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How to get past the OK-plateau as a photographer?

 

You will do everything it takes to become a better photographer (or maybe even a pro). You try to do everything right. You put in the extra hours. You take photos every day. You are open to learning. But, you don’t really develop? Why? I will tell you!

You have hit the difficult OK-plateau. This is the level, where you have become so ‘good’ at your photography that you have stopped improving.

It is just like driving a car or a bike. You probably drove quite a bit the last year but have your driving skills improved due to that? You got more experience, sure, but experience is not the same as development. When experience becomes a routine it can also mean stagnation. At some point, while driving the routine sets in and we can drive without thinking too much about shifting gear or breaking. Our mind has gone into auto-pilot mode. This also happens with your photography. Your photography may have gone on auto-pilot.

You need to get out of this mode, to move past the OK-plateau. How do you do that?

Let us take a look at expert musicians, artists, chess players and athletes and how they came to that level. I am not talking about good musicians, artists or athletes. I am talking world-class experts in their field. What is it that they do that works? We need to bring these elements into our own path towards becoming expert photographers. (Here is the psychological research on expert performance behind this article.)

Be deliberate in practicing your photography skills

Remember the first time you tried to work with leading lines in your photos? You were conscious of what you did. If you stop being conscious of what you do, you won’t improve. The first thing is to become deliberate about what you do, to get past your current level. World-class tennis players practice their serve all the time. They don’t say “well I am good enough at this already.” So continue to be conscious of using leading lines. Be conscious of implementing what you learn and put it into practice. Otherwise, it will just be soon forgotten knowledge. It will not become part of your skill-set.

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Get constructive feedback on your photos

World class athletes work individually with a number of coaches and mentors within their field. Getting the right feedback on where to improve is crucial. You might have an idea of where your weak points are, but a master within photography would definitely be able to pinpoint other issues with your photos and more importantly – how to get past them. You can get professional feedback on your images here along with development points that can enable you to move past your current level.

Train with the best photographers

Another thing that experts athletes or musicians do is to practice together with the best students. When you practice together with someone at the same level or higher, they will influence you to both put more effort and you learn from their success and challenges. You will not learn much if you only get feedback from your friends and someone just beginning in photography. This not to belittle those, just to say that if one cannot see the potential for improvement in a photo, one cannot comment on it. But qualified peers, professional photographers or advanced co-students can.

Attempt things you cannot do

If you continue to do the same things nothing will change. So set yourself goals, that you know you cannot do yet. But you can attempt. Athletes do this all the time. Try to run faster, jump higher. If your goal is to shoot a sunset like you have done 100 times before it becomes a routine. However, if you set yourself a challenge (or have someone else give you one), you will definitely learn something new.

Take an incremental approach toward mastering photography

Think about how musicians, artists, and athletes become world-class experts in their respective field, you will find that they do all these elements that I mentioned above. They study with a qualified teacher, practice together with like-minded really trying to become better photographers. They are challenged to do things that they cannot do. They get encouraged to practice deliberative – showing through their results that they have worked with the main suggestions offered to them by their coach or teacher. Comparing with how world-class experts learn and practice, you can see how receiving feedback will lead you on a path to mastering photography.

Completing a set of images invigorates your passion for photography, but you might fall a little bit in love with your own work and this is where it gets ’dangerous’. Thinking that you master a skill leads to taking shots at autopilot instead of developing your skills. Instead, getting critique can help to nudge you to see where the shortcomings are in a gentle way and point you in the right direction. It will get you little more grounded again and able to work with the shortcomings, enabling you to see the new works in a different light with a finer understanding of what to improve.

It is a never-ending incremental approach toward mastering photography. And I am happy to say that I am not there yet – but I am working on getting past my own OK-plateau, and I will continue to do so.

If you don’t change anything in your way of seeing, capturing or post-processing your images, nothing will change.

Are you working on changing your OK-plateau, and how do you accomplish that? Do you want help with improving your skill set through professional image review and feedback that will get you past your current photography level?

What works for you? Leave a comment below!

 

 

9

  • Molly Kate October 10, 2015

    Great post!!

    • Peter Dam October 10, 2015

      Thanks Molly

  • José Manuel Santos October 10, 2015

    Inspiring and motivacional post. Thank you!

    • Peter Dam October 10, 2015

      I am happy to hear you like it José.

  • Cindy J Flood October 12, 2015

    Really good advice! Thank you

    • Peter Dam October 12, 2015

      You’re welcome Cindy

  • Lee Piazza October 25, 2015

    A really fascinating and inspiring article here. Thanks so much for sharing this.
    No matter how good I think I have become, I never stop looking for ways to continue learning. I tend to naturally turn to books to develop my techniques. I think anyone who wants to develop further in anything should read religiously.
    There have been some great books in recent years for learning photography but perhaps the best I have found has been Hugh Lawtons 3 part series ‘Photography in the Digital Age’. http://www.manzanita-ent.com
    An absolutely ideal read for the beginner to digital photography but also a great source of knowledge and advice for the more experienced pro.
    I was surprised about just how much I learned in a short time from these books. Really well written and laid out for easy learning.
    It’s well worth taking a moment to check this series out.

    • Peter Dam October 26, 2015

      Thanks Lee for your comments.

      And a great tip about the book. I will check it out. I also learn a lot from books and really value them greatly. But, there is the limitation that books cannot give you feedback about how well you are doing. You cannot ‘tickle’ yourself with surprising view on your own work. For this other photographers are needed for feedback. That is what is suggested by research, and one of many reasons I suggest learning through a network like the Arcanum. This is not to belittle books, I am a great fan of gathering all the knowledge about a subject that you possible can. It really speeds up the learning process.

      Anyway, thanks again 😉

  • Mike November 22, 2017

    Peter,

    Really appreciate this post. Just like your comparison with sports I always went to a new level when playing someone more skilled. I have learned with photography to become better is a constant journey. I always learn form more skilled photographer and when I attend workshops.

    Thank you for the reminder.

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