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Five (and a Half) Ways to Vastly Improve Your Photography

Must-Have Creative Resolutions for 2021

We all had plans for 2020, right? From photographers to filmmakers to designers, 2020 was going to be our year. But, if there’s one thing the past year has taught us, it’s this: plans change. 

Although the world continues to tackle the pandemic, the initial shock of drastically changing our way of life has started to wear off. Masks, social distancing, remote work, and the absence of various high-capacity activities will be our reality for the time being. By the time New Years Eve rolled around, many were ready to face 2021 head on.

Now, there are the typical New Year’s resolutions that everyone makes but have no intention of keeping. As Mark Twain famously remarked, “thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.” Thankfully, we’re here to discuss creative resolutions that not only are reasonable; they are achievable and enjoyable. And, no need to worry if money is tight. Ninety percent of the recommendations listed below don’t involve your wallet. 

Before we jump in, here’s a quick snapshot:

  1. On Gear
  2. Lifelong Learning
  3. About Camera Settings
  4. Ditch Your Comfort Zone
  5. Creative Prep
  6. Bonus Tip

Love the Gear You Have

There are a number of reasons why one may choose to upgrade their gear. Beyond outdated and unsupported hardware, one may begin to eye new camera bodies, lenses, and more if:

  • One feels that their current gear is hindering their creative growth.
  • One wants to go pro – and the gear must match those professional aspirations. 
  • Or, A new model has hit the shelves. 

However, and this is probably the biggest understatement ever, times are different. The past 11 months have been tough and unpredictable for everyone across the creative spectrum. With that in mind, getting the most out of money you plan to spend or have already spent is crucial.

Before you take the upgrade plunge, take another hard look at everything you currently own – and we mean everything. Now is the time to take a serious inventory. After that, take a look at your photography wish list and separate those items into three categories: 

  • Need – think extra batteries, filters, memory cards, replacement or extra cables, travel tripod, and harddrives.
  • Want – Go ahead and move all that new release gear to the back burner. 
  • And, already have. This category is key

If you’ve purchased hardware in the last three or four years, odds are, there’s still plenty of creative life in them. Instead of emptying your savings account or maxing out that credit line, really dive in and discover the full potential of the gear you already have. Seriously, experiment with every setting, turn every knob, and press every button – this alone can be a rewarding and money-saving exercise. 

So now that you’ve (hopefully) decided to temporarily hold on making a substantial gear purchase, we have an idea as to how to make a fraction of your photo budget really go the distance: invest in your skills. 

Embrace Continued Study

Rather than chasing after the latest gear to get those creative juices flowing, seek out affordable and even no-cost online resources that are the real creative driving force behind the lens. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has either forced photographers out of the field or drastically reduced the amount of time spent in shoots. That means one thing – the rise of the home studio. With a long road to normalcy ahead of us, make the most of your indoor workspace by also utilizing it as a classroom. 

Let your desktop or laptop be your window to continued study via online classes. Brands and retailers alike are offering a variety of educational resources spanning just about every photography and video niche. 

If you’re looking for paid and free distance learning solutions, start with these companies and ticketing websites:

Or, if you are an educator, reconnect with students by offering one-one-one or group workshops thanks to Zoom, Google Meet, or go live on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. 

Go Manual

Now that the topics of gear and skill building have been addressed, let’s put them into action.  

Shooting in automatic mode is great for novices to get a handle on their gear. Furthermore, there are scenarios where even a professional shooter may turn to a semi or fully automatic mode. However, if you want to have total control of your final image, making the switch from automatic to manual is a must. 

In manual, photographers are able to fine tune their exposure, depth of field, color temperature, adjust their areas of focus, and more. By far, our favorite manual perk is the ability to manipulate time. Experiment with your shutter speed to create freeze frames or motion blur as well as light paintings and so much more. With manual mode, the creative possibilities are truly infinite. 

Get Uncomfortable

Life during covid has forced photographers to make the most of their surrounding environments. There is no doubt that 2020 was about adjustment, practicality, and resourcefulness. With 11-month of living with COVID now under our belt, allow us to make the following suggestion:

Shake up your current routine by changing your perspective. 

If it can be executed safely and within the recommended guidelines, do the exact opposite of your current set up. For instance, If you’ve been cooped up in the same four walls, plan accordingly to get some fresh air at a national park (insert NPEE Masterclass link here). Or, if you’ve been hitting the road for the past few months, perhaps it’s time to get reacquainted with a studio environment. 

Another great way to look through the lens with fresh eyes is to tackle a long-term personal project. Push your creative limits by finally tackling that photography book or personal brand launch you’ve been putting off. Not only will one get past the anxiety that comes with starting a new creative venture; we often discover something new about ourselves. 

Take Your Camera Everywhere

How does the old saying go? It’s better to have it and not need it than it is to need it and not have it. If you’re serious about elevating your skills and portfolio, being prepared is key.

Whether travelling by plane, train, automobile, or by foot, this is where a camera bag or backpack will come in handy. Pack the essentials and keep it light. A couple must-haves include a compact mirrorless camera body, along with a wide angle and telephoto lens , an extra battery, and ample memory cards.

Second by second, minute by minute, there are countless “Kodak” moments. With eyes open and camera in hand, you’ll not only take more pictures; you’ll view the world differently. As far as capturing that one-in-a-million shot, that’s half the battle.

Bonus: Take Your Time

Behind every photo are a series of technical and non-technical choices. With so many things to consider, it’s important not to rush when making those key decisions. Taking your time will not only reduce the need for reshoots and time spent behind a keyboard during post production; it allows one to place their focus towards creating personal, subjective images that are beyond the documentary. Take time to make art that is a vision beyond documentation. 

Equanimity by Martha Hernandez

By putting any number of these suggestions into action, one is sure to see vast improvements in composition, lighting, and, most importantly, storytelling. As Ansel Adams said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

Destiny A. Lopez About Author

Destiny A. Lopez is a writer based in Los Angeles. Destiny has previously covered pop culture, lifestyle, tech, and personal finance for various media outlets.

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