How to improve your photography skills when you are time-poor

Above: Image by Gina Milicia

You love photography and want to improve, maybe even start a side hustle but life keeps getting in the way. You are constantly battling with work commitments, commute times, chores, family, friends and Netflix.

At the end of each day, you’re so exhausted that you can barely speak let alone pull out your camera for a photo shoot.

When you first bought your camera you had the best intentions, the two of you were going to be inseparable. You had big plans, but life got in the way and now you are the proud owner of the world’s most expensive paperweight.

What if I was to tell you that you don’t need to find hours in each day to improve your skills?

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” –Old Chinese Proverb

Trying to learn a skill in chunks is like cramming for an exam. Your brain will allow you access to this information for the next day or so and then it gets filed to a section I call You don’t need to know this anymore” alongside algebra formulas, how to program a VCR and the name of your third cousin’s new baby.

When you drip-feed your brain information in much smaller chunks your brain locates this information in a folder I like to call Stuff you need to know”. This drip-feed method of learning is why I know the words to Achey Breaky Heart, the contents of a Big Mac and the reason I can operate my DSLR blindfolded. My brain has been drip-fed this information over a long period of time.

So stop beating yourself up about the fact that you are not spending enough time with your camera and instead commit to five minutes a day to learning or honing a new photography skill.You can start this by scheduling this time in your diary every day just like a dinner date or tennis lesson. To make things easier, ensure your camera batteries are charged and you have a card ready to go.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started. Oh and let go of the outcome, this exercise is about learning a new skill not creating art. Don’t worry about what the images look like. It’s not important. The learning is in the doing. You are training your photography muscle.

Spend five minutes a day on the following exercises:

1. Spend five minutes looking at the work of the following masters:

2. Shoot an image with all the different metering modes, split matrix and centre weighted

3. Shoot a silhouette (One of the kids in the backyard)

4. Shoot a starburst use the dog or cat, child or friend as a model. Try f11 f16 f22

5. Shoot a window-lit image

6. Shoot backlit

7. Shoot a long exposure with a tripod. (This could be a shot of the shower running)

8. Try a fast shutter speed to freeze motion. Water splashing. The train rushing past

9. Track focus continuous vs 1 shot of kids running towards you or people walking towards you on a busy street

10. Shoot extreme high ISO indoors at a shallow depth of field

11. Overexpose all your images by 1 stop

12. Tape up the LCD and shoot something old school

13. Guess the exposure. Spend five minutes guessing the exposure in a room or outside. Test it with your camera meter or light meter

14. Get someone to jump for you and try and get the image sharp

15. Shoot flash on camera with different modifiers

16. Photograph a location morning, noon and night

17. Ask a stranger to take their portrait

18. Ask a work colleague or family member to pose for you

19. Arrive at a random location and look for the best light

20. Dissect an image a day. How was it lit and what are the camera settings

21. Set up a speedlight on a light stand and shoot at ⅛, ¼, 1/16th power

22. Test each f stop of your lenses for sharpness

23. Test your camera bracing skills. How slow a shutter speed can you hand hold for?


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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE