This all an opinion post! Some of these things may not work for you, and that's okay! They are all based on personal experience and what I think has helped me grow over the years!
#1: Take Art Classes!
Something that has substantially helped me look at things differently and more successfully is taking other Art classes. Which is something that is pretty easy to do if you are at an Art school but maybe not as easy if you aren't in school. When I took my Drawing class, my teacher told us that you only learn to draw better if you learn to see better. I think that when you learn how to draw correctly, you learn to look at things very clearly, very in depth and closely. You learn to see light in drawing too! This knowledge is something that has been taken with me into Photography. When I took a Color Theory class I learned so much about color and how to see it, this is very important! Take a design class and learn about composition. All these things can be transfered into your photographs even if you don't realize it.
Obviously a popular saying is "Practice makes perfect" and even though it's a cliche, it's absolutely critical in any form of Art. The more you take photos, even if you don't like them or have nothing interesting to shoot, it helps you improve. You could take one photo of the same subject once a year and every photo would be different as you grow as an artist. Try taking a photograph every day! Take your camera with you everywhere and practice, practice, practice.
#3: Know What Works!
In my opinion it's very important to know if a photo actually works! We had a photographer in our gallery once at my college and only three of her many photographs were visually appealing and seemed to be successful photographs. It really sort of ruined the whole series of photographs for me because you just saw the ones that didn't work. Just throwing in more photos that you think are good but not great because you want more is usually a bad idea. A teacher told me once "your work is only as good as your worst piece." So if you are creating a portfolio and you have one bad photo and ten good photos, they will always remember the worst photo. So if you have to narrow down the number because that is your best work then so be it! Realizing what photographs work and which ones don't is a big step in taking better photos, because people only see your best!
#4: Don't Get Hung Up On Equipment!
Some photographers obviously need the best equipment for their jobs but you are the most important part of Photography. You will not improve just because you bought a more expensive camera or a bigger lens. Maybe your photos will be better quality but it could still be a bad photo. Photographing makes you better not your equipment. Obviously use the equipment you need when you need it and it's substantial to the photograph but don't get too carried away! You're the artist, not the camera! It's just your tool like a paintbrush is for a painting, remember that.
#5: Try Many Types of Photography!
I was trying to figure out if Film made me better at Digital Photography or if Digital Photography made me better at Film, and I just can't figure it out. Because it works both ways! I started in Digital Photography and it helps you get used to shooting in Manual and learning about your meter and really learning how to look at things differently. Then when I started doing Film I learned so much about the whole process of how to make a photo. You learn so much in doing Film that you can apply to Digital without realizing it. I suggest using a full Manual SLR and learning how to meter and doing everything on your own, learning to be able to see what your photo will look like in your head without seeing it on a screen first, that is so important. Knowing what Aperture, Shutter Speed and what ISO will make your photo look like without seeing on a screen. Then when you go to Digital, you know so much more about shooting without knowing it. You will know exactly what kind of photograph you want before you go shooting everything. Also, Digital makes you appreciate being able to take hundreds of photos at a time rather than 24 or 36 exposures but film makes you think seriously about every shot since you don't have an infinite amount. Learning how to develop and make prints in the darkroom is amazing, you will be amazed at how much you learn and having something that you made in front of you is great. So give it a try! Don't let Film die out because it's so important!
#6: Learn How To Properly Use Your Camera!
Something that I really get irritated by is seeing photographers that are very expensive and they are shooting in Automatic settings. The expensive SLR's were made so you can be in complete control of the photograph. Most camera's these days have a Manual option, and in my opinion you should ALWAYS SHOOT IN MANUAL! Why? Because you are in control, not the camera. I think that is very important. You camera doesn't know what Aperture you prefer for a shot or which Aperture would look better for a photo, it just doesn't. Your pictures will improve if you are in control and are getting the photos you truly want. If you know nothing about shooting in Manual and using you meter properly, you can read the manual of your camera to figure out the technical settings, you could take a basic Photography class, look online or read my post on it HERE.
#7: Go Back and Look at Old Photos!
Something that has helped me is going back and looking at photos of mine from a year ago, two years ago, etc. Maybe go back and re-edit photographs. I find that my tastes have changed so much since I have realized what I like to shoot and the way I used to edit doesn't please me anymore, so I do it to my current taste and love what I end up with. It might not have been a bad photo, it's just the way you edited it. That's why you should be very careful with editing, in my opinion. It can make or break a photo.
#8: Get Inspired and Learn From Others!
Something that really helped me is inspiration. That can mean so many things to different people but to me I think it's important to look at other artists and get inspired by them! Go to Art Galleries, look up photographers that you admire on Flickr or Tumblr or anywhere online, look at some in your area, any artists! I really was interested in my Photography teacher's work and took alot away from it and from him and of course I took things I learned and admired from him and made it my own and how I enjoyed it. I print and tone and display my photographs in the way that is comfortable for me, make sure not to steal things from people, get ideas instead. I look at other artist's on the Internet all the time, and wow there are some cool things out there. Go out on the town, wherever you are, look around and find things you think are interesting. Maybe be someones Intern like I did, you learn so much and get so many ideas from whoever you are shadowing. My other class mates really inspire me, we all do the same assignments but we all come up with our own things that are so different, and i love that moment when you say "I wish I would have thought of that!" Figuring out what your style is, what you like to photograph and what you are good at photographing is very important. When I figured that out, it set everything in motion for me and I felt so inspired and motivated by my work.
Thank you guys for reading! I hope I gave you some helpful things to think about! If you have any extra questions you can comment below or go to my Contact page and leave me an Email! Leave me some comments and tell me what you think helped improve your Photography!
Each month I will be posting a Photo of the Month! Also I'll try to work in any requested posts or things I find interesting to post! Enjoy!