Many years ago I learned the value of studying the work of others for any task I wanted to learn. I figured if they were successful in the task/skill, one of the best learning tools for me would be to study why they were successful.
For more than 25 years I have studied the work of leaders to learn leadership and management philosophies and what makes a great leader. I read books on the subject by many authors and read many books on some of the all time leaders. Through this study I learned the value of reading and studying for self-development. When I wanted to learn more about marketing I read everything I could on the subject.
When I wanted to learn more about preaching [I had the privilege to work with 'kids' and preach to the incarcerated for many years] I studied the writings and messages by the greatest preachers of all time. I studied what made them successful in reaching others with the Gospel.
So what does any of this have to do with photography? It is the same with photography. Study the work of others. Everywhere I go, I look at pictures. What makes this photo stand out? Why do I like this image? Why don't I like the image? [It doesn't make it wrong since photography is an expression of the artist.] Attempt to reverse engineer an image. Think, how did they make this image and why does it stand out to me? The internet is a great tool. There are many photo sites to study the works of others with the data built into the image. On smugmug.com, oftentimes the data is only a click away.
Go to your local bookstore and peruse the magazine section and review why you like the photo. If you want to see great baby photos, pick-up different baby magazines and study the images. Do you like the image, how did they get the baby to stay still, to reach up to the sky, etc. When you find images you really like, Google the photographer's name. You might find their web site and they might have a how to section on their site or blog.
Another tremendous source is your local library. If you live in a major city, oftentimes all the libraries work together. I rent books from the Pittsburgh library system. I log onto their site and I find the book I want. The book is sent to the library I 'pick' and I get an email when it arrives.
Trade books with your friends. I am finishing "The Art of God" that I borrowed from a friend. Why is this book amazing? [I am glad you asked.] The pictures are great, he gives a scripture verse that the picture reminds him of, and he indicates the design category. e.g. Texture and an amazing image of landscape texture is shown across two pages. Pattern, and a beautiful closeup image of heart shaped leaves. [Journey into your backyard and you might find a collection of the same pattern.]
Take workshops. There are one day workshops in many major cities as well as week long workshops on photography and other related skills. For those in Pittsburgh, Scott Kelby's Photoshop CS3 "Power Tour" taught by Dave Cross [a link to his blog is on the right] will be in town Sept. 26, 08.
Finally, buy books on Amazon or Ebay [I buy and sell books on Amazon and Ebay constantly.] In fact, I buy many items used. I find it amazing the condition of 'used' items. Many times something will arrive and it is still in the original box and the wrapper still on the item. If you buy used on any online site, please take the time to do some research on the seller. [I plan to do a quick article on purchasing used items on the net in the future.]
Get out and have fun taking pictures! [The image in this post was taken in Memphis, TN at Crystal Grotto. Hand-held @ f.2.8,1/4 second, 1600 ISO - 24mm]
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psalms 19:1