Some say the key to improving your art – be it photography or otherwise – is to practice. A photographer should travel with their camera and shoot often. It’s the best way, isn’t it? Well…it’s a start. However, the refinement of your skills is dependent on getting out of the vacuum – spending time observing. I’m not talking about the Zen of photography (watch more, shoot less). I’m saying you should put the camera way in it’s cocoon, stash it into the closet and go observe the works of others.
There are a number of reasons to observe another photographer’s work. Inspiration is one reason. Expanding your style is perhaps another. You may even learn some new techniques with a few well placed questions. But the best reason I can think of to browse other people’s work: You will find new photographers to love. You will become a fan.
It is important to be a fan. As a fan, your passion for someone else’s art will grow. You will begin to love the things they love, shoot the things they shoot. You will grow as they grow. But most of all, your own passion in your own work will grow.
I wish that I could tell you that photography was mostly science – the shutter speeds and aperture settings and so on. But the truth is nowhere close to that. Photography is truly mostly about passion and emotion. What we do is less about invoking a discussion about what filter was used and more about sparking emotions in the observer. It is for that reason that I spend more time discussing inspiration and philosophies behind photography than the technical aspects. But to truly be a great photographer, you need passion.
There is no better source of passion than to become someone’s fan. Become a fan of someone well known, and become a fan of a lot of unknown photographers. Spend time on Flickr and spend time in a gallery or a museum. Your source of passion matters little. That you are getting it matters most.