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The ultimate quest for any photographer is to convey his or her feelings about the subject in a photograph. To make the photograph more interesting than what was photographed. It’s the most important thing you can spend your time and money working on. Not more gear, more software, or more tools simply because they exist. 

Focusing on the tools lets you avoid the real challenge of saying something meaningful with your images. It lets you hide behind the technology and the camera bag. It lets you avoid the hard question; what story are you sharing?

So how do you learn to convey your feelings in your images? There isn’t one single answer to this question, but here is as strong foundation you can start with. 

  • Mastery of the camera and basic photographic principles (a skill you can learn.)
  • Solid understanding of visual design and compositional principles (another skill you can learn.)
  • A deep emotional connection to your subject matter. (Read that again and think deeply about what that means.)

These all have to work together, but each has to be optimized individually before they can work in harmony. Sounds straight forward enough except for that fact in order to improve you have to let go of judgment. That is the secret that you have to come to terms with. Working on each of these areas so that they become intuitive doesn’t lead to successful images at first. There’s no instant gratification. There’s not even delayed gratification. There’s simply the process of learning and internalizing new skills. 

In other words, working on technique alone will not yield successful images because this lacks the other two ingredients listed above. But it does lead to a confidence level with your camera that begins to build a solid foundation. When you work on composition, you concentrate on composition. The lens choice or aperture setting is second nature because you already devoted the time to make that empowering, not stressful. 

Before you can write poetry, you need to learn grammar, word definitions, etc. Imagine if you simply continued to write poems without knowing what the words meant. You might write an occasional good poem, but it would be hit or miss at best, and you wouldn’t have any consistency in your work. You also wouldn’t have a sense of creative direction or the confidence to work outside your comfort zone. 

Think deeply about what specific area(s) you feel you are weakest in and develop that alone. Not sure? Ask for help. Seek out honest feedback. Look at photographs that you really like and ask yourself what element is missing in your work. Adopt a growth mindset.

Forget about making great images and work on taking the actions that create confidence in each area. Before you realize it, you’ll be writing poems instead of learning grammar. Or in our case becoming more confident about your ability to share the stories you care most about.

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