Through the Gadling Lens: 5 great New Year’s resolutions for amateur travel photographers

Well, ’tis the season for coming up with New Year’s resolutions — and frankly, I think “lose weight” and “be a better person” are just a bit too cliche, don’t you? Still, it’s good to have goals, and since we’re all about travel and photography up here at Through the Gadling Lens, I thought I’d through a little megapixel inspiration your way, with a few suggestions for improving your travel photography for 2009. The following are resolutions I’ve either made in the past, or are seriously considering making for the coming year — and of course, I’m always looking for additional suggestions, so feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

So, without further ado, five great resolutions:

1. Shoot daily
. When I bought my very first single-lens reflex camera back in the mid-nineties, I took a professional photographer-friend with me to make my choice. I remember, after spending $501 on the second-hand Nikon FE-series camera (in my mind, a fortune), I stood there looking at him, the camera in my shaking hands. “Now what?” I said.

“Now, you shoot,” he calmly responded. “And shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot.”

“Shouldn’t I take a class first?” I asked.

“You can,” he said, carefully, “but the truth is that the way to become a photographer is to shoot and shoot. And shoot some more. And compare. And contrast. And adjust. You will learn more doing that than from any class you could take.”

Years later, I have to agree: the best way to become a photographer is to be a photographer. So even if you’re not traveling, go ahead and pick up your camera daily, aim it at something, and squeeze the trigger. Take pictures of your breakfast. Your unmade bed. Your partner. Your reflection in a store window. A flower. A blade of grass. Whatever. The point is to train your eye to frame shots naturally, and to hone your own photographic style. Once you do, taking photographs when you are traveling will become a piece of cake.

2. Join a new Flickr Group. Naturally, if you’re a Gadling reader and you take photographs when you travel, you’ve already joined the Gadling Flickr group (you have joined, haven’t you?). But since you’re going to be taking these daily photographs, consider joining other groups for inspiration and encouragement. Want to get better at portraits? There’s a group for that. Landscape photography more your thing? There’s a group for that, too. If you’re planning vacations to the beach for 2009, then maybe this pool will provide some inspiration. The point is, joining a community which challenges you and constructively criticizes your images will only help you enhance your skill. And the best part? It costs you nothing to join.

3. Start a photoblog. Several years ago, I made the “I’m going to take a photograph every day” New Year’s resolution — but knowing that I would be horrible at keeping it, I decided to put a little skin in the game: I started photoblogging. I figured that if I had an audience, then I would be pushed to publish only my really good shots; which, in turn, forced me to be a bit circumspect of the images that I chose to capture daily. Now, obviously, you don’t have to make your photoblog public — you can just as easily make it private and for your eyes only, until you’re brave enough to let the world see your work. Either way, the great upside to doing this is that you will naturally see the progression of your skills over the year, because by sticking to it, you’ll undoubtedly see improvement from the shots you take at the beginning of January 2009 and the ones you take at the end of December 2009. Besides, if you do take your photoblog public and allow people to comment on your images, the encouragement from your audience can be priceless.

If you decide to start a photoblog, here are a couple of tips:

  • There are several blogging platforms out there which will allow you upload your photographs and thus create a photoblog: Blogger is one such platform and Typepad is another; but there are several more (check out WordPress and my personal favourite, Squarespace, to name a few). Some of them have levels which are free, and still others you have to pay a monthly fee (but they often have a free trial period). In general, you don’t have to be a whizbang website developer or coder to use these — if you’re comfortable with using standard word processing software, you should be able to figure out how to use a blogging platform. Just check them out, email some of your favourite bloggers to ask them what they recommend, and just jump in.
  • When it comes to designing your blog, remember, less is more: the point is to focus on your images that you’ll be uploading each day. Therefore, very busy blog designs will compete with your images, and sort of defeat the purpose. A clean design often works best.
  • For inspiration, check out some recent favourite photobloggers from around the globe: Bloom, Grow, Love; Modern Day Gilligan; momster.; One day files.

4. Plan at least one trip specifically for the purpose of practicing your photography. This could be a trip anyplace, anywhere. It could be for three straight weeks, or simply a day trip to a neighbouring town. The point is to force yourself into a change of scenery, and then capture its beauty. It is, of course, more exciting to plan a dream vacation to an exotic locale for an extended period of time, but if you don’t have the time or the money to do so, then by all means, pick a town on a map within a ninety minute drive (or commuter train ride, or whatever), and then research it. Find out what it’s known for, and what makes it special. And then, armed with your research (and keeping in mind the kinds of shots you’d like to take), take off one Saturday, and snap away. It’s great practice for honing your travel photography skills, and who knows — you might create some cool memories while you’re at it.

5. Plan a trip to take an on-location photography workshop. Think of it: you take your long-wished-for trip to the Grand Canyon, in the company of a professional photographer, who not only shows you the best parts of the canyon park to shoot, but also shows you the best light, and how to set your camera to maximize the beauty of the images you take. Or perhaps a photography excursion to the French Wine Country, where you spend your days taking photographs of the amazing countryside under the tutelage of a local photographer, and your evenings sipping the products of the local vineyards.

Photo excursions like these are a mere Google search away, and if you’re willing to spend the cash, they can result in a trip to remember — with the images to prove it. Check out the websites of some of the big-name camera manufacturers to start (right now, this one from Nikon has caught my eye … it’s been way too long since I went scuba diving, man …), and then go from there. The possibilities are too fantastic to contemplate.

So, those suggestions should get you started — no need to do them all, obviously, but if you’d really like to improve your photography skills, considering doing one or two of them. And if you have any other suggestions, please do leave them in the comments section — I’m coming up with my own list as I type.

In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone. We’ll continue with more travel photography tips and resources in 2009!

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.