Ways to Improve Your Photography
If you spend much time reading online photography discussions, you'll find that many people are looking for ways to get better images. When you get right down to it, most of their strategies boil down to one of the following.
Buy a New Camera
OK, it doesn't have to be a new camera, but it's easy to feel that it's your equipment that is holding you back. If only you had a longer lens, or a sharper one, or one with a wider aperture or better bokeh. If only you had a few more megapixels. With the rapid pace of technology, there's no way around it. No sooner do you buy a new piece of gear than the manufacturer announces the, imminent release of the updated version. It's not that there's some evil conspiracy towards planned obsolescence, either. Technology just continues to march along. But your current camera hasn't changed from what enticed you to buy it in the first place. There may be better cameras now that you've owned it for a while. Or perhaps there were even at the time, priced way out of your budget. Regardless, don't let such matters get in your way of making the most of what you have. Think of buying new gear as a reward for reaching the limits of your current kit, not as a possible way out of doing your part. In the end, it's you that is the photographer, not your camera.
Hope that Lightning Strikes
Sometimes, people look at good images and marvel at how lucky the photographer must have been to be in just the right place at the right time. It never looks like that when they are there, they tell themselves. There are some areas in the mountains where the seasons change quickly this time of year. One week, the fall leaves will be at their peak. A week later, they all will have fallen, and the road to get there will have been closed due to dense snow. It can be almost impossible to get a picture of fall colors with that first dusting of snow. Timing is everything. Don't just wait for that perfect vista to appear before you. Why not make the most of what you do have? Even if you eventually win the photo opportunity lottery, you can be making a lot of other great images in the meantime. It is said that good images are everywhere. Your job is to find them and capture them creatively.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Its origins remain murky, but there's an old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall, the legendary performance venue in midtown Manhatten. If you've never heard it, the punchline is "practice, practice, practice." Hard work isn't always rewarded, but on the whole, it helps to do all you can. Whether you prefer learning from online videos and articles, books, classes and workshops, or something else, you have to put those skills into practice. No matter how many cookbooks I read, I'm unlikely to get that much better at baking a cake without breaking a few eggs and washing a few dishes. Hopefully, along the way, most of my efforts will still taste good. But unless I rely on beginner's luck, it will take some practice to reach baking perfection. One of the best ways to enhance your image making is practice. You don't necessarily have to take a lot of images, either. It's more important to do your best on each one than to focus solely on shutter clicks.
Get Really Good at Photoshop
All this "practice" stuff can sound like hard work. And it can be tempting to focus on becoming more proficient with Photoshop and Lightroom to keep things simple. There is a certain logic to this strategy. The better you are at fixing mistakes digitally, the less it matters that you get it perfect in camera. However, the problem is that you have no wiggle room left for when you really need to fix something. The more you can push yourself in the field, the better starting point you will have on your computer when you get home. Getting really good at Photoshop should be viewed as being in addition to proper fieldcraft, not a replacement for it.
Which leads me to this...
I suppose if you completely wanted to get rid of the hard work, you could hire someone to shoot "your" images for you. Well, you could. But then what would be the fun in that? That would defeat the whole point, now wouldn't it? The best way I know to improve is to find whatever motivates you in your photography and follow it. Follow your own enjoyment, and it will lead you to make better images. Everything else will follow from there.