Once again, let me start this by saying I am not an expert and I'm sure there are a million highly qualified photographers who could give you much better advice than I'm about to. I still have a lot of my own growing to do so I can only tell you what's worked for me and what I try to tell people when they ask how they can improve their skills. So here's what I've learned along the way that's helped me the most:
1. GET RID OF FEAR ASAP
When I first picked up my camera three years ago, I strictly took photos of things I saw around Philly. That usually included flowers, buildings, cute dogs, but rarely ever people. If I could sneak in a quick, discreet street portrait, I would but often times, I was too worried they were going to see me taking the photo so I never even tried. That's why my first tip is to get rid of fear when you're behind the camera. Pretend it's an invisibility cloak and no one can see you when it's in your hands. There are soooooo many shots I wish I took after the fact but was too afraid to press the shutter button. This also applies when taking portraits. I would be afraid to ask a model to do a certain pose or tell them specifically what I wanted because I didn't want to be seen as weird or demanding. Ultimately, you just have to say "f*ck that!" and keep it moving. Your art is the only thing that suffers when fear is in the equation. I could do a whole post on just letting fear hold you back because it finds its way into all aspects of your work when you let it. I've let fear hold me back (& still do from time to time but I'm working on it) from reaching out to that model I really wanted to shoot with or shooting at a location where there might be a possibility of someone confronting me. I won't pretend like I'm magically fearless but fake it til you make it. The more I've done things outside of my comfort zone, the easier it's becoming. Use that weird prop. So what if your edit is extra as hell? Who cares if people watch as you shoot at that location? Create what makes you happy and ignore the voice in your head.
2. PRACTICE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!
For better or worse, you will see a difference in your work whether you shoot once a day or once a month. Now realistically, life gets busy and shooting every day just isn's always possible. Shoot when you have time to shoot but also make the time to shoot! On a nice day, spent 10-20 mins of your lunch break and walk around the block. Take a few photos, edit them and then repeat the next day. Now that it's Spring, use the extended daylight to your advantage! Shoot after work, shoot before work if you work nights, shoot during your break, just shoot!!! Even if you never post them on social media, I promise you it will help. If you're to the point of shooting with other people/models, don't stick to just one person you're comfortable with. Reach out to new people, even if it's just a quick 20 minute shoot. You'll learn so much more by doing than you will from watching Youtube tutorials (even though they're extremely helpful!) or wishing you were as good as *insert your favorite photographer*. You'll surprise yourself!
3. ANGLES, ANGLES, ANGLES!
Most tutorials or photography tips I've read say the most flattering angle to shoot a portrait at is from above with your camera slightly angled down. While that may be great and all as a general rule of thumb, it can quickly get boring so experiment with different angles! Nine times out of ten, I'm shorter than my model so I use that to my advantage. You can also ask any model I've worked with and they'll tell you at some point during our shoot I was on the ground. I absolutely love shooting from lower angles to give the portrait a feeling of power and control. The angle of the shot can change the entire mood, even if the styling and background stays the same. If there's something for you to step on, get higher than your model. Then have them stand higher than you are or hold your camera all the way to the ground. This also ties into the first tip but it's okay to look crazy! People walking by will wonder why you're sitting on the ground or why you're folded up like a pretzel but those people won't matter when you go to edit that fire shot and feel incredible! Just keep trying different angles and distances. Get super close to your model, then step a few feet back. That one shot where you're feeling ridiculous might be your best one from the shoot!
4. FOLLOW PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE YOU!
This may sound unnecessary in the world of social media because we're all following tons of people we wish we could be like, right? While that's true, make sure those people are truly inspiring you with the art they create, not just putting out content for followers. It's such an easy trap to fall into because seeing someone with tons of followers and likes, we automatically assume they must be creating great work but for me personally, I try to analyze WHY I follow the people I do. After a few weeks or so, I ask myself, "what about their work makes me want to better my own?" Is it the fact they do a lot of studio work while I tend to shoot mostly outdoors? I want to eventually work on my own studio shoots so seeing their studio work pushes me closer and closer to actually do it. If it's just the fact they work with a lot of models I'd like to work with one day or they have access to resources I'd love to have, I end up unfollowing shortly after because that energy does not inspire me, it only breeds envy and I have to cut that out as soon as I recognize it. Not in a fake deep way, but it's so important to analyze & filter the content you allow to influence you.
5. NEVER STOP LEARNING
This is super cheesy but there's always something new to learn. Whether you're a photographer who things they've perfected their craft, learn how to create videos, or if you only do landscapes, start shooting some portraits. By constantly taking yourself outside of what you already know, you'll find new things to apply to your work, even if you don't start with that intention. If you always edit a certain way, go beyond that and learn a new style. If you always post in color, try to edit a whole set in black and white. Just never settle for good enough. For me, watching youtube videos from my favorite photographers always pushes me to learn more. Some of my favorites include Jessica Kobessi, Jana Williams, and Mango Street. For some reason, I tend to learn better from female photographers but definitely find some channels you like and keep up with them. Even though certain challenges (I'm looking at you, Hobby Lobby) can be overdone and repetitive, seeing what types of videos and challenges these photographers come up with keep me on my toes and I want to try different locations and props for myself. One of my favorite things to incorporate into my photography right now are prisms. Whether it's a traditional prism you'd find in a science class or a crystal you found in an antique shop, I'm constantly thinking of things I can use to create cool effects in my photos, ways to make my photos stand out or things to use outside of their intended purpose. At the end of the day, photography is art and there is no one right way to do anything. There's no magic formula for creating an interesting photo so keep pushing until you stumble upon your own cool technique.
Ultimately, you have to figure out what works best for you. Maybe when I'm shooting with Beyonce and traveling the world as her personal photographer, I'll be able to tell you exactly what works and what doesn't but until then, I'm just winging it. That's the secret tip. Just wing it.