One of the common mantras passed down to people wanting to improve their photography is to just start taking more pictures. While going out and snapping a bunch of photos is not going to instantly improve your photos, there's no way around putting in the work. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect (if there's even such thing as perfection in photography). However, the quality of that practice matters just as much as the frequency of it. With today's smartphones, specifically the iPhone, not being able to take a stellar photo really cannot be attributed to the quality of the camera or tools available. Take it from Ken Rockwell, that your camera doesn't matter:
Why is it that with over 60 years of improvements in cameras, lens sharpness and film grain, resolution and dynamic range that no one has been able to equal what Ansel Adams did back in the 1940s?
There's also tons of storage available either on your iPhone or micro SD card, so that can't be an excuse either. So whether you're shooting with your iPhone, film or digital SLR, a rangefinder or not, focus on the basic techniques around composition, exposure or depth of field. When I first took an interest in photography, I literally googled depth of field and read the wikipedia article. The next day, I started shooting in aperture priority mode on my Nikon D5100 DSLR and was amazed with how much creativity could be had in freezing a moment in time.
Since that day, I've made a conscious effort to deliberately practice the art of photography every day. The difference between shooting a bunch of pictures and deliberately practicing techniques around photography is what makes a person a better photographer. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, explains it best:
People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from a normal performance the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. [...] We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.
It's a well known fact that many of the geniuses of our world, went about their work in mass quantity to create a very few memorable things. Picasso painted thousand of pictures; Einstein ran through a thousand ideas; Steven King wrote at least 2,000 words a day; and you can go on and on with examples.
It's no different with photography. So here's my photography project for you and myself:
- Shoot a minimum of 15 pictures a day, 5 days a week. At 75 pictures a week, that's just over 2 rolls of 36 exposure film.
- When it's night and the light is hiding, read up on various techniques so that you can practice them the next week/month.
- Focus on one basic technique at a time. Whether a composition technique (Rule of Thirds), exposure technique (Sunny 16) or capturing bokeh flirting with depth of field, just pick one.
- Think more about the shot. Think before you pull the camera up, while you're freezing the moment, and immediately after you've fired the shutter.
And just remember one of my favorite Ansel Adams quotes below.