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I'm a new photographer and so I decided to start out with a relatively cheap, easy to use DSLR: the canon rebel t6 (EOS 1300D). With the camera, I also have the standard 18-55 and 75-300 mm lenses; and, I also have a 50 mm f 1.8 lens my uncle sent me. For my purposes, I have all the gear I need. However, I feel like my photos are missing the wow factor I want them to have. As vague as it may sound, it's really been bothering me. I've been experimenting with different settings, models, and compositions to see if it would make a difference, but nothing seems to be working. I even tried to edit the coloring and lighting of my photos in photoshop more than I usually do, but it's all the same. I see other amateur photographers my age taking stunning photos and can't help but feel demotivated. does anyone have any advice?

Edit: Thanks for the thorough and detailed responses, I wasn't expecting that much support.

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    Welcome to Photo.SE Maybe a sample will help us to improve you – Alexander von Wernherr Jul 30 at 7:44
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    Photograph crash tests. Lots of impact there. – Vilx- Jul 31 at 10:11
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This is a slightly indirect answer because it does not really say anything concrete about photography, but it is worth knowing I think.

Popular people

There's a well-known phenomenon which I am sure has a name, which is that a typical person tends to know people who are more popular than them. This seems odd at first blush, but it's not: if a typical person knows, say, n people, then a very popular person might know 3n people say. The statistics then work out that many of the people the typical person knows are more popular than they are, simply because popular people know so many more people than they do. And this can cause people to think that, because most of the people they know are very popular, they are failing in some way: they are worse than average, when in fact they are just average.

Popular photographs

The same thing happens with photography, except in an even worse way. Firstly the photographs by other people you tend to see will tend to be the photographs that are popular, because that's how social media works; Secondly, the photographs you see by someone else, are the pictures they like the very best, because those are the only ones they are putting up. But you see all your pictures, including the 90% of them which are just not very good.

So now you have three things working against you:

  • you see mostly pictures & photographers that lots of people like;
  • and you only see the very best pictures by these people;
  • and finally you're a beginner, so you are really are not very good yet.

The result of this is that you'll just end up thinking that all your pictures are rubbish, and get demotivated, give up and become a dentist or something (well, now you can afford a very expensive camera, anyway, which you will eventually sell and I'll buy cheaply: thanks!).


There is no magic solution to this, and in particular there is no quick solution: getting good at anything takes time. Here is an approach which works for at least some people.

The 1C1L1T1Y structure

1C1L. First of all pick a camera and lens: just one of each. It does not matter very much what you pick, but you might want to be informed by the next step. It is allowed to buy a camera and/or lens in this step, but you may get extra points for not doing so. (I would, personally, be tempted to trade your 50mm for a 35mm and use that, but you may not want to do this and in any case it's up to you what you do).

1T. Now pick a theme: something you are interested in taking pictures of. A theme might be 'street photographs' or 'macro pictures of moss in walls' or 'nightclub photographs' or 'abandoned buildings': it does not matter, but it should be something you actually want to do and something you can do – don't pick 'street photographs' if you live 100 miles from the nearest city!

1Y. Now you are going to take pictures on these theme, with this one camera and lens, for a year, and you're going to do it in a rather structured way. It doesn't have to be a year, although it should be at least a month. You are allowed to take pictures which are not on this theme and not with this camera and lens, but you need to know very clearly when you are not working on the project, and catalogue the images differently. But, again, you get bonus points for working only on the project.

The structure. You should take some pictures as part of the project every day (it does not have to be every day, but it should most definitely be more frequently than weekly, and if the project is significantly shorter than a year it should be daily). On each day (or time period) you should take few enough pictures that you can look, hard, at all of them: this probably means no more than a hundred (traditionally this would have been a single 35mm roll, 36-39 pictures, and that's a good number). There is no point in taking so many pictures you can not look hard at them all, because you are going to need to do that.

At the end of each day (time period) look, hard, at all the pictures you have made. You can tart them up if you want but you don't need to do that. Make conscious decisions about which you like and which you don't as far as you can: try and make conscious decisions about why you like & do not like them. It may help to write notes on this. Pick the one you like best, make a 'final' version of it and put it away somewhere. (Traditionally this means: make a contact sheet from your film, pick the frame you like best, make the best print you can, put it in a box). Once you have done this you should not look at either the pictures you did not select or the one you did again during the project. This is important.

Iterate this for a year (or however long you are doing it for). Just keep at it: it will sometimes be boring and you will feel you are getting nowhere, but keep going. Do not look at the selected pictures you made earlier in the project.

At the end of the project, do two things.

Get all the selected pictures, and look at them, one at a time, in order. You will (almost certainly) find that the earlier ones are rubbish, and the later ones are increasingly good. You may well find dips & peaks on the way where you got sucked in to something which turned out to be a dead-end and then found your way out.

Go through (not too quickly: remember humans can't take in thousands of images in a short period of time, so you ) the images did not select, and see if you would select the same ones, or if there are things in there you did not even see at the start of the project: chances are there will be.

If you made notes as you went along, look at them along with the appropriate pictures and decide if you agree with your earlier self.

Some variations

As I've described it above, I've encouraged you to go back, at the end of the project, and look over all your photographs, including the ones you earlier rejected. So you are allowed to decide not only that you now don't like the images you previously selected, but to decide that you now do like some that you previously rejected.

In the comments, @LightBender suggested that, instead, you should not revisit rejects, and should only consider images you previously selected. This is different, but it is a perfectly fine approach: it means that you need to treat rejecting an image as a more serious thing, because it is a decisioun you can't go back on. Which approach you use depends on how your mind works. @LightBender said about this approach:

I chose this method when I was starting out specifically because I'm predisposed to reevaluation of my past work. Any highly structured method must have a cost, and that cost to me was knowing that once I rejected something, it was gone forever. This focused my decision making and forced me to evaluate every image more carefully. I will note that I only used this method for active professional development. The rules did not apply to my professional work.

And I think this is a very good comment.


This approach is not going to make you a brilliant photographer: but the chances are very good it will make you a better photographer, and it will also help you realise that you are improving over time. Finally it may help you work out what you actually want to make pictures of.

Finally, this approach is stolen from various ideas by Mike Johnston who is very worth reading on this and many other matters (seriously: read his blog, it's worth it). In particular see his Leica year article & related articles. It doesn't have to be a Leica, and in particular, in my version of the project, you're strongly encouraged to use the gear you have.

(This answer has also been significantly improved thanks to comments by, at least, @Mast & @LightBender: thank you.)

  • @Hueco: I agree. However because I do almost all my work on film (and spend a lot of time in the darkroom as a result) I don't think I have anything useful to say about digital post-processing. Except, perhaps, that if you start with a bad photograph then however much you muck around with it you will almost always end up with a bad photograph, so being able to take good photographs matters a fair amount. (Obviously: in my opinion!) – user82065 Jul 30 at 16:04
  • I went ahead and turned my comment into an answer. What's funny is that, at least imo, is that one should begin learning digital post pro exactly how it was done in a darkroom. Start with global exposure and contrast. Then local changes like local contrast, burn and dodge. Then just go on from there! – Hueco Jul 30 at 18:00
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    I also find it very helpful to say, out loud, the reason you are keeping or rejecting each image. The difference between "I don't like this image" and "I don't like this about this image" is powerful. By saying both the good things and the bad thing out loud, you will reinforce them in your mind and by extension your work. As you improve over time, "this is out of focus" will give way to "I don't like how the use of the short Rembrandt lighting pattern makes this shot a bit too dramatic, which distracts from the lightheartedness of the subject." – LightBender Jul 30 at 20:43
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    I know how you feel, I chose this method when I was starting out specifically because I'm predisposed to reevaluation of my past work. Any highly structured method must have a cost, and that cost to me was knowing that once I rejected something, it was gone forever. This focused my decision making and forced me to evaluate every image more carefully. I will note that I only used this method for active professional development. The rules did not apply to my professional work. (I've probably made $100K over the years by selling setup frames from outdoor shoots as landscapes). – LightBender Aug 1 at 18:18
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    @Opflash: Leicas are cheap when considered as something you rent which is how Mike meant it. If I want to do a film Leica year, I might go to Ebay today & buy, say an M7 with a 50mm Summicron for £3,500. I use them for a year, and look after them well, and in a year sell them on ebay for, say, £3,500. My cost of ownership is now the Ebay commission along with whatever my cost of money is: I might even make money (or I might lose it if the market for film Leicas falls). – user82065 Aug 14 at 11:03
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Don't feel demotivated

Photography is a complicated matter. If it wasn't, this website would not exist for a lack of questions.
You are new to photography, so you are still familiarising yourself with many concepts. There is a great deal to keep in mind when taking photos, and keeping an eye on all settings, lighting conditions and all else that comes into play when shooting photos can be quite overwhelming, resulting in photos lost in confusion.
The people you are comparing to may be more advanced in knowing their camera, enabling them to take 'better' pictures. That aside, they may just venture into interesting scenarios and scenes unwittingly- in such a case it is hard to compare your work with some else's.

Practice, practice, practice (or shoot, shoot, shoot)

Shooting better photos does not happen out of the blue. It requires you to practice a lot. That is, shoot as often as you can, and push yourself to take good photos, don't press the shutter button for the sake of upping your photo count.
Additionally, shoot in manual mode. Why? Shooting manual will help you understand the concept of photography: learn how light, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, DOF, etc. all link together.

Light is your subject, the camera is your tool. Learning how to use light in your photos is key, as photography is literally translated to 'drawing with light'.
You can try shooting in black and white to eliminate the factor of colour. Shooting colour is a lot more difficult than shooting in BW. Aside from having to take tones into account, shooting colour also requires you to have an understanding of/checking white balance and how the colours in your photo match together and add to the photo.

Once you familiarise yourself with these vitals, you perhaps start to pick up your favourite style of photos, and start developing a style yourself. This takes time, so again, don't feel demotivated. Motivate to shoot, experiment, explore and learn*.

Request feedback

One of the pitfalls of producing anything yourself (were it photos or pottery), is getting no honest feedback. By nature, people generally think of themselves as bigger, better, and smarter than their peers [1]. Overconfidence in self-efficacy may cause you to overestimate your own performance [2,3] and could cause you to think to be more advanced in a subject's matter than you truly are [4]. Getting honest feedback from another party is a tremendous way of re-evaluating your work- helping you progress the quality of your work. If no feedback is received, or if this feedback is dishonestly positive, you are likely to get stuck in a sense of accomplishment, putting a halt to a need of progression. Look for friends or fora online to receive honest feedback. It may hurt, but in the end it is well worth it.


*Speaking of learning, a photography course may benefit you. I can personally recommend Nick Carver, who is not only a clear teacher but also a great, witty photographer. He has quite recently released a lengthy course on light metering, with a small number of free videos here.


Good luck!

Sources
[1]: Green, S.K., & Gross, A. E. “Self-serving biases in implicit evaluations.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 5. 214-217.
[2]: Pajares, F. “Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Mathematical Problem-Solving of Gifted Students.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 21 (1996): 325-344.
[3]: Stone, D. N. “Overconfidence in Initial Self-Efficacy Judgments: Effects on Decision Processes and Performance.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 59 (1994): 452-474.
[4]: Rozenblit, L, & Keil, F. “The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth.” Cognitive Science 92 (2002) 1-42.

  • Yes, Lighting! At my local camera club, we once spent the entire meeting reviewing the top images from an international exhibition. What did most of them have in common? Dramatic Lighting! – Mattman944 Jul 30 at 17:54
  • I may not be putting as much thought into lighting as I think I am, so I'll be sure to actively think about it next time I go shooting. Also, I think what you said about feedback is great. I'm not very active in any photography communities so I don't have many people who can give me detailed advice; nonetheless, I'll ask my peers for their opinions. even if they can't tell me exactly how to make it better, It'll still be a start – Ilham Jul 30 at 20:13
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I really do love the other answers, but commented to tfb: I love the structure of this. I wanted to mention, though, that taking a great image is only half of the battle. Books on books were written for simply black and white processing in a darkroom. The number of tools and options available to you in a color RAW file and Lightroom/Photoshop is 10x or more what we have in the darkroom.

This is me turning that comment into an answer:

First up, remember that photography is an art form and the camera is your tool. Do you think that Picaso was good with a brush at age 12? Nah, we all have to learn!

Keeping with the analogy a moment...who do you think the better painter is, the one who "just paints" or the one who understands colors, color theory, how they mix and play, and how humans react to them?

Your paint is light. You need to understand it, how to capture it, how to modify it. This is a process that takes time to learn!

You need to get comfortable with exposure, how your camera operates, how your lenses work, composition, and that's just the start!

Very, very few images are "straight out of camera". Ever. The look and feel with even a black and white negative begins at film choice, is modified with development, and then many transformations can be made in the darkroom. Same w/ color film.

With digital, why would anyone expect any different? You need to get familiar with the tools available so that you can use them as you see fit. White balance, tint, contrast, brightness, Hue/Lum/Sat per color, all of those as global or local enhancements. Sharpening, blurring. And those are just the basics - at some point you cross from photography to digital art, but that's a semantics game that I don't bother with. The point is, taking the photo requires a lot, but producing a photograph requires so much more!

I really like tfb's 1C1L1T1Y structure - but what I'd encourage you to do is add something to it: ∞E ... or infinite editing: Every single week or month, change your editing style. Force yourself to use tools in the panel that you are unfamiliar with. Unlike the rest of the exercise, you'll grow more by changing your editing technique often. Don't get complacent or lazy (no filters!). Pick a mood, theme, or style and repeat it with every photograph for the week/month. This way, you learn how those tools work in relation to the image you captured.

I completely get what you mean. I have always been quick to edit and then upload my photos in hopes of getting immediate feedback; but, I now realize that I should take my time with processing as it's equally important as shooting. I'll work on both of those as I put the 1C1L1T1Y structure into practice – Ilham

Another thing that you can do is give yourself time between shooting and editing. Personally, I'm very hard on myself and seldom walk away from a shoot completely satisfied with my captures. I shelve the images for a few weeks and then return to them. More often than not, I come across an image that I don't even remember taking but it stands out to me. These are the ones that I edit. Even then, I'll usually edit and come back to it a week or so later, just to see if I'm truly done with it and am satisfied with the final image.

Looking at something with "fresh eyes" is important - it lets you shed any existing notions, perceptions, doubts, etc. and really analyze your own work. I highly recommend adding in some breathing room to your process - however much you need to give yourself that fresh perspective.

  • I completely get what you mean. I have always been quick to edit and then upload my photos in hopes of getting immediate feedback; but, I now realize that I should take my time with processing as it's equally important as shooting. I'll work on both of those as I put the 1C1L1T1Y structure into practice – Ilham Jul 30 at 20:10
  • @Ilham answer updated with another pointer – Hueco Jul 30 at 20:17
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Learning To See will do wonders

Start with a quick review of your work.

As you look at each image in turn, ask yourself…

  • Have you isolated the subject of the image?
    I was told if my pictures weren't good enough, I wasn't close enough.
  • Are you telling a story or showing a relationship that exists between or among the elements in the image?
  • Does the placement of the elements in the image show an aesthetically pleasing relationship?

Each image will improve as you continue…

As you lift the camera viewfinder to your eye to take an image, ask yourself…

  • Have I isolated the subject of the image?
    Am I close enough?
  • Does the image tell a story or show a relationship that exists between or among the elements in my image?
  • Does the placement of the elements in the image show an aesthetically pleasing relationship?

Yes? Capture that. Your camera is a time microscope.

Good luck. But more importantly, HAVE FUN!

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Have you heard the saying "sell the sizzle, not the sausage"? OK granted, that's nothing to do with photography, but the point is that often the basic subject at hand isn't necessarily that inherently interesting; you need to make a choice as to what aspect of it you want to present.

So instead of taking a picture of a building, you could focus on highlighting a pattern in some repeating structure of the architecture. When taking a photo of a child, you might take care to make a feature of their amazing translucent skin - or you might instead focus on capturing their surprise at discovering some object. A photo of a bike race could show the dramatic angles at which the riders lean into a corner. All of these "sub-subjects" help to tell a little more of the story.

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I think the first step is to evaluate closely what kind of photos you enjoy watching and creating yourself. What impact pictures have on you and what impact are you looking to get from your shots. Try online portfolios or harcopy books, magazines. I would go for the books whenever possible as it is a more immersive experience on the topic. Reading and analizing how the pictures are done will help you understand better the technical and artistic approach you need for YOUR style. Based on this, you then decide what gear you need to obtain the result you look for. Also.. practice, practice, practice.

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