Sometimes we get stuck. Maybe it’s been years since you produced your last great work. Maybe you’ve settled into a certain style of photography, and you just need to open your eyes to see what’s possible. Every now and again, I challenge myself to create a picture that’s better than my very best. It’s the most difficult thing for me to do as a photographer, but I’ve noticed that once I cross that threshold, everything improves dramatically. Here’s how you can beat your very best.
We often get so far into a particular niche of photography that we lose sight of all the possibilities around us. For the time being, you may have exhausted whichever niche you typically shoot in. Sometimes you shoot so much of one thing that you start to get jaded and uninspired. When you can’t take the time to see what’s around you, you’ll just do what you usually do. It’s hard to improve on your best photography when you’re still shooting with the same skill set.
By learning a new niche, you effectively force yourself into a completely new way of seeing things. You’ll have no choice but to get more creative. There’s so much to learn out there. You could literally pick any theme, and you would be well on your way to improving upon your best work.
Most photographers are absolutely stunned when they see what post production techniques can do for them. The difference is like night and day. If you have never played around with Photoshop Elements or tried my Photoshop tutorials, I would highly recommend doing so. You will immediately produce your best photo ever after trying out a few simple techniques. It’s so effective I guarantee it.
Why is post-production so important? Color and sharpness are everything in photography. They can literally bring dead photos to life. Most pictures taken on point-and-shoot cameras are done using some kind of automatic mode, and automatic modes are generally bad at producing great colors. With just a few small tweaks, you can transform a boring photo into something truly outstanding.
We usually don’t even see or understand the limits we set for ourselves. That is, until we bump into someone else who lives in a totally different world than ours. A good photography mentor is miles above your skill level. The only way to feel good about hanging out with a person like that is to learn as much as you can in a very short period of time. We tend to be as good as those around us. Sometimes the best way to get your best photo is to simply put yourself in the presence of the very best. It will push you in ways you can’t quite comprehend.
Now how easy is this? I can’t really say. I will say it is a matter of showing up. Just ask your mentor where he or she is off to next and if you can join them. You don’t need to make your mentor feel like he has to teach you something. Just being around someone better than you is a lesson unto itself. Go along and observe, or offer to help with the grunt work like carrying heavy loads. That’s all you have to do.
The late Steve Jobs had an interesting thing to say about this. At the age of 12, he called up Bill Hewlett (the CEO of Hewlett-Packard), and he asked him if he could get some spare parts for a computer he was building. Now most of us would think the CEO of a large corporation wouldn’t have time for a 12 year old kid, but not so. Steve not only got the parts he needed, he got a job at HP that following summer. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Oftentimes the difference between your current best photo and the photo that will beat it is very small. Perhaps it’s a misplaced shadow. Maybe you’re missing detail in an area that could use it. These are the sorts of issues that lie outside the bounds of ordinary photography. At this level, light becomes a tool very much like paint. You have to learn how to apply it in just the right amounts in order to get the effect you want. No fine tuning means your images stay the same for years to come.
You should be happy to know that we’re currently in a lighting renaissance. The power hungry bulbs of the old days are being slowly replaced by much more efficient L.E.D. lights. L.E.D. lights are so powerful that they can produce as much light as a flash, all while consuming a lot less power. Mark my words. Flash photography will soon be a thing of the past.
If you don’t have the budget to buy a nice set of L.E.D. lights (about $300), consider starting off with some portable reflectors. They’ll help you tweak the light around you when it’s nice and sunny outside. With enough practice directing the light, you will eventually beat your best photo.
I know it’s sometimes a hassle, but I’d be foolish to tell you there isn’t some element of luck in all of this. Every once in a while, you just bump into something incredibly beautiful. If happens to be more beautiful than anything you’ve ever photographed, there you go. You’ve got your best photo ever (assuming you’ve followed the above tips).
Bring your camera everywhere and keep shooting. You might just get lucky.