Ten (More) Ways to Improve Your Craft

David duChemin

Several years ago I wrote a short book called TEN: Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear. It was wildly popular, in part because I believe it’s easier to wrap our brains around doing ten things rather than a hundred. It’s manageable. Also because the word “eleven” is hard to say for some people. You can get that book and the follow-up, cleverly titled TEN MORE, for free using the links at the bottom of this article. But assuming you’ve read those and are hungry for more and are wondering what ten pieces of unsolicited advice I might now give for any photographer who cares to listen, here goes:

One. It’s all about the human experience, not the technique. That’s why we pay attention to composition and light and emotion. Make it alive. That takes craft, to be sure, but mostly it takes taste, courage, and vision, and those things take time. So put in the hours. Learn from others. Study other photographers who make work that, to you, is alive.

Two. Ultimately you will hear a lot of voices, but you have to figure out which ones you want to listen to. Listen. Learn. Then be willing to go in another direction if that’s where your curiosity and your instinct lead you. If you want to create something unique, something authentic, you need to learn to ignore everybody but learn from them too. That’s also a balance that comes with time.

Three. Photography is easier than we all make it seem. The magazines and books want to keep you on the hook for more and more advice, the next great secret, the next top tricks. Learn to expose well. Learn to focus. Study composition like your life depends on it. Now go make photographs. You'll learn more from cutting the apron strings and experimenting on your own, and you’ll find your voice faster.

Four. Think in bodies of work. A series of 3 to begin, perhaps. Then 10. 20. A strong body of unified work is much harder than a dozen single images that are all over the map. This approach forces you to think deeper.

Five. Make some work. Serious work. Great work. Work that everyone should experience. But don’t share it for a year. Build it. Live with it. Play with the sequence. But don’t put it out there for a year. It’ll do you good to incubate it without hearing the voices of others.

Six. Work with tighter constraints. This year I know several photographers going back to their roots and working mostly in black and white. It’s a return to line and form, to tone and moments, without the seduction of colour. I’ve sworn off tripods and long exposures. And I have specific projects I’m already creating constraints for. This will force you into more creative thinking.

Seven. Don’t chase the shot. Chase the magic. Chase the experience. Life is too short and even the best photograph you make this year is likely to be eclipsed by something you make next year. So put your time first into great experiences; the photographs will come out of those and they’ll be stronger for being rooted in something you really care about.

Eight. Learn what it takes to make a great story. Too many photographers lean on cheap gimmicks and nudge the saturation slider in hopes that just a little more visual sugar will make the image a bit more delicious. But in doing so, we kill our taste buds. It’s great for a quick hit but it leaves us empty. Understand the elements of story and how you might use those to strengthen your work.

Nine. Print your work. You don’t need another lens as much as you need to print your work, hold it in your hands, and live with it. Printing will make you a better photographer, and it will help you fall in love with the photograph more than the gear with which you make them.

Ten. Study the Masters. Once a week or once a month, pick a new photographer. Find one on your own (or ask your friends who they love) and study them. Read about their life and study their work. What was important about it at the time? Why does it succeed for you? Why does it not? How did they use visual language and composition? What can you learn from the way they thought? You can do this for free online, but if you can, budget for a book each month: a book of photographs. At the end of the year, you’ll have 12 books full of magic, inspiration, and better lessons than you’ll find in those magazines promising tips and tricks.

This is a beautiful, powerful craft. It has such possibility. We need it now more than ever. And more than ever, we need to approach it with heart and soul and the will to walk away from being dilettantes and dabblers. It’s too good, too beautiful, for such a trivial approach from those who claim to love it. There is so much more to it than getting edge-to-edge sharpness or great bokeh. We can want so much more from our images than that they be free from chromatic aberration or that they get good likes on Instagram. Make this the year you put your soul—as vulnerable and unfettered as it can be—into your work and your life. Most of all, do it with love. Be an amateur—a lover—in every frame you make, every print you sign, every body of work you conceive.

And don’t you dare use f*cking white vignettes.

For the Love of the Photograph,
David

Click on the following links to get free copies of TEN: Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear and TEN MORE: Ten More Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear

David duChemin is the founder and Chief Executive Nomad of Craft & Vision. A world and humanitarian photographer, best-selling author, speaker, and adventurer, David can be found at DavidduChemin.com. 

If you're looking for photography prompts to lead you through 2017, take a look at Vision 365: Mastering the Everyday Practice of Seeing by Henry Fernando, a beautiful 772-page reminder that it's the practice of photography that trains your eye to see not only the spectacular and obvious, but the small, ordinary, and everyday things in new ways. Through 365 days of simple visual exercises, Henry teaches you to recognize daily opportunities in your surroundings so that you can make the photographs that better express who you are and how you see your world.

 

Craft & Technique Creativity David duChemin

← Older Post Newer Post →


Comments


  • Thanks for the interesting read. However, there is one statement which I believe is incorrect, or perhaps just poorly worded, in section 8:

    “It’s important to remember that none of this is
    affected by sensor size. As I write this I had an
    email from a student on one of my tours asking
    if she should get a 50/1.4 lens or a 30/2.8 for
    portraits. Only she can answer that but here’s
    what I told her; if you’re shooting on a cropped
    sensor, which she is, a 30mm will crop more
    like a 50mm. Fine. But it will not compress like
    a 50mm. It will compress like a 30mm, because
    that’s what it is. Sensor size does not change lens
    behavior. That’s important because all of this
    photography stuff is about the look – the aesthetic
    – created in the camera, through the lens. The
    last thing anyone needs is to be further confused
    by the sensor-size issue.”

    It sounds like you are suggesting that a 30mm lens will not compress like a 50mm when used on a crop sensor which provides the same angle of view of a 50mm lens on FF, which I believe is incorrect. Ignoring the fact that a 30mm lens equates to 45 or 48mm in FF terms on a 1.5/1.6x crop sensor, the compression provided by that 30mm lens on a 1.5x crop will be identical to the compression (or perspective) provided by a 45mm lens on “full frame”, or a non-crop sensor. Compression is a function of the angle of view, not lens focal length.

    ps: I think there might be a typo in section 4, where the lens is listed as a wide angle 42mm – the photo looks like it was probably a 24mm.

    Thanks for the great read.

    Shawn Wright on
  • Well, 2017 arrived here about 90 minutes ago and I could not sleep. I found my way to these words. Thank you. Just what I needed.

    Annmarie K on
  • P.S. This is the link people will be looking for: https://craftandvision.com/pages/ten-ten-more-for-free

    Mike Nelson Pedde on
  • David: Thanks for the ten more tips! Unfortunately the link to the original article leads to a file not found error.

    Create an amazing new year!

    Mike.

    Mike Nelson Pedde on
  • Thank you very much for the great inspiration whole year round! All the best for 2017!

    Iris on

Leave a comment

  1. Understanding The Stages
  2. Conceptually Speaking: A Word With Claire Rosen
  3. Best Places
  4. Thinking Less Literally
  5. Vision Is Better, Ep. 63
  6. An Iconic Photograph, or a Photographed Icon?
  7. Thinking in Monochrome
  8. Vision Is Better, Ep.62
  9. Vision Is Better, Ep.61
  10. Making the Image: Kathleen Clemons
  11. Night Ranger: A Word With David Kingham
  12. Understanding the Night Sky
  13. Vision Is Better, Ep.60
  14. The Value of Critique
  15. Capturing the Moment
  16. Vision Is Better, Ep.59
  17. Five Key Elements of Food Photography
  18. Using Flash That Doesn't Look Lit
  19. Vision Is Better, Ep.58
  20. Using Flash To Improve Your Photographs
  21. Five Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash
  22. Vision Is Better, Ep.57
  23. Finding Critics
  24. Street Life: A Word With Libby Holmsen
  25. Using the Frame
  26. The Photographer's Tools
  27. Backlight: The Art of Silhouettes
  28. Vision Is Better, Ep.56
  29. Understanding Perspective
  30. Vision Is Better, Ep.55
  31. In Conversation: Sharon Covert
  32. Create Projects + Collaborate
  33. Mirrors or Windows?
  34. 2018 Mentor Series Workshop: Varanasi, India
  35. F/ The Rules
  36. Drawing the Eye With Selective Focus
  37. In Conversation: Willem Wernsen
  38. Exposing for Highlights
  39. Using Fill Light to Create Dramatic Portraits
  40. Cameras Don't Make Photographs
  41. Shooting with Your Final Image in Mind
  42. 10 Ways to Make Better Black and White Photographs
  43. 2018 Maasai Mara Photographic Safari
  44. 2018 Mentor Series Workshop: Lalibela, Ethiopia
  45. Start With the Corners
  46. Creating Painterly Images with Movement and Multiple Exposures
  47. Using the Guided Upright Tool in Lightroom
  48. The Power of Photographing Icons
  49. In Conversation: Susan Burnstine (Part II)
  50. In Conversation: Susan Burnstine (Part I)
  51. Controlling Your Edit with Lightroom's Tone Curve
  52. Making the Image: David duChemin
  53. 3 Ways to Make More Honest Portraits
  54. The Adjective-Driven Approach to Photography
  55. In Conversation: Oded Wagenstein
  56. Making the Zone System Work for You
  57. Ten (More) Ways to Improve Your Craft
  58. Reference View: A New Way to See in the Lightroom Develop Module
  59. In Conversation: Laurent Breillat
  60. The Best 3 Filters for Landscape Photography
  61. Creating Classical Portraits with Simple Lighting
  62. Photographic Processing and Believability
  63. Visual Storytelling: An Introduction
  64. Making the Image: Piet Van den Eynde
  65. In Conversation: Satoki Nagata
  66. Use Repeating Elements for Stronger Images
  67. In Conversation: Kate Densmore
  68. One (More) Reason To Use Adobe's Creative Cloud
  69. Three Ways to Use Backlight
  70. 2017 Rome Mentor Series Workshop
  71. 2017 Venice Mentor Series Workshops
  72. Controlling Foreground to Background Presence
  73. Making the Image: David Adam Edelstein
  74. In Conversation: David Adam Edelstein
  75. Using Contrast for Stronger Images
  76. Three Ways to Make Better Portraits
  77. How to Direct the Eye in Your Photographs
  78. How to Improve Your Street Photography
  79. In Conversation: Piet Van den Eynde
  80. Starting Your Next Personal Project
  81. Five (More) Creative Exercises to Improve Your Photography
  82. Five Creative Exercises to Improve Your Photography
  83. Three (More) Ways To Discover Your Vision
  84. Four Ways to Discover Your Vision (Part I)
  85. Three Ways to Make Stronger Black & White Images in Lightroom
  86. In Conversation: Cristina Mittermeier
  87. How to Add Mood to Infrared (and other) Photographs
  88. In Conversation: Paul Nicklen
  89. Four Ways to Tell Stronger Stories
  90. In Conversation: John Paul Caponigro
  91. Master the Art of Seeing and Improve Your Photography
  92. Adding Light with the Radial Filter in Lightroom
  93. The Power of Abstraction
  94. In Conversation: Anja Büehrer
  95. Five Ways to Add More Depth to Your Portraits
  96. Four Ways to Make Stronger Travel Photographs
  97. In Conversation: Martin Bailey
  98. Learn to Isolate
  99. Gear Is Good
  100. In Conversation: Dave Brosha
  101. For the Love of Your Photographs
  102. Working with Target Collections in Lightroom
  103. Review: Epson P800
  104. Seeing: Receptive & Observant
  105. Better Questions
  106. Siri? Ask Lightroom!
  107. Wake Up.
  108. In Conversation: David Jackson
  109. Photographic Skills: Patience
  110. In Conversation: David duChemin
  111. 2017 Jodhpur Mentoring Workshop
  112. 2017 Maasai Mara Safari
  113. Rome 2016 Mentoring Workshop
  114. Florence 2016 Mentoring Workshop
  115. Venice 2016 Mentoring Workshop
  116. Vision Is Better, Ep.54
  117. Vision Is Better, Ep.53
  118. Vision Is Better, Ep.52
  119. Vision Is Better, Ep.51
  120. Vision Is Better, Ep.50
  121. Vision Is Better, Ep.49
  122. Vision Is Better, Ep.48
  123. Vision Is Better, Ep.47
  124. Vision Is Better, Ep.46
  125. Vision Is Better, Ep.45
  126. Vision Is Better, Ep.44
  127. Vision Is Better, Ep.43
  128. Vision Is Better, Ep.42
  129. Vision Is Better, Ep.41
  130. Vision Is Better, Ep.40
  131. Vision Is Better, Ep.39
  132. Vision Is Better, Ep.38
  133. Vision Is Better, Ep.37
  134. Vision Is Better, Ep.36
  135. Vision Is Better, Ep.35
  136. Vision Is Better, Ep.34
  137. Vision Is Better, Ep.33
  138. Vision Is Better, Ep.32
  139. Vision Is Better, Ep.31
  140. Vision Is Better, Ep.30
  141. Vision Is Better, Ep.29
  142. Vision Is Better, Ep.28
  143. Vision Is Better, Ep.27
  144. Vision Is Better, Ep.26
  145. Vision Is Better, Ep.25
  146. Vision Is Better, Ep.24
  147. Vision Is Better, Ep.23
  148. Vision is Better, Ep.22
  149. Vision is Better, Ep.21
  150. Vision is Better, Ep.20
  151. Vision is Better, Ep.19
  152. Vision is Better, Ep.18
  153. Vision is Better, Ep.17
  154. Vision is Better, Ep.16
  155. Vision is Better, Ep.15
  156. Vision Is Better, Ep.11
  157. Vision Is Better, Ep.10
  158. Vision Is Better, Ep.09
  159. Vision Is Better, Ep.08
  160. Vision Is Better, Ep.07
  161. Vision Is Better, Ep.06
  162. Vision Is Better, Ep.05
  163. Vision Is Better, Ep.04
  164. Vision Is Better, Ep.03
  165. Vision Is Better, Ep.02
  166. Vision Is Better, Ep.01

Related Articles

Related Resources


Categories
Adam Blasberg Adobe Alexandre Buisse Andrew S. Gibson Andy Biggs Anja Büehrer Bret Edge Bruce Percy Claire Rosen Craft & Technique Creative Cloud Creativity Cristina Mittermeier Dave Brosha David Adam Edelstein David duChemin David Kingham Duncan Fawkes Guy Tal Henry Fernando Interview Jason Bradley John Paul Caponigro Kate Densmore Kathleen Clemons Laurent Breillat Libby Holmsen Lightroom & Photoshop Making the Image Martin Bailey Michael Frye Nathan Wirth Natural Light Oded Wagenstein Paul Nicklen Piet Van den Eynde Podcast Project Nimbus Rafael Rojas Satoki Nagata Sean McCormack Sharon Covert Sherri Koop Simi Jois Street Photography Susan Burnstine Vision is Better Show visual storytelling Willem Wernsen Workshop Younes Bounhar Zone System