Your goal as a photographer should not be to take great photos.
Don’t get me wrong, your goal as a photographer should not be to take lousy photos either, but building your goals around the idea of a final product often keeps you from engaging in the processes that make you a better photographer.
Studying theories of composition, guidelines for exposure, and best practices for shooting are all important. I certainly spend plenty of time teaching those things, and you do need to invest time in learning them. But such study will only take you so far. What will make you a better photographer is figuring out how to improve your photographic self. Some of the ways you might do that include:
- Learning how to consistently see the world photographically.
- Learning how to defeat the editors and other negative thought processes that you carry around in your head.
- Discovering the unique characteristics of your way of seeing the world, so that you’re expressing your own ideas rather than simply copying someone else’s.
- Learning to combat boredom.
- Adapting to changes in your own interests and tastes, over time, and learning how those changes affect your photography.
- Striving to understand what makes a successful photograph work.
None of these practices follow any rules or theories. They are not things you can learn by rote, but they are necessary if you want to move beyond the simple, process-oriented, “eight ways to improve your photos” type of instruction that you find littered around the web.
The key to all of this is practice. Unfortunately, most of us learn our ideas of practice at a young age, when we’re learning either a sport or a musical instrument. In my middle-school orchestra class we had “practice report cards.” Each week, we were required to log at least 30 minutes of practice every day, and then have our parents notarize this document, which was critical to our final grade. While this did get me to saw away on the cello for a lot of hours, it also taught me that practice is a particular activity that you engage in, and that it’s different and separate from performance or playing for pleasure.