Photography is an expensive business.
First, we have to invest in a camera, then a range of lenses because unfortunately there is not a one-size-fits-all lens option.
Then of course we begin to feel we have outgrown our first lenses so there comes a temptation to look for sharper or more versatile or more specialised lenses, and it can become a never-ending pursuit of better gear so that we can make better pictures.
I constantly come back to the situation where I feel that my photography has come to a standstill, I am not able to make images that I like, and I become frustrated with my progress at improving my photography.
Like many people I am initially tempted to blame my camera gear, thinking that if I had a better camera or some new lenses it would make a difference.
I have on occasion bought a new lens for this reason, and of course it didn’t work!
I now have all the lenses I need (some bought second-hand from my local camera shop) and I am certain that a new one will not improve my photography in any way, despite all the advertisements telling me that I must have this new lens or that new lens!
The next thing I often think about to improve my photography is to take another photography course.
I might decide that a landscape photography course or a street photography course will give me a new perspective. It might well do so, but I have taken some courses and while they have been helpful, they are expensive and best reserved for a time when I know I can really benefit from the type of course on offer.
So, how do we improve our photography without spending money that may be in scarce supply or needed for other things?
I have found a few solutions to this question.
1. Try something different
When I started in photography, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to shoot so I took a mixture of different types of photographs, mostly items of interest that I saw around me.
I progressed to street photography, a genre I really enjoyed, but with the pandemic restrictions I was forced to abandon my trips around crowded streets capturing candid shots.
I enjoy taking candid shots and look forward to doing more of this type of photography.
When travel was permitted after the Covid lockdowns, I revisited my interest in landscape photography from years ago and found that, although I didn’t have most of the lenses required for good landscape photography, I enjoyed it and I made the most of the equipment I did have.
As expected though, I did find that my landscape photography was hampered by not having the correct lenses, tripod and filters which seemed to be requirements for this type of photography.
I decided that, rather than shell out huge sums of money for lenses and other equipment for landscape photography, and since there were still some travel restrictions, I would try my hand at woodland photography as there are several woodlands near my home.
As I mentioned in another post, I had been reluctant to do woodland photography because I wasn’t sure how to compose an image in a chaotic woodland scene, and my first images almost made me give up in despair.
I was unable to pick out anything interesting and I felt that my liking for minimalist photography was really challenged.
I started to follow woodland photographers such as Mads Peter Iversen and Simon Baxter on YouTube and began to learn some composition techniques and some ways to simplify images, even amidst the busy woodland landscape.
I now enjoy this type of photography and I feel it has much more to teach me as each season offers something different and unique for the photographer.
While most of my photography is now landscape of one type or another, I find that when I alternate between large vistas, woodland and seascape I don’t allow myself to get bored with any of them and I find that there is enough learning to do using the camera and lenses that I have.
2. Get creative
Along with landscape photography I have discovered an interest in abstract photography and ICM (intentional camera movement). These can be practised in the woods, by the sea, in a garden, along a riverbank; in fact, abstract images can be created almost anywhere.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of doing abstract photography is that it allows you to express yourself in a creative way.
There are no rules and there are ample opportunities to experiment, discover new possibilities and get creative with your camera.
These images were made in my garden with a basic DSLR camera and kit lens and simply involved turning the lens during exposure.
This image was created from a stone and some surrounding bracken, using Slow Shutter Cam app on my phone.
Abstract photography needs no special equipment therefore there are no additional costs.
It can become a passion on its own, or it can be an extra aspect to your regular portfolio images.
3. Be inspired
Inspiration comes in many ways and from many different people and, with technology at our disposal we can choose what we want, when we want, and view most of it for free.
I have found that watching professional photographers on their YouTube channels is a terrific way to discover which photographers appeal to you in terms of their outlook, presentation style and the images they produce.
There are photographers who share their expertise, those who share their enthusiasm, those who provide guidance, and those who just invite you along to watch them at work.
There are many photographers working on YouTube who gear their videos to those of us who want to improve in certain genres, and they do provide worthwhile, inspirational content.
When you make a start with one photographer you will quickly discover others. Some will appeal to you, some won’t.
But watching is free so you have nothing to lose.
Another way of improving photography through inspiration is reading about, or viewing in book form, the work of past or contemporary photographers whose photography appeals to you.
Exhibitions (often free) or online viewing platforms allow you to learn from the masters.
I find that when I view good photography my eye subconsciously becomes attuned to strong composition and pleasing images and gives me the incentive to try to emulate that in my own work.
4. Use your phone camera
Although watching ads for the newest and best smartphone cameras might tempt us into believing that we need them, there really is no need to have the latest and greatest phone to get decent photos.
Many times, I have been convinced by the sales hype and rave reviews that a better phone will give me better pictures. Yet every time I have upgraded to a phone with its better camera, I have discovered that if my ability to compose a good photograph has not improved, then the latest phone camera will not do that for me.
I have started to hold back until my phone battery has deteriorated until I upgrade, not because I want a ‘better’ camera.
Your phone camera will help you improve your photography as it allows you to take advantage of the many photo opportunities that come along every day.
I love to capture tranquil scenes such as this one and I'm glad that the iPhone works well in low light.
There are also several apps, that can be downloaded free or for a minimal cost, that allow you to do many of the things that you can do with your camera, such as change shutter speed and ISO.
ProCamera 2 and Slow Shutter Cam are two such apps that have been around for a while, and a new app called Reeflex has been getting some good reviews.
With all the upgrades in terms of apps, and more coming on stream all the time, you really do have a great camera in your pocket without needing to upgrade to the latest expensive phone.
This post outlines 6 resources that I have found useful for improving my phone photography.
5. Take a photo every day
One of the easiest ways to become disillusioned by your photography output is when there isn’t enough of it.
I was sporadic in my photography outings until I discovered that I missed going out with my camera on the days that I didn’t go out, and that I felt much better mentally on the days I did.
Which left me with a clear solution – get out every day and take at least one photo.
Even if it’s a photo you will later delete, even if it’s a photo taken with your phone - take a photo every day.
Capture different subjects, from different perspectives.
Capture things you never thought of capturing before.
Don’t worry about sharing them, just capture the things you love.
Experiment with composition, light, atmosphere, mood, weather, location and time of day.
Then go back to the computer and try out some different editing techniques.
Take a photo every day and you will realise that your photography is improving, and it has cost you nothing except shoe leather!
Photography is undoubtedly an expensive pursuit.
It can seem that to improve at photography we need to spend a lot of money to have the latest ‘gear’.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Through regular practise, challenging ourselves to look at alternative ways of doing things, constantly experimenting and learning from those who do photography best, we can use the equipment that we have at our disposal to increase our skill set, become more creative and to grow as photographers, without needing to spend a lot of money to do so.
YOU MIGHT LIKE TO WATCH:
In this YouTube video photographer James Popsys shows how to make the best of a photography shoot with an Instax film camera and just 10 shots!