The Only Thing That Matters to Improve Your Photography

question mark We’ve been having a discussion this question recently,

… what quality is essential to improve you photography?

And we’ve got a lot of different response. Some have said, its practice. Others have said vision. Still others have said basics are essential to improve photography. All of you have given many different answers.

I’ll tell you this for now that there are no wrong answers here, but there is still one thing that in my opinion, trumps it all. So what’s the only thing? We’ll get to that in a minute.

This last year, I’ve tried to change few things to improve my photography. I’ve tried to practice more, but have slipped the schedule at times. I’ve tried to develop my vision, and what I’ve learned is vision comes by practicing.

So how do you practice more? That’s what Jamie taught me.

What Jamie Taught Me

I came across Jamie few days ago but didn’t get a chance to talk to him or to learn from him. He died in 1997, about 17 years ago, fighting cancer.

Jamie Livingston was a photographer from NYC. Jamie took one photo a day with Polaroid everyday. His commitment to photographer was like none other. He took one photo a day for 6000 days – that’s 18 YEARS!!

His last photograph?

On his death bed.

Jamie - last photograph

The story behind this photograph really moved me. And then Chase Jarvis asked one question: How strong is YOUR commitment?

Jamie taught me that commitment is what  matters. If you are committed, everything else will come. Commitment to improving photography will force you to practice more. The more you practice, the clearer your vision will become.

And about the discussion on our facebook page about the essential thing to improve photography, my answer, well you know now – commitment.

As the new year begins, let’s commit to improve our photography skills. I am renewing my commitment and will be consciously taking more photographs than last year and starting photo-a-day project.

Are you committed to grow? Would you participate in photo-a-day project for next 365 days? Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Leave a note on food photography facebook page or send me a tweet.

Follow LFP facebook page for more on this upcoming project.

Photo courtesy: Question Mark by WingedWolf

  • While I do agree with much of your post, while I do agree that commitment is important – I also know that it is wiser for me to not commit to a 365 day project. It is just not realistic for me to handle a project on that scale and still produce quality images (and that is my goal, ultimately). So I am ready (and have already committed to) a 52 weeks project, where I commit myself to creating at least one image each week. Since I also work on some other project, with an even lower frequency, I should be shooting/ creating 3-7 good images a week – but on my own schedule.
    I think, when committing oneself to projects, it is important to commit yourself to something that is actually realistic to obtain or you’re setting yourself up for failure. Just my 2 cents… .

    • Melli, Don’t disagree that it is not realistic for everyone to commit to 365 day project. You are right, everyone’s commitment level depends on other things they have already committed to.

      The way I have done these in past is by starting a 15 day or 30 day trial. This usually gives an idea on how this will go and what commitment is required.

      Overall you are right, this is not possible to do for everyone.

  • I committed to a 365 project every day of 2011. Did I produce high quality images every day? It depends on your definition of high quality. Some days I set up multiple lights, made a plan, and spent lots of time refining before coming up with the shot of the day. Other days I took a “snapshot” with my phone of my daughter playing. Guess which images got more feedback. For me it was about staying creative and shooting something, anything, every single day. The hardest thing was coming up with a subject every day. Overall it was lot’s of fun and I think I grew creatively from the experience.

    I posted the images on my main website or for a quicker view of my year here is the blog I made:

  • Totally agree about commitment being very important. I think the other thing that’s equally important, apart from learning and knowing the craft, is to think/ plan out a phtotgraph before you actually shoot it. This is not always possible, but I have found that if I have an idea in my mind (especially for food photography) the execution is always better.

    As for doing a 365 project, I tried that in 2010 and found it wasn’t for me. I found myself taking photographs which were more about quantity than quality. So last year I did a 52 week project which worked out well. Am doing it this year too.

  • (Geez, re-reading my own comments I feel like I was being pissy writing it, sorry if that came off that way, that was not my intention).

    I admire people who are able to pull off a 365 project. I’ve seen people doing great things with it, finding and developing vision.
    But as I said above, not everyone can (or wants to) commit to that because it does not fit into the life.

    However, I am curious to see what is gonna go on on this blog this year and will be happy to cheer anyone on trying a 366 or even a 52 weeks project. 🙂

  • Hi.

    I am a brazillian food photographer, and I was thinking about a “photo-a-day project” (not necessarily food photos) in the last year. Finally at January 1st in started this project. You can see in my Tumblr/blog:

    I really agree with Aparna: commitment is very important, but learning is equally important. And do a photo-a-day project, im my opinion, must be practicing and learning.

    Sorry about my english.


  • I would participate in this project!

  • I think commitment is important, but there are many different types of commitment. Committing to take a photo every day doesn’t necessarily cause improvement unless one is also actively committing to taking steps every day to improve their photography along with it. For some people a 365 (or 366 this year) project is great, but for others it’s just not suited to their learning style. When I tried a 365 project, I found myself snapping anything just to get a photo in that day, and so it wasn’t working for me – I didn’t get anything out of it other than the stress of getting a photo in for that day.

    I’ve actually found that the fewer photos I take, the more I improve. By envisioning myself with a limited set of frames and trials, I find myself putting more thought into an image beforehand (sometimes spending a couple days even mulling over a shot I planned on doing), taking the time to think about light, composition, space, and styling before ever setting anything up – and this has worked for my learning style very well.

  • What a great discussion!!

    So these are some great points. I did a 365day project last year and was fairly happy with the results. I learned few lessons as some of you have pointed out. Let’s take these one by one:

    1. Quality of Images: During the course of my project I scanned a lot of project 365 blogs. Some of them were really good, others suffered from something that has been pointed out above – taking snapshots. That does not help anyone.
    2. Leaving the challenge: This is one that is most interesting, in my opinion. Try to do a root cause analysis, I found that people leave the challenge because there are too many decisions to make. The biggest one being – what to shoot. In early days I would come back from office, and would not have motivation to take a photo. Top that with deciding what to shoot? Forget it. So, here what I’ve found that may work for some – eliminating the decision of what to shoot. And here’s where doing this in a group will help everyone.
    3. 365 days Not my cup of tea: This is a simpler solution. Just participate whatever number of days you think will work. 30? 50? 100? 200? 365? You choose.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
    – Neel

  • I left the 365 day challenge exactly after 6 months! I found the pressure of doing a photograph a day was killing my creativity.
    I like doing the 52weeks challenge because they’re themed so that makes me think and I have a week to execute it. Many of the themes have taught me so much more about photography.
    You don’t even have to do a so many days or so many weeks thing. You could pick a colour, or a black and white theme and work at improving that. A friend I know is doing a year of self portraits where you can do as few as 12 or as many as 365! You set your pace.
    Whatever you set out to do, the motivation has to come from within and you have to enjoy doing it – that’s what takes me towards better photography.

  • I agree with you. Commitment to your craft takes patience, time, dedication, practice and much more. I too started a 365 project and love the daily practice of picking up to camera to frame my world. Not every photo is a winner, but it’s the commitment to the project and my desire to improve that keeps me going.

  • This is indeed a great discussion. I tried to do a photo a day project in 2011 too but found that it didn’t work so well for me. Ofcourse I take photos every day but I wanted to do one specifically for the project so I didn’t ‘allow’ myself to use the ones I took on assignment. And after a long day of photoshoots I just didn’t feel like doing anymore, so that quickly stopped. I do however like to set myself a challenge so instead I tackle it by subject rather then every day. Take one problem and work on that till its perfect or close to perfection. But I agree that commitment is essential.

  • Thanks for the post, apad projects can be hard work but they ensure you sharpen your skills, with so much other stuff to be doing, picking up the camera and actually using it seems to be less and less these days.

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  • Its so true. With commitment, a photographer without in born talent, without the best camera and taking even the most boring subjects, can make a picture look great. All it takes is commitment to improve oneself and be constantly in search of excellence .

  • Commitment helps you to achieve your goals and make things happen according to your plans. I was so moved by your topic. 😀

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  • This makes me wonder regarding the commitment I have to learn. My photos are always the same as I call it – mediocre. I really want to improve. Currently, I am taking pictures for my blog and I noticed that the reason why I did not progress was because I am afraid to make mistake and get disappointed. Now, however, I am ready. I am going to take risk and if it does not work, just delete it. I also will give my composition some thought. When you said commitment, I am just so struck by it, because I usually get frustrated and give up when things become tough.

    Seeing that photographer in his deathbed is a very good inspirational tool not only in as an aspiring photographer but also an inspiration on how to really be successful in life – COMMIT.
    Neel, this site is so helpful to me. Thank you very much.

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