I try to learn and improve constantly and it's not simple. But it's necessary if you want to stay fresh and continue to produce great imagery. I've gained a bit of experience throughout the years, and thought you might want to know how I learn new skills and how I try to master them as fast as I can.
Tip number one: Set simple goals!
Looking at all these photographers you admire and thinking about how you can acquire the skills to produce the same type of imagery on a technical level can quickly feel overwhelming. The amount of work can be daunting and the amount of time necessary to reach your goal may seem out of reach. Most of us abandon quickly, especially for those of you who are lacking patience. The key to avoiding this feeling is to break down the task into multiple small goals. Small goals are easier and faster to reach and you will increase your chances of success and it will encourage you to continue and not give up.
Small steps, small goals, and before you realize it you will reach the top of your mountain! Looking back on what you have accomplished will boost your confidence and push you to want more!
My second tip will be to set some restrictions!
It's a part of the first piece of advice I just gave you. Imagine you want to learn how to play with reflections. Their effect and the type of Lens that works best. Natural light or Flash? What kind of poses works best and so on... This is already too much information. You must break this down, take your camera and attach whatever lens you have near you to it. Call a friend, go out, and find a reflective window, wall, or door. And try all the options that come to your mind. Do it once, twice, multiple times, on different sessions, and during a few weeks. And have the same restrictions during a certain period. Change only one element when you feel you have done all you can and when you feel "too comfortable".
My third tip will be to Stick to one skill!
Fast doesn't mean rushed. Rushing things will actually make you lose time. If you thought you would master a new skill in less than 24h you are wrong. But then again if it takes you years to understand how to creatively play with reflections, there's a problem. This is why you got to stick to one simple thing for a while. Your eye, every muscle of your body, the way it feels has to be 2nd nature. Trying it once or twice won't work, you will quickly forget without constant practice and will have to think it over again the next time. For example, I just started playing with smoke and colored smoke Grenades, and I am trying to make new pictures and test new ideas with smoke every 2 weeks. Maybe in a few months, I will feel comfortable with the process and make original epic pictures!
My Fourth advice would be to make mistakes... Yes, don't be afraid to make them!
Making mistakes is a part of the process. It helps you understand why you should and shouldn't do certain things faster. When you are out trying and testing things just go for it, and don't overthink it. Then pause, look at your shot and ask yourself why it doesn't work. You can even ask the advice of a fellow photographer or submit your images to Facebook groups or Forums.
I remember when I first got my 16 - 35mm lens I was making weird empty shots and couldn't use it with a model in front of my lens. I ended up using it only for landscapes and architecture until a few years back when I thought to myself: "use it in your dance photography, make it useable!" ... And I did more than that actually! There is a full video on why you should use a wide-angle lens, with a few of my recent pictures, go check it out.
My Fifth piece of advice would be to organize yourself!
The most obvious tip of the list, plan your week and settle learning assignments. A few hours in your week where you will learn a specific skill. This has to become a part of your routine! Don't do this on paid shoots because you don't want to waste your client's time testing things that might not turn out well. Choose a specific day every week where you will try something new.
My last tip is one you will see a lot here and everywhere: concentrate and get it in Camera!
Do your best to get things "in Camera". With the megapixel war, people with cameras that have more than 24 megapixels tend to get lazy and fix everything in post. You don't fix things in the post unless you really have to. Your goal is to not fix things but to enhance your picture in post. This "fixing" approach can be very dangerous and become a horrible habit. Unless you are shooting an editorial, for a magazine campaign where you need to leave breathing room around your subject to let your client crop in for different use, everything has to be thought through before releasing that shutter!
Deciding everything in pros is like not knowing what you were shooting and not having a clear idea of the picture you are making. Most importantly you will not learn anything this way everything has to be intentional. Whatever you do, your image has to be the result of a creative process, a sum of decisions where you gathered all your knowledge and applied your skills to materialize a vision, a story, an idea, a message you had in mind. Once you have pressed that shutter your picture is supposed to be close to the finishing line.
If you are a photographer and a digital artist, if your work is based on heavy photoshop work, if you are working with CGI or working with composites it's a whole different story.
Hope these tips help you somehow! Please, tell me how do you learn new skills? Let me know! I will take a break after the release of my next video next week for Christmas but don't worry I'll be back very soon.