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How Do New Shooters Get Better, Quicker?

Published: 27/10/2019
By: Brandon

Danny, in New Orleans, LA writes:

“I’m a new shooter and have gotten pretty lucky in my first few months of doing real estate photography in regard to getting clients. I’m not as good as I want to be, though. I'd really like to make photos like those winning photos on PFRE’s contests! Now that things are starting to slow down, I want to spend some time getting better. How do I amp up my skills quickly?”

Danny, I think the best way to improve your skills is to focus on an effective way to learn, rather than a fast way. So here are a few suggestions that I think will contribute nicely to your learning:

  1. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel!  Everyone in this community learned from those who have come before us. By making sure you’ve got the basics nailed down, you can avoid making (and re-making) certain mistakes. There are certain best practices in our field that have stood the test of time and will always be best practices. For example, many of us learned how to use off-camera flash by watching Scott Hargis’s video; and making sure that you’re getting the best possible composition (IMO, the most important thing in our work) is vital, so check out Tony Colangelo’s tutorial for that. There are so many other learning resources on PFRE's site, so I would encourage you to check them out.
  2. Measure Your Progress.  If your goal is to get better, then how will you know you’re moving forward if you don’t measure? Measuring your progress can come in a lot of ways. I think one of the best ways is to simply ask yourself some questions when you review your images on your computer when you get home from a shoot. As you go through the photos, ask yourself: What went well? What did I find tricky or challenging? Then, pick out photos that best represent what went well and what was tricky for you. Doing this can help you to figure out the things you want to continue doing at future shoots, as well as the things you need to improve. Then every couple of weeks, go back to those original photos and compare them against some of your most recent shots. This should allow you to gauge your progress.
  3. Work with a Coach/Mentor.  I’ve often shared that the single biggest and most important thing that I did to improve my work in my own photography, was to hire a coach. In a few sessions, it felt like my learning and progress was off the charts! I’d encourage you to check out the roster of PFRE Coaches if you're interested in getting this type of support.
  4. Keep at It! This may seem obvious but it’s worth stating. Yes, it can be very frustrating if we don’t see the progress happening as quickly as we’d like but that’s normal. In fact, hitting plateaus is a normal part of the way people learn. What tends to happen after spending some time at such a plateau is that all the things that we’ve been reading/learning about just seem to click all of the sudden at our next shoot. When it does, it's very satisfying!

What other suggestions do you have for Danny to continue his growth?

6 comments on “How Do New Shooters Get Better, Quicker?”

  1. It's not supposed to be quick. If you want it to be a long career, you have to put lots and lots of hours into it over time. If I would have known everything about it at the end of my first year, I probably would have moved on to something else by now. This field typically harness's a hobby to commerce, and the great thing about a hobby is that there is a perpetual element of progress present. For me, this process has evolved over 30 years, and happened to coincide with some of he most exciting but difficult trends in photography, but was accompanied by some of the most applied learning by a large cluster of individuals all over the world simultaneously. The result was a large body of work and material all over the internet to choose from. Search and solve what puzzles you.

  2. Totally agree with Brandon... I don't think there is any "quick way" to amp up skills; it's more about learning efficiency. Personally I think the "quickest way" to improve is to study the work of others who are being recognized by their peers. The comments section of the PFRE "Photographer of the Month" program is a great way to start. While I don't always agree with those comments, they do provide insight into what others consider to be important in that photograph. That would be my starting point... study the masters and learn from their work!

  3. Learn how to use a hand held flash when you have very little ambient light. Shot 5 raw brackets and outsource your images. Know the basics how to photoshop real estate images. Look at hundreds of rephotos to see the composition you like. Join a re photographers group on fb.

  4. If it was quick to get good, there would be no money in it.

    You can practice the basic skills of composition, exposure and color. Get confident in your choices. Don't spend endless amounts of time dithering or shooting lots of alternate compositions. Be decisive. My biggest breakthrough was that confidence. Another thing to do is get a workflow down not only for making the photos but handling the business too. There are lots of ways to do things and there are plenty of right ways. Just keep analyzing what you are doing and how you can get faster and better.

    There is no silver bullet that's going to boost you into shooting nothing but multi-million dollar mansions at $1,000ea a month from now. I see glaring mistakes in magazine ads and articles all of the time. Things like missed reflections of gear, poor color, bad geometry, etc. That photographer's work was still published and they might even be a regular contributor so there must be something more than just top quality images. Not every magazine's photo editor is going to give a pass to sub-par work and some are super picky, but it does mean that the photo business goes beyond making great images. That said, if you don't make great images, not too many doors will be open to you.

    Practice all that you can. Shoot your own house using multiple techniques and see which ones give you the best image results and which ones yield acceptable images in the shortest amount of time. Shoot friend's and family's homes. Know some local business owners? Shoot a few images for their business when you can get in after hours for some trade. We all gotta eat. If you know a local restaurant owner, trade a few photos of the dining room for a free dinner. Get some friends in as models when you've had success getting good images without any. One goal is to get many different properties where you are walking in cold. PFRE is all about solving problems on the fly. Do you rent? Trade the property manager/owner photos of vacant apartments in exchange for some upgrades to your unit. It's a win-win for the owner since the upgrades would stay with the unit and a property manager might be able to sneak in a few things like a new fridge with a working ice maker if that's a good deal for you. You can always take cash too if all else fails.

    If you are going to work cheap, I strongly suggest never doing free work, offer a big discount to a FSBO with a home that has challenges. I have one where I made my first drone images. It is a killer custom home on a hill with great views. They are still on the market after over a year and have bad interior photos. I plan to talk with them again to see about photographing the inside of their home for a very reduced rate. It's a log cabin/timber home with lots of bare wood and structural elements in the open. I don't get the opportunity to photograph that sort of home and would love the chance to spend an extended amount of time working through the challenges while not under the gun with a full price client. My goal is more about coming away with some fantastic portfolio material and a ton of experience more than a fat paycheck. You never stop learning even after years of doing it. I can bang out a gallery of a beige box while asleep I do so many of them. The biggest reason behind the FSBO approach is you won't be offering a massive discount to somebody that could become a regular customer. No sense in setting any precedent and getting badgered forever for that deal again.

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