It’s a brand-new year and the perfect time to begin thinking how 2019 can be the best year yet. If you are anything like me, you’ve probably put a lot of thought in to this already. While I’ve made the usual list of goals around travel and staying healthy, I’ve also put some thought into how I can improve my photography this year.
These thoughts range from experimenting with different composition methods to using prime lenses, but I’ll go into more detail on them below. My hope by sharing them is that you might take some inspiration from them, and maybe even incorporate some of them into your own plans for this year.
So without further ado, here are the 5 things I plan to do this year to improve my photography.
1. Experiment More with Composition
Like most beginners, when I started I had absolutely no concept of what good composition was. If any of my photographs fit one of the many composition rules it was by complete chance. A year on and I still don’t use more than maybe a few concepts, but that is going to change this year.
So far I have focused mainly on the rule of thirds and in some cases, looking for leading lines. This year I am going to begin looking for things like foreground interests and creating symmetry in my photographs. This will also open up a few new techniques which I haven’t used too much such as focus stacking.
If you aren’t familiar with the different composition methods, take a look here for a list of composition ideas. Get familiar with these and try to focus on a few of them at first until you are comfortable. I found this was easiest and stopped me getting overwhelmed while trying to compose my photographs. By trying a few of these, you’ll be surprised how quickly you are able to improve your photography.
2. Getting Comfortable With Manual Mode
Ugh, the dreaded manual mode! I didn’t use this mode at all within my first 6 months doing photography. And when I did, boy did I take some terrible photographs at first! Underexposed…overexposed…blurred….but like the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.
Although I’ve been taking steps towards using manual mode more over the last few months, I’ve included it here as it’s going to be a focus this year. Being more of a landscape and cityscape photographer, one of the benefits I’ve found using manual mode is that it slows down the photo taking process. It gives me time to really think about how I want to capture what is in front of me.
I can ask myself questions such as:
- Do I need to capture motion in this image? (Shutter Speed)
- Do I want to isolate my subject or do I want sharpness front to back (Aperture)
- What ISO do I need to achieve the above and minimise noise?
This is a very simplistic list but hopefully it highlights a few of the things you should be thinking about when composing a photograph.
If manual mode is completely new to you give it a try! Yes, you will take photographs you aren’t happy with but so does everyone (all the time by the way!). What is important is that you take the time to experiment and build a good understanding of how ISO, shutter speed and aperture work. This will help you improve your photography (and hopefully mine) in the long term.
3. Getting Out More for Sunrise/Sunset
Part of this one could be a bit tricky for me as I am not really a morning person and love sleep! So getting out of bed for sunrise is going to be a bit of a pain. Having said that, it is no secret that the best light for photography is often found around sunrise and sunset. It is at these times where you will see fiery yellow and red skies but also softer light hitting whatever your subject may be. And this type of light can make the difference between a good photo, and a great photo.
As I mentioned before, I do landscape photography mainly so this may not apply to you if you only do studio photography. But even if you do, I’d encourage you to go and try other things. You’ll likely find more cross over than you think.
While there is nothing wrong with taking photographs in the middle of the day, I would encourage you to get out for sunrise and sunset. Even if it means the odd early morning and late night, it will be worth it in the end.
4. Trying out Prime Lenses
If you have taken a look at my gear page you’ll see that I do not currently own a prime lens. I rely solely on my Sigma 17-50 f2.8 which I bought to replace the kit lens that came with my camera. But this year, that is going to change.
There are several “advantages” prime lens have over zoom lens such as sharpness and other things which I won’t go into here. The big advantage I see however might seem a bit counterproductive to you. And that is a primes ability to challenge you creatively. See, I told you it was a bit backwards, but hear me out.
My thinking is that if you want to get closer to a subject with a zoom lens it isn’t too hard. You simply zoom in or out from the subject. The effort to do this is minimal and you don’t need to move too much. With a prime lens however, you do not have this option. You have to physically move around your subject to experiment with other compositions. What I am hoping is that this will force me to consider other angles and compositions that I might not have considered before. And this will be all because I am limited to one focal length.
Currently, I am considering the Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX as opposed to the “Nifty 50” but haven’t made a firm decision on this yet. Once I have, I’ll be sure to write a post on my experiences of shooting with prime lenses.
5. Making a List of 2019 “Bucket Shots” and planning to take them
Rather than thinking of locations I want to visit and photograph this year, I’ve tried to go a step further and plan some specific shots. This for me takes my thinking away from just considering the location, but also the conditions I want to capture. I’ve put a few examples from my “bucket list” below so you can see what I mean:
- The sunrise through Durdle Door
- Milky Way over Durdle Door (Possible in June/July Yearly)
- Riomaggiore at Sunset
- Milky Way at Kielder Observatory
- Lone Tree at Buttermere Lake – Lake District
This isn’t a complete list but should give you an idea of what I mean. By planning more than just the location, you can start to think about when you need to visit these places and what compositions you might want to consider. Another tip is to do research for new places before you visit somewhere so you are not overwhelmed. I use Instagram and Pinterest a lot when researching new places and I’d advise you to do the same. Just to clarify, I am not saying copy other people’s photographs here! This is purely to give you some ideas for things you might want to try.
If you have any additional ideas on how you are planning to improve your photography this year, I’d love to here them so please post them in the comments below. If you have found this useful, I’d love it if you could share this article.