Think outside the, er, manhole cover.
One of my favourite things about photography is that it's so accessible as an artform. To create a painting, you can't expect to be able to deliver anything if you go and buy some canvases, brushes, and some paint without any training or idea what you're trying to do (although, to be fair, some modern art does give that impression)... In photography, you can take your very first photo, and it'll come out well-exposed, and it'll be of roughly whatever you pointed your camera at. Cool beans, now let's take a look at how we can get better...
1. Invest in Good Equipment
The photographer makes the photo, not the camera, but there's nothing wrong with considering some new equipment every now and again. For some people, upgrading to the latest and greatest is all the inspiration they need to get out there and take better snaps. You don't have to buy a fancy DSLR, but really research your next camera and find one that truly fits your needs.
Nowadays there are hundreds of different types of cameras that you can choose from, so really put some thought into what you will be using your camera for before you invest in one.
2. Learn how to Use your Equipment
Another great tip is to read your camera's manual. Reading the manual will give you the edge; it will allow you to know your camera inside and out and in turn you'll understand the mechanics of a camera.
After reading the manual, play with it; try taking photos in every photography modes, and try setting youself little challenges - like "only taking photos at ISO 1,000 today" or "this week, I'm using manual focus only" or similar. Your photos may not necessarily come out better, but inventing games to help you understand your camera better is a huge step forward. Want some more fun exercises? Try 10 ways to break photographer's block
3. Take a Photography Course
Community colleges or community centers often offer fairly inexpensive photography classes. It could be to your advantage to take one of these courses and learn a few tips and tricks from your fellow classmates and from your teacher about the technical aspects of photography. Alternatively, there's plenty of books out there that could help you along - perhaps one of mine? ;-)
4. Try Something New
Don't be afraid to try something new in your photos. For example, if you normally take photos of your family and friends, then you can try out new lighting, or new settings on your camera. You could also try shooting at different times of the day. Night photography is a whole new world compared to day time photography, so don't be afraid to try something new and experimental in your photos.
5. Find your Niche
Find what you like to take photos of the most, and specifically work on that aspect of photography. Many people gravitate towards portrait photography, but give other branches of photography a chance as well. You never know, you could fall in love with architectural photography or pet photography.
Whatever you find you like best, try to become really really good at it - it won't be easy, and it'll be a lot of hard work - after all, if you love doing it already, it won't feel like work!
6. Take your Camera Everywhere
Always carry your camera! You never know when the perfect photo-op will arise, so it is a good idea to always have your camera close. Also, if you keep your camera with you, then you will be able to practice your photography more and more each day.
7. Be adventurous
Be adventurous in your photos. You can travel with your camera and go on many adventures with your camera in order to learn more about photography.
Going on adventures are fun, normally inexpensive, and can be fun getaways from the stresses of everyday life; they also make great photo memories. So, grab your family and go on a mini adventure one weekend. Whatever you do, don't forget your camera!
8. Join an Internet Photography Community
Online photography communities are abundant and are super supportive. Photography communities are home to photographers who are beginners all the way to professional photographers. Joining a community can help you get the feedback you need to take your photos to the next level.
9. Look through Magazines and Photo Books
Researching photo techniques is a great way to create higher quality photos, and there is no better way to do so than to look through magazines and photography books. By looking at the photos in these publications, you can learn all about certain qualities of photography such as point of view, framing and color balance.
Lacking inspiration? Try my lust of 50 must-read photography books!
10. Have Fun!
The best advice for taking better photos in 2012 is to have fun! If you aren't having fun with your photography, then it will show in your photos. Photography is a fun form of art, so don't be shy and have as much fun as you can with your camera.