to the work of others isn't always the best way to improve your craft. For one it can be damn intimidating. You visit some exotic location, photograph your bum off, fill a whole heap of memory cards and come away pleased as punch.
Then on the airport on the way back you pick up a glossy picture book on said destination by a famous photographer and rapidly fall into depression as you realise that what you thought was great photography doesn't quite come up to scratch.
Take heart, we've all been there. It's great to look at the work of the masters and to appreciate what it is they do. How they see the world, their use of technique, the way they manage to gain access to create such wonderful images. And then you file that information somewhere into the back of your brain and look at your own pictures.
And that's where you'll learn what you need to know. By comparing the images you took a year, two years or more ago to the ones you take now, you will feel much better about how you have improved. Believe me.
Before I had fully realised how passionate I was about photography and decided to make this my profession I was a backpacking bum! I had an SLR, a couple of lenses and a tripod and bought slide film as I went (and as the budget allowed). And I look at the pictures I shot back then (which at the time I thought were pretty hot!) and cringe ever so slightly - OK quite a lot.
Let's take India. No two ways about it, I was simply overwhelmed by the scale, the cacophony, the bedlam. And it shows in my images. You can't create art when you're mentally struggling to make sense of it all. So in my collection of roughly 400 images there aren't many gems. A handful at most.
But I could see the seeds of where I was going. Moments of clarity where it came together. The image above was one such moment. I was walking around the outskirts of the Dalai Lama's residence in Dharamsala with my wife when we came across this little old Tibetan man carving prayers into sheets of rock. He had a customer, an elderly nun who agreed to be in my image.
So I quickly framed the image with my wide-angle lens and highlighted the bright colours of her habit and the red stone in the background. Wide-angle lenses and strong colour have since become a bit of a trademark of mine so I can say that even back then I was improving and developing a style.
Of course I always look at bad stuff I took in exotic places and think, 'If only I knew then what I know now.' But I didn't. And the mistakes I made, the compositions I botched, the exposure stuff-ups that happened were all part of the learning process. And by comparing my work now to a few years ago I can see my images developing and changing. Still just as many mistakes because I'm always experimenting and pushing the limits, but more successes as well.
So the next time you look at some wonderful photography and feel down because your own images don't seem to be as good, go back into the files and take a look at what you were shooting a couple of years ago. I guarantee you'll feel a lot better about how far you've come and can look forward even more to getting better as you go forward.