon changes that you like. This is entirely normal, as the bevy of adjustments you can make on an image can take a lot of time both to understand and to intuitively use in combination with one another. If you watch experienced photographers, however, you’ll notice that they’re much more deliberate in their editing. They can look at an image and analyze it in their head to know exactly what adjustments they’d like to make — things like raising the shadows, adding contrast, and adjusting white balance.
Developing this skill is important for two main reasons: efficiency and consistency. In terms of efficiency, when you can quickly read an image, you can dial in the desired/needed edits immediately instead of happening upon them through trial and error, which can drastically cut down the amount of time you spend on larger sets. In terms of consistency, you end up with a lot more variability in your portfolio when you’re taking semi-random routes in your editing.
That’s not to say arbitrarily playing with the sliders is always a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s good to experiment and see what happens. But having the ability to see an image and know exactly what you want to do to it and how to accomplish that is a sign of maturity as a photographer.
2. You Previsualize Images
When you were first starting in photography, how often did you think of an image in your head, then do everything you needed to to create it, rather than hoping to happen upon a great photo? One of the marks of a good photographer is the ability to pick up a camera already knowing what they want the final image to look like and how to get there. For a landscape photographer, this might mean finding a scene you like, then carefully figuring out when the sun will be in the right position in the sky and coming back at that time. For a portrait photographer, this might mean knowing the sort of mood you want to render your subject in, and being able to quickly dial in the lighting setup that matches your creative vision. If you notice yourself searching for images less and acting in a more deliberate and directed manner with your camera, that’s a very good sign. If not, that’s ok too. It’s great to explore, and you can take time to begin thinking about creating more intentional photos.
3. Spray and Pray
I’ll be honest: my first headshot session, I photographed eight volunteers, and I shot all of them on burst mode, hoping statistics would take over and I’d come home with one lucky shot of each of them. I remember coming home with well over 2,000 images. It was an absolutely ridiculous way to operate, and it created a ton of unnecessary work. I also left the ISO at 3,200 by accident, but that’s a different story.
It’s totally common to “spray and pray” when you’re a beginner, as you simply haven’t developed the eye and timing for the right images yet. It’s not even necessarily a bad thing, as you’ll get plenty of raw data in the form of lots of images to begin to understand what works and what doesn’t. Where it can become a problem is if you never move past it. If you find yourself coming home with less images, but more keepers, that’s a great sign that you’re becoming a discerning and capable photographer.
4. You Don’t Blame the Gear
Photographers of all levels love to think that if they just had that better autofocus or that sharper lens, their images would take a major step forward. I’ll be the first to say that I think the whole “gear doesn’t matter” mantra is a gross oversimplification, and there are most assuredly situations where gear can make the difference between getting or missing the shot. That being said, many photographers vastly underestimate how much they can improve their photos by keeping their current gear and working on their technique. If you find that when an image doesn’t turn out the way you hoped that your first instinct is to evaluate where your technique or creative vision went wrong instead of blaming the gear (unless it truly was a situation where your equipment was at fault), that’s an important sign of maturity as a photographer, especially since it’ll help you grow much more quickly when you can be honest about yours skills and actively improve yourself.
5. You’re Consistent
Any photographer can occasionally create a good image. A great photographer can create excellent images no matter the conditions, the lighting, the setbacks, etc. You’ll hear longtime professional photographers often say that their job primarily consists of problem-solving skills. Clients expect good images, period. If you find yourself not being stopped by whatever issues arise during a shoot and instead coming up with whatever solution is necessary to get the image, and you find the look of your portfolio becoming more and more consistent with a strong, developed style, it’s a great sign that you’re reaching a high level of capability and maturity as a photographer.
Developing as a photographer can be a slow, arduous road, and as such, it can be hard to see how you’re truly progressing and improving as time goes on. It’s important to take time to check in, nonetheless, not only to find areas where you can improve, but simply to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back once in a while. Have you noticed signs of improvement in your own work? Share what you’ve noticed in the comments!