Many people think the way to improve their photography is to buy more gear. In some cases, it works. Those cases are when you're trying to solve a specific problem that you've already identified and you know where the weakness is in your kit.
If you really want to know how to improve your photography without buying gear, then we have three tips (and a bonus) to help you work on your creativity instead of depending upon more gear.
Travel to Interesting Locations
A few years ago, I watched an episode of “The Grid” from KelbyOne while Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowsi were hosting the show. Scott brought up something interesting that I've never forgotten. It was so obvious, yet often overlooked.
He mentioned that Matt doesn't spend his money buying the latest lenses and other gear. Instead, he spends his money traveling to interesting placed to take landscape photos.
Matt's photos are wonderful. Check out his portfolio site to see examples of his work.
All the fancy gear in the world won't do a bit of good if you don't have something interesting to put in front of it. I know, because I live in Orlando. While there are some interesting opportunities here, there are a couple of problems.
First, Central Florida isn't really a landscape destination. Many people come here for bird photography, but that's not my thing. I get no joy from sitting in a swamp waiting to photograph the same birds that routinely crap on my driveway. Herons, Ibis, Eagles, etc. People actually fly thousands of miles to photograph the same birds that crap on my driveway.
Just this morning, a flock of two dozen White Ibis were lunching on my front lawn after a rain storm. Some bird photographers would salivate at that prospect, but this is a daily occurrence for me. Don't even get me started about those obnoxious Sandhill Cranes and the racket they make.
Sooner or later, you exhaust the locations in your area. In order to progress, you go somewhere else to get fresh photos. Even if you've seen them a million times in other photos, they're fresh for you. How will you make your own mark on an iconic location or subject?
Buy or Create Interesting Sets
Not every photographer needs to travel. Sometimes you get your new environment by creating it. This could range from a new portrait set to crafting a new table-top environment.
Lee routinely visits craft and art stores like Joannes and Michaels looking for fresh ideas. New seasons bring out a need for different colors, fabrics or set pieces.
Not all set pieces are physical. If you're into compositing, you could take your photos on a seamless grey background and add them to a different scene.
Sometimes I go around capturing interesting locations just so I can use them later in a composite photo. They could be backgrounds or just elements that I cut out and insert into the final image. It can be as simple as a portrait or a complicated story photo with plenty of elements.
Collaborate With Other People
One of my favorite aspects of portrait photography is that it pretty much requires collaboration, selfies not withstanding. I'm not just talking about working with your favorite subject. You can also collaborate with har and makeup artists, fashion designers, set designers and body painters. Food photographers can work with food stylists. Interior designers can help architectural or real estate photographers.
There are plenty of models in the world who want to collaborate, but I'm enjoying working with athletes. These folks have some advantages over models for portrait photographers.
They're interesting and attract viewers. They often have a need for fresh photos and are willing to pay for them. In fact, some of the fitness competition athletes I've met paid a LOT of money for photos that I consider to be nothing more than snapshots.
Collaboration doesn't have to be with people who are in your photos or helping you create one. Sometimes it's good to have a social time out with other photographers. You'll learn new things from each other. All you have to do is pay attention.
How Jordan Matter Collaborates with Dancers
Jordan Matter is a popular dance photographer, with nearly 1.6 million subscribers on YouTube. Part of that is due to his energy and his skill as a photographer.
However, I think a big part of it is because he collaborates with interesting and very talented dancers. He travels the world, and he uses interesting locations as backgrounds for his photos.
I'm sharing a few of his popular videos on YouTube to give you an idea of how to improve your photography by working with others and traveling to interesting places.
How to Improve Your Photography By Seeing Opportunities Around You
I love new gear, but that isn't always what matters. In most cases, it's what you do with it that matters. There are opportunities surrounding us, so don't get too caught up in new gear hoping that's what will make all of the difference.
There's a story I heard some time ago about musicians who come across Eddie Van Halen's guitar on stage.
Van Halen has a unique and fascinating sound, so everyone naturally gets drawn to his guitar so they can feel some of that magic. What they find instead is that his 5150 guitar is pretty crappy. He's cobbled together various bits and pieces, but mostly it just comes across as a piece of junk.
When other guitarists pick up Eddie's guitar, it doesn't sound like Eddie at all. It just sounds like a regular electric guitar. When the other guitarists seem confused, a roadie tells them this:
It's not the guitar. It's how you touch the strings.
In other words, the magic is in Eddie, not his gear. Eddie since moved on to new guitars, but he still has his sound. It's not about the gear, but what you can do with it.
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