Recognizing personal progression and improvement is a wildly beneficial yet often overlooked exercise for our confidence. It’s human nature to want to be “better” at things. We don’t have to be the best right now, but we all want the affirmation that we’re improving and moving in the right direction. Photography is no different and in the digital age can feel rather short-lived as the majority of images created are shared on social media and eventually with time, slide off into the digital archives rarely to be seen again.
We tend to only view what we’ve created in recent months and when doing this we lose the ability to appreciate and recognize how we’re progressing over the long term.
What I’m proposing is this: take the time to rewind the clock and compare your earlier work against what you’re creating now in order to identify your self-progression. I’ve come up with five questions to ask yourself to help you determine the areas that you’re progressing in photography — if you can answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, then congratulations, you’re moving in the right direction!
Sign #1: Composition
First, are you a better composer? Can you say that you’re creating consistently better-composed images now than you were a year or two years ago? It doesn’t matter if you’re using the rule of thirds, repeating patterns, or foreground, mid-ground, and background elements to create depth. As long as you’re paying extra attention to where you place elements within your scene, that’s a great sign of compositional progression.
Sign #2: Histogram
Secondly, are you using your histogram on a regular basis? Is your histogram no longer an obscure color chart dancing without rhyme or reason on the back of your LCD? Is it a tool you reference with each image you capture? The more photos you create that have a histogram output that looks similar to this, the less you’ll have to manipulate your exposure during post-processing, resulting in cleaner, crisper images.
Sign #3: Lenses
The third question is this, are you shooting with multiple lenses? The quality of lenses you’re using is irrelevant, what matters is that you have a choice to make when approaching a scene. Do you want to go wide and capture everything or do you want to compress the scene with a 70m-200m or perhaps isolate details in the distance? Just having to make a choice as to the lens to use to create the vision you have in your head will make you a better photographer.
Sign #4: Lighting
Fourth, are you shooting in better lighting conditions and understanding why you’re doing so? Soft ambient side light created from the sun sitting low on the horizon during the “golden hours” creates incredible opportunities to show texture and add dimension to your images. Photography in harsh lighting conditions can turn the most picturesque scene into a mess of hideous shadows, but shooting in ideal lighting conditions can easily transform any image into a masterpiece.
Sign #5: Post-processing
And for the fifth and final question to ask yourself, are you a better post-processor now than you were then? Post processing is one of those skills that is refined over time and requires a great deal of practice and trial by error. Once you’ve edited thousands of images you’ll begin to create your own style and figure out what works and what doesn’t from a visual perspective, but this process takes time, practice practice practice, and a bit of patience.
I’m a big believer in goal setting and this exercise has become part of my end of year ritual in order to celebrate my progression year over year and to identify the areas that I need to develop further in the future.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
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About the author: Mark Denney is a landscape photographer based in North Carolina. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.