It's too bad that photographers aren't required to log in hours on the job, just like somebody working on their pilot's license and needing to spend a certain amount of time in the air! Just think how much we could raise the quality of so many different artists if they had to practice more before they were allowed to go public.
Nothing trumps experience as a professional photographer, and I compare it a lot to my experience over the years scuba diving. The more time I spent in the water and the more people I dove with, the better my skill set became.
Here are some ideas to help you log in more hours:
- Second Shoot: Too many people think being a second shooter is only for beginners. The truth is; second shooting is like playing tennis with somebody better than you. Your game improves as well. So many of today's most respected icons second shoot several times a year with other photographers. It might simply be a big event, and the primary photographer needs help. Most often though, they're looking to stay sharp and keep fine-tuning their skills.
- Hire a Model or Two: Don't be afraid to hire a model or two and just get out there and practice. You've got to know your gear, lighting, exposure and composition without hesitation when something goes wrong, or you just might want to experiment with your skill set.
- Rent Gear: It's rare that everybody has everything they need in equipment, but that doesn't mean you can't rent gear and get to know other cameras, lenses and lights.
- Call in Your Friends: Friends make great models because they're real, and they have no idea what they're doing. Don't be afraid to create a family for a portrait session. You're looking to practice and who better than family and friends who care about you?
- Hands-on Workshops: Attend every hands-on workshop you can make. You want to gain the experience and understanding of the best way to create the finest images. A great class not only gives you that exposure, but expands your network.
- Attend ShutterFest: It might seem like a random plug, but I've never been involved in a convention more focused on helping photographers raise the bar, especially when it comes to hands-on practice and shooting. At ShutterFest you can "rent a human" with dozens of models; you can borrow studio lights to get experience with lighting and friends to network with and exchange ideas. Plus, you've got some of the finest artists in the industry as instructors and available to answer questions at almost any time.
- Enter Print Competition: I'm convinced it's one of the very best learning experiences out there. First, you tend to look at an image differently when you're entering it in competition. Second, pay attention to the judges' comments. It's a great learning experience.
- Examine Your Past Images: Look at other images you've taken in the past and analyze them yourself. How could you have made a particular image stronger?
- Practice, Practice, Practice: I love this short video from my good buddy, Roberto Valenzuela. Just watch it and you'll see what I mean. I know it's four years old and was an infomercial for an upcoming workshop at that time, but he does a terrific job of making the point about practicing your technique with ordinary items.
- Watch a Wedding Video: Watch the video that was done from a past wedding or event you photographed. It's a great way to catch things you might have missed.
- Start Shooting for a Special Project: Come up with a project that involves a subject you enjoy photographing and then turn it into a daily or weekly challenge. Special projects help you stay focused on your passion for the craft and your creativity, regardless of what kind of work pays the bills. Plus, at some point you're going to have a body of work that might become a great book, gallery exhibit or maybe just a milestone marker about a turning point in your career.