This is such a hard question to answer mostly because everyone is on their own unique journey and subsequently on different levels. Saying that though, there ARE a few things that everyone can do regardless of where they are on this amazing path that is becoming a photographer.
In 2010 I got my first DSLR camera and it took me about 3 years to get comfortable and confident enough before I set up a photo shoot with a model that wasn’t my friend. Before then, I experimented, took hundreds pf really, really bad photos that no one has ever seen and generally didn’t have a clue how on earth to get better at this thing I really loved doing. I wanted to make it my profession but I didn’t know how to get there. I also discovered Youtube and spend hours upon hours trying to learn how to get better. I learned a LOT watching videos and it moved me forward for sure. However, I wish someone had just told me the following and I could have saved a lot of time! Are you ready? Here goes.
I don’t mean in a literal sense. Forget about kelvin and matching colour temperatures for now. That stuff will do your head in. What I mean is, go and shoot outside and watch how the light changes at different times of the day. How shooting in the shade looks, as opposed to in direct sunlight. Why shooting early morning or just before sunset is ideal (softer shadows and richer colours generally) and what happens when you shoot into the light and not into the light (how does your camera read the lighting situation?).
A great way to get started if you feel overwhelmed, is just to head straight for full shadow for a nice even light. This light is always flattering.
When you set up a photoshoot, focus on ONE THING
I see so many photographers trying to do EVERYTHING in one shoot and it never works out great. Focus on one thing at the time. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this shoot? Are you trying out a new lighting technique? Is it all about the make up for a beauty editorial? Is it about the location or practising shooting out in the elements? Is it about posing and making your subject look the very best? Do you just want to see what your camera and/or gear is capable of? Just trying to get sharper images?
Keep it simple and get organised
Write up a call sheet. Make a mood board. Clarify the PURPOSE OF YOUR SHOOT. You are always going to be way better off producing purposeful work rather than spending every weekend shooting models in bikinis that all tend to look the same after a while (no offence to anyone who does this, it just isn’t a good way to elevate your skills). Set yourself one project at the time and immerse yourself in it. It doesn’t have to be difficult or ground breaking, it could just be “Testing out early morning light at the pool” or “Fashion shoot using a mix of ambient and studio lights”. You get the idea.
It's going to take some time
I get it. You want to get better NOW. That is just not how it works. There’s no silver bullet that can magically make you a better photographer – no course, no webinar, no blog (not even this one), no other master photographer can fast track your skill set. Allowing yourself to progress, learn and shooting when you can is the only way to do this. What CAN make a difference is having someone you trust and whose work you like, help you out to get there. A person like that can be invaluable when you are stuck on something and just need someone to tell you WHY. I didn’t have anyone like that and I wish I had!
Patience will pay off. Accept where you are at and set realistic goals. If you have 4 kids, a job and the one who does all the house work on top, then getting better will take a lot longer than someone who doesn’t.
It took me 5 years to get to a level in my business where I can confidently charge what I need to and have the skills to back it up. I had to work 7 days a week for many years to get to that point and I STILL have a lot to learn and I still don’t have my own studio. As comparison, I know a photographer who it took only 2 years to do the same and also have her own studio. How? She didn’t have a full-time job or had to worry about paying the mortgage or bills. Her kids are in their teens - she had time and money. So don’t beat yourself up if you think you should be better by now, we all go at our own pace.
Your gear is irrelevant
Couldn’t afford the brand new Canon 5D M4? Or Nikon D850? You don’t need it.
Use what you have or can afford, new gear is nice but it will never make you better. Ever. Until you can list all the things that you need to make great images, a new camera or lens isn’t going to help you. And yup, that’s a trick question.
So what do you need to make great images? Images that just look amazing?
You guessed it. It isn’t new gear!
I hope some of these points have helped you step forward in your photography journey (and not scared you off). Let me know in the comments.