Celebrating World Photography Day – five ways to boost your photography skills

By Geoff Harris

Today marks World Photography Day where photographers all over the world celebrate their passion.

It’s also a great opportunity to reconsider how you are approaching your own photography, and go about raising your skill levels. Here are some practical ideas and suggestions.

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1. Take inspiration from the past

Don McCullin, arguably the greatest living British photographers, has spoken about having a ‘database’ of great images in his head.

All through his career, Don has devoured the work of other great photographers, from whom he continues to take inspiration and ideas. He doesn’t copy great images from the past, that would be pointless, but getting a sense of how other photographers have approached a particular subject in the past can be very useful.

Check out his wonderfully moody black and white landscapes, for example, the flawless compositional skills of Henri Cartier Bresson, or the wealth of practical tips from Michael Freeman. A lot of great photography can be easily referenced online, or older photography books can be picked up fairly cheaply. Try and visit exhibitions regularly too.

The Magnum Photos site is a great source of classic photography ideas

2. Do a photography course

Why not use World Photography Day to do a photography course with a well-respected tutor? There are now lots of very reasonably priced options. It’s a great way to get feedback on your images in a very structured environment by doing a photography course, and to get the opinions of other students. Often we are too close to our work, and find it difficult to be objective about what is working and what isn’t – that is why newspapers and press agencies employ professional picture editors to choose pictures to publish.

Another good way to raise your skills is to try and get a photo distinction, such as those offered by the RPS or other photography associations. You’ll get plenty of feedback and tips, and the satisfaction of getting some letters after your name!

Learning with Experts tutor Michael Freeman

3. Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you

Improving your photography is NOT about simply buying a technically better camera. If it was as simple as that, the advent of digital cameras, with their incredible autofocus and low-light capabilities, would have introduced a golden age of great photography, and it hasn’t been as straightforward as that.

A skilled photographer can take a memorable image on an old film camera, a phone, or the latest high-end mirrorless cameras. It’s not about the gear.

It’s about developing a keen sense of composition, deepening your understanding of the infinite possibilities of light, and so on. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking upgrading your camera and lens will necessarily upgrade your skills. Your money may be better spent doing a photography course, for example, or funding a trip to a very photogenic location.

Rather than succumbing to Gear Acquisition Syndrome, an inspiring photo trip might be a better use of your money

4. Try shooting film, or using a small memory card

It is very easy with digital cameras to get trigger happy, and become overwhelmed by the number of pictures you end up shooting. Sometimes, having to wade through gigabytes of images can be quite dispiriting, and images just end up sitting on a memory card.

Why not try to take FEWER images, but of a higher quality. Shooting film can help with this, as you often are limited to 36 exposures, and film is not particularly cheap; another option is to use a much smaller memory card on your digital camera. Slowing down, and checking all four edges of the frame before you take the picture to avoid distractions or unnecessary elements, can really make a difference.

Shoot film for a while, or use a smaller memory card, to focus on quality rather than quantity

5. Edit (and print) more pictures

If you have lots of old images sitting around on a memory card or hard disk, why not use World Photography Day to work back through them and clear the backlog? There might have been some real ‘keepers’ in there which you missed.

When you’re happy with an image, print it too – this gives a better sense of how well an image works in terms of composition, and can also show up any problems like oversharpening (look for blurry edges or haloes) or excessive digital noise.

It’s also important to print images for future generations – one big worry about the digital photography age is that a lot of images will disappear, as they never emerge from memory cards or other forms of digital storage.

All digital photographers should be printing more

If you're looking to do more with your photography, join Michael Freeman in his online Photography Foundation classroom today. The course covers all aspects of composition, and is designed to be the basis for further courses of any kind in photography.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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