Practical Advice for Beginners in Photography
This is the first in a new series of blog posts I am writing for beginners in photography sharing tips, techniques and practical advice that I hope will help you to learn how to take better photos. I first picked up a camera nearly eight years ago, and have taken at least one photo every single day since March 2011. I am completely self-taught, and I taught myself photography for free (minus the cost of my second-hand equipment). You can teach yourself photography too, and I’ll show you how.
In this first article, I share a few practical tips and ways of thinking about photography that have been really helpful for me and that I hope help you in the early days of your photography journey. Later in this series I plan to add articles about how you can improve your composition, how to master exposure and the exposure triangle, how to understand the difference between different focal lengths and how a longer or wider lens will change your image and much, much more.
#1 You don’t need a fancy camera to learn photography
When I started my Photo a Day project back in March 2011, I was using a point and shoot digital camera in full automatic mode. I used that camera for about nine months before upgrading to my first DSLR, a second-hand Olympus E450 which came with two kit lenses. I didn’t move across to a Canon DSLR until May 2013, again a second-hand body, this time a 60D.
In the early days of teaching yourself photography the most important thing is to learn the basics of composition and get yourself into a habit of taking photos regularly. You can’t get better at taking photos until you know what subjects you enjoy photographing, and have enough experience behind you to start to be able to see patterns in your technique. In some ways I think that having a camera that is more advanced than your skillset can actually be a hindrance in the early stages of teaching yourself photography. It can be a distraction to have lots of different settings and options that you want to try out when you haven’t yet mastered the basics.
My advice to you if you are thinking about getting into photography as a hobby is to use the equipment you already have, even if it’s ‘just’ a phone camera. Perhaps a friend or family member has an older model DSLR or mirrorless camera lying around that they don’t use and are happy for you to borrow. If so, by all means use it, but keep things simple to start with and use it in full automatic mode so that you can develop your sense of composition and make some decent images without being bogged down by all the different settings.
It’s really common to pick up a new hobby with a little bit of enthusiasm, buy all the kit, and then after a few weeks or months have it sit in a cupboard gathering dust. Don’t let that be you! Prove your commitment to your new hobby before you go out and spend some money on new equipment, even if money isn’t a major concern for you. I know this runs counter to the marketing messages you’re used to receiving, but you will never learn a new skill by simply spending money, you need to put the time in too. It’ll be even more satisfying when you do go out and buy yourself a new camera when you know that you’ll be able to put it to good use.
#2 Always take your camera with you
Wherever you go, your camera goes too. If you’re using your phone as your camera to start out, you won’t have any trouble with this one, but if you’re using a camera then you need to find a way to always have the camera with you. Your camera needs to go with you everywhere you go, even if you’re just going to the supermarket or for a dog walk in the rain on a route you’ve done one thousand times before. You’ll be amazed at how the same scene looks so different depending on the time of day or season of the year you’re taking photos. This is where a weekly or daily photo challenge can be particularly helpful as you’ll find yourself repeating photos quite often. It’s a good chance to think about how you could create a new image from the same scene. Perhaps you could shoot from a different height or distance, or come up with an interesting way of framing the scene using objects in the foreground or background as composition aids.
#3 Evaluate and cull your work
It’s really helpful if you can get into a good habit of reviewing and culling your work in the early days of learning photography. Evaluating and culling your work is just as important as taking lots of photos in the first place, especially as the days turn into years and you find yourself with a large back catalogue of images. Be critical of your own work, and only keep your best photos. With digital photography it’s really easy to take 100 frames of the same scene, but by going through all of those frames and asking yourself what works and what doesn’t, you’ll find that you learn a lot about your style, your preferences, and common mistakes you make when shooting.
I know this first article isn’t very exciting, but these three tips and ways of thinking have been really helpful for me over the past eight years so I think they’re worth repeating. If you’re just starting out, I really encourage you to begin a daily or weekly photo project. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the first of the year or the month, just begin where you are and make a commitment to yourself and your new hobby that you’ll make time for photography on a regular basis.