How did you all get so good?

This is a guest post by Podcaster, John Arnold.

Photo: Floyduk

There’s no fighting it – the standard of modern day amateur photography is way better than it was even just a decade ago. The quality of the submissions I see on the PhotoWalkthrough flickr group is excellent – occasionally spectacular. You, dear reader, are certainly a better photographer today than you’ve ever been.

It’s easy to assume that the reason for this improvement is the rise of digital cameras and the associated technological advancements in metering, focus, exposure calculation and so on. And no doubt those things have contributed greatly to improving the technical aspects of our pictures, particularly when we have the time to check our work on the back of the camera and re-shoot if things didn’t work so well. But I have another theory about why we’ve all improved so much. Think about it – what are you doing right now?

You’re reading a blog. Perhaps you’re on your lunch hour at work or perhaps you’re relaxing at home or maybe you’re reading this on your iPhone or Blackberry while riding the train to the office. But basically what you’re doing is self-teaching. And with internet access at home, at work and on the move it’s never been easier to fill your spare time teaching yourself about photography.

The opportunity to self-teach extends way beyond the thousands of blogs and websites that have sprung up online. There’s also a healthy crop of free tutorial sites, photography interviews and review sites with many available as audio or video podcasts. If you don’t know what a podcast is then you’re missing out! A podcast is like a radio or TV show that you download from the internet – usually for free – and that you can watch or listen to on your computer, your iPod or iPhone or almost any other device capable of playing MP3 files, including most in-car satellite navigation systems. Pick up a copy of iTunes (for free) at www.apple.com/itunes and check out the podcast section of the iTunes store. There’s a ton of great photography content available there for free and it’s perfect for listening to in the car or while exercising. And of course the videos are a brilliant way to learn at your computer or while travelling (not driving!).

But even beyond the blogs and the podcasts there are numerous other subtle but important reasons why we’re getting better at photography. Chief among these has to be the sheer abundance of great photography on display on the internet. Websites like Flickr have made it incredibly easy to show our work and to view the work of others. Just looking at lots of photography helps inspire us, giving us ideas for our own work.

Community

I’ve long been an advocate of the educational value of not just receiving critique but especially giving critique. The simple act of taking time to decide what you like or dislike about a photograph and putting it into words makes you think about what good photography is to you. It crystallizes your own style and taste and there’s no right or wrong. Community photo sharing websites might, in fact, be the single most valuable self-teaching resource available. If you’re not already showing your work on one of the many (Flickr, SmugMug, PBase etc) photo sharing sites then I’d encourage you to do so. It requires a little courage at first but the rewards are well worth it. Joining the online photo sharing community is like joining a huge photography club that you can attend in hours that suit you. You can give it as much time as you have available. Just be sure to engage in giving critique. You’ll learn more from that than anything else.

One of the other benefits of joining in with an online photography community is that they often encourage you to set yourself assignments. You already know that you should be going out shooting if you want to learn and improve. Well an online community can often inspire or even instruct you to go out and shoot something in particular.  Why not head outside right now and shoot exactly 20 pictures of interesting details about the building you live in – don’t shoot any detail that is more than 1 foot across. Then post your favorite one in the comments to this post or on the Beyond Phototips Flickr Group? I’m serious – you’ve got 20 minutes to spare right? Why not spend them stretching your mind and join in with the community here on the blog a little by showing us where you live? Little creativity exercises like this are fun and bring people together as well as helping us self-teach.

Of course the next step beyond merely joining in with the online photography community is to become a teacher yourself.  Do you have a picture that you’re especially proud of? Why not record a quick video or jot down a few lines about how it was made. Where did you shoot it? Why? How was it post processed? What gave you the ideas? It doesn’t have to be a regular thing if you don’t want. Mail a blog owner or podcast producer and see if they’d like to link to or even publish your work. If you think you learn a lot by giving critique then you should see how much you can learn by explaining your work!

Who is this guy?

John Arnold is a semi-pro photographer living in the northwest of England. He’s the presenter of PhotoWalkthrough, a free tutorial video show all about photography and digital photo editing using Lightroom and Photoshop. To see the show visit www.photowalkthrough.com or search for photowalkthrough in the iTunes podcast directory. PhotoWalkthrough is part of the PhotoCast Network where you can find links to some of the best photography podcasts available.

This is part of the Beyond Phototips Birthday Special Series. Go here to see all the posts so far.