Matej Sokol is a self-taught hobbyist who loves nature, mountains, and travel. To see more of his work, give him a follow on 500px.

You want to be a better photographer, and I dare say you’ve probably already realized there are ways to be better. And while some of us are talented and create brilliant pictures before even knowing anything about photography, some of us need to invest in this field first to get some real results.

Photography can be an expensive hobby: there are lots of lenses, cameras, and accessory to buy. But this post is NOT going to be about which brands you should invest in, or which lens is best—there are many articles and forum conversations that cover this topic already.

What I want to do is share some tips how I chose to invested in photography, and I’m not talking only about gear. In fact, I’m not even talking mostly about gear. But that’s where we’ll start.

in the wind by Matej Sokol on

Invest in a prime lens

I remember my first days and weeks with my then shiny new macro lens. It was awesome, so many tiny details to shoot, so much sharper than my zoom lens, and man what bokeh! I was excited and happy.

The shooting was little bit more complicated—I had to solve for issues like, “how to get everything in the frame” by walking, moving the lens around, and taking every possible pose to make the photo work. I realized quickly that capturing a frame with a fixed lens made me think about it much longer than with a zoom. This forced me to be more careful about detailed, to focus on composition.

You don’t need to buy a macrolens, there are many cheaper options like a bunch of the 35/50mm prime lenses out there. All of them share the same attribute: they make you move and think before you get your shot.

Invest in good carry system

I learned this one while traveling with my camera: you NEED a good carrying system. It has to be accessible, hold everything you need, and keep your camera safe. Please, don’t underestimate it, I did and missed a lot of shots because my camera was too cumbersome to carry at the time, or it took too long to pull the thing out of my bag.

I tried few holders and now use the Peak Design Capture Pro Clip attached on my backpack, and I could not be happier about it. For you, some other system may be better or more versatile than this one. This is a very personal choice depending on your requirements, so think about where and how you use your camera. Just as importantly, think about where you don’t use it, but would like to.

layers by Matej Sokol on

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Invest in tripod

Right now you may not agree with me on this. “Why do I need tripod? I don’t want to carry it around and set it up every time I see a shot.” Well yes, there are some drawbacks to tripods, but I bet that if you get a decent one, you will be more than happy by your decision.

It doesn’t matter what kind of photography you do, a tripod makes you think a little longer before composing the shot. This gives you time to spot all those tiny details that could be improved while shooting, so you don’t have so much work to do in post.

You will also be able to use manual focus and, in general, your shots will be sharper. Plus, you can try techniques like long exposure, focus stacking, and capture better low-light photography.

Invest time instead money

Prepare yourself by carefully choosing the gear you want to take with you on your next shoot. Charge all of your batteries, clear all of your cards. Know your gear, scout the location and, get to know your subject. Think about your shot, then take the time to process it, maybe even try a few different approaches in post.

All these activities are dependent on time, not money. Read your camera manual, watch online tutorials. There is always a small bit that could have been done better, try to find that bit.

If you get the feeling that the gear you own is holding you back, browse through photos here in 500px and search for those made with the same camera or same lens YOU use. You’ll probably be surprised by how many outstanding photographers use the same exact gear you do.

Of course, some of their photos were done in better light, the point of view was different, or the subject was not the same. But this is not an excuse for buying new gear, it’s a reason to invest more time, trial & error, and patience.

shooting in the morning by Matej Sokol on

Invest in photo friend

Sometimes it’s hard to get up early, all on your lonesome, to catch the sunrise. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone holding your reflector while shooting portraits. Put simply: it’s great to have a photo friend.

This is someone to go out shooting with, or just talk about photography and get some personal opinions and advice from. It will keep you more motivated when you are with someone who shares the same hobby. If none of your friends is into photography, join some course or photography school—you will meet many motivated people there that share your passion.

Invest in books

I read a lot of online news, tutorials, reviews and also books, but for me there is something special about printed photography books. There are many: some about how to handle your camera, some about photography technique or correct composition. Personally, I recommend the series from Michael Freeman, who covers lot of these topics in his books.

Step up a little bit and learn some photo theory; learn what makes a great photo great. Buy some nice compilations like Great Life Photographers or Magnum Magnum: they are full of superb photos of varying styles with descriptions about what makes them so good and why.

They will probably be different than those you see on social sites with the most likes next to them.

epic by Matej Sokol on

Invest in prints

Right now you probably already have thousands of photographs somewhere on a hard drive or in the cloud. Print some of them.

For me, there is something nostalgic about printed photos. They hold memories better than those photos you see on your screen, and they also bring up different feelings. Try to pick some of your favorite images and get prints made; touch your own photograph.

Some landscapes are most majestic in large prints, some portraits have best skin tones when printed. The selection is yours to make. Paper prints cost money, so you have to choose your top photos wisely—what do you want to hang on your wall?

Invest in workshops

There are many challenges to be overcome during a workshop. Maybe you will try a new photo technique, maybe you will get some new assignments and have to capture better shots than you think you can.

I like workshops because they are personal. I like when I can discuss the shots with the lector and other participants. I like to see other people’s shots, and find out what their intentions were. Even discussing your older shots is much more subtle and useful in person than posting it online to get some critique.

chamonix evening by Matej Sokol on

Invest in travel

New experiences always bring me a lot of inspiration, and for me the best new experiences involve traveling.

So go to new locations, meet new people, log some new experiences… and photograph it all! You will face new, different challenges. It does not matter if you’re hiking in the Himalayas, or you just visit China Town in your city for the first time.

Open your eyes, see all the new things around you and try to enjoy it as much as possible.