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There are no shortcuts to mastering photography. It takes hard work and repetition. But along the way, there are some little things that separate the good from the great. Beyond tehcnical skills and theory, it’s about tapping into something deeper to create that elusive “wow” effect.
Here are some foundational principles for honing your craft.
Find your niche
Photography is an incredibly broad field, but standing out is about working on the nitty-gritty. While a firm grasp of general photography is of course helpful, most successful photographers specialize in one or two areas, and focus on the visual vocabularies of their specific playing fields. To solve problems and rise above the rest, don't be a generalist; learn the tricks of the trade that pertain your specialties.
Mind the broader picture
Perhaps just as important as your grasp on the technical aspects of photography is your understanding of its requirements and purpose in its various applications. While you will can easily find tutorials on camera operation, context takes more research and perhaps, continued formal education. Well-structured curriculums focus both on hands-on technical training and on understanding the very nature of modern communications and photography’s place within. This second aspect will be of great help in articulating your own visual message.
Are there photographers out there whom you respect and admire, or who simply do some things better than you? Try to analyze the specific ways in which they achieve those results. Even if you don’t understand the technical process behind a certain effect, or don’t have the right vocabulary to replicate it, you can learn a lot a a basic visual and intuitive level. Once you know what you’re going for, experiment with your own process, and seek peer advice on the technical aspects. Every new attempt is a learning process, so try, try again.
Broaden your approach
You’re probably not taking pictures at random, but focusing on everyday work, with concrete goals. But try to approach your work as a series of studies of specific topics, or techniques, or themes. Approaching the same problem from a number of different angles will clear the picture on what works better and, over time, make your process faster and more efficient — especially once you have an arsenal of useful little tricks.
And most importantly… enjoy the process!
Jennifer Hahn Masterson is a seasoned freelance visual designer and digital nomad. When she's not busy pondering the design principles of unity, space, hierarchy, balance, contrast, scale, and similarity, she likes to immerse herself in a good book and satisfy her perpetual wanderlust. You can check her out on Twitter.