10 Top Tips for Beginner and Amateur Photographers

10 Top Tips for Beginner and Amateur Photographers

There's a lot of negativity and poor advice on photography on the internet, and that can put off amateur photographers — photographers who would otherwise go on to become full-time professionals. So, here's some of the best advice for amateur photographers who want to make it.

The reason for writing this article is to encourage those of you reading this to carry on taking photos and enjoying the art and science of photography. I see way too many people online discouraging others and putting people down about their photography work. The most important thing for me is for beginners and amateurs to enjoy photographing and feel inspired enough to take more. I see photography as a special discipline that combines art and science, giving us the ability to discover the world and connect to it in a deeper, more meaningful way. So, that's why I've put together 10 tips for beginner and amateur photographers.

Ignore Others and Do What You Love

Do what you love portrait

It's important to stay focused on what you love to do and ignore the negative comments

When you first start taking photography seriously, you'll hear lots of advice from other people. They'll tell you not to spend money on cameras and lenses, they'll tell you not to bother entering competitions, they'll even dissuade you from practicing photography itself. But don't listen to them. If you like it, keep doing it. 

Listen to Photographers Whom You Respect

Though I've advised you to avoid the naysayers, you should pay attention to photographers whose work you admire. This is different from just listening to any person with a camera in their hand. Perhaps these are seasoned professionals whose work you've admired for a while, or maybe they're just great people who take fantastic photographs; either way, try to learn what you can from them.

Establish Yourself as a Photographer

Start by establishing a presence as a photographer by entering competitions and gear your day-to-day lifestyle towards photography. Make sure to get up early to capture dewy sunrises or head out at lunchtime to shoot some street photography in town. Use those images to enter local photography competitions online. Start small and build up as you go.

Treat Yourself to Good Gear

Photography gear flat lay

Good gear will make your photography experience that much more pleasurable, but it doesn't have to be expensive

You don't have to rock up to a shop and buy the latest entry-level camera with a kit lens just because you're a beginner. You could opt instead for decent secondhand gear that's perhaps a few generations behind but would have been in the hands of pros just a few years ago. This doesn't have to be expensive; look around for relatively cheap mid-level camera bodies and used lenses. Prime lenses such as a 35mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.8 are a great place to start, because they'll provide high-quality optics at a low price.

Learn From the Pros

Fstoppers tutorials website

Taking online classes is a great way to improve your photography skills quickly

Take as many workshops and online classes from good photographers as soon as possible; if you can get instant feedback, you'll learn much faster, but be aware that much of the information at the early stages will go over your head. Just take notes, and you can refer back to them later.

Try Every Genre

Genres of photography example

Why limit yourself to one type of photography when you can enjoy them all?

Experiment with many different disciplines, from food to portraits, astro to macro. You never know what you'll like or dislike until you try it out, and there's always something to learn from each discipline. Motorsports will have to concentrate on autofocus and shutter speed, whereas macro photography will make you acutely away of how aperture affects depth of field. What I'm saying here is in the beginning (or even later in your photography journey), don't limit yourself just because others tell you to.

Take Inspiration From All Artists

It's not just photographers who are visually creative. After all, it was only about 150-200 years ago that photography was even invented. Look to the obvious: painters, sculptors, and illustrators, but also take in the beauty made by woodworkers, architects, and even music. Absorbing influence from many disciplines helps develop a wider awareness of art, thereby helping you find your own style.

Work the Small Jobs

The best way to learn more about photography is to learn on the job. Apply for entry-level photography positions and do assistant work if you can, but bear in mind the quality of the studio/workplace's output. It's easy for wide-eyed, bushy-tailed newcomers to become enamored with one company, but institutionalization isn't helpful. There are many ways to take pictures, and it's important to bear in mind that some people are just in it for the money. As long as they get the money in, they couldn't care less about the quality of their work. So, try to find workplaces that value high-quality output. Use these small jobs as stepping stones to gain skills and work towards something you want to do, taking with you a large collection of skills and experience as you move through your photography journey.

Ask for Critiques

Man critiquing work

Critiques and portfolio reviews are a great way to learn from others on what you could improve on

Again, this should be from photographers you respect, not just a family member or friend who hasn't the foggiest idea about photography. You need someone who knows what they're talking about and is capable of producing high-quality work. Make sure you take advice from a variety of different people that are experts in other photographic fields, because what a portrait photographer might spot, a wildlife photographer might not. Attention to detail, lighting, composition, and much more varies from person to person and genre to genre. Try out the advice they're offering, but always take it with a pinch of salt; after all, photography is an art form and art is subjective.

Learn Off-Camera Lighting

Off-camera lighting portrait

Off-camera lighting is one aspect of photography most beginners and amateurs forget about and instead focus on natural lighting. However, it's no more complicated than learning the technical settings on your camera and will make a huge difference in your work.

I recommend you do this as soon as you become more comfortable with the basic exposure triangle. Light is everything, and most amateurs don't apply themselves to this area. It's really not as hard as it seems, though. If you're capable of learning about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, then lighting is well within your range of ability.

Summary

Overall, it's not just about learning the technical specifications or buying the latest camera. The best way for beginners to improve their photography is to study art, listen to others, and experiment with as many disciplines as possible. Invest in your kit when and where you can, and avoid naysayers that put you down with negative comments (especially internet trolls). But most importantly, have fun and do what you love.

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12 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

There is only one piece of advice that matters with respect to a new or amateur photographer thinking about becoming a professional.

Do not even think about becoming a professional photographer UNLESS you are so obsessed you can think about nothing else.

In that case, be prepared to work harder than you ever imagined; and then with a bit of luck and a great deal of patience, you will be successful.

But really, just don't.

Harry Bloomberg's picture

Education is very important if you want to be serious about photography. Many years ago when I was starting I took wet darkroom courses from Pittsburgh Filmmakers, a photography school that is unfortunately defunct. Instructors had MFA degrees or excellent work experience and really knew fine-art photography. Years later I took courses from them again to improve my self-taught digital workflow and move to raw processing. Pittsburgh Filmmakers is greatly missed.

Ed C's picture

Learn from the pros? Some yes but here are MANY amateurs who are better than many pros. This is becoming increasingly true. Pro means someone is monetizing it, not that they have a higher skill level. Pro could be interpreted as these ridiculous influencers. I get that Fstoppers wants to sell tutorials but they certainly aren't for everyone.

Learn from photos you like and delve into them and think through how the person who produced it got there instead of the all to prevalent what settings did you use and what filter did you use.

Great photography isn't produced by a formula or a LUT or a filter or any specific process touted by someone online yet that is what the vast majority of these online "pros" taut.

Steven Weston's picture

Jason, you've provided some good advice here. Let me add one more: Learn how to see with your camera and lenses. Assuming full frame, what can you see with your 35mm that's different from your 50mm or your zoom set to 90mm? Each one will "see" things differently. I know a lot of photographers, pro and others, who own a 28mm lens but never use it because they never took the time to walk around with that 28mm and learned how to see with it. To me, that's a kit lens; you carry it in your kit and never put it on the camera. And if you're not sure about even buying that other lens, borrow or rent one. As my dad always said, Try it, you might like it.

Malcolm Wright's picture

Good article. Here are three pieces of advice that are serving me well:
- With a digital camera you can take lots of photographs so, whatever you do, take many photographs. Then when you review them, try to work out why you only want to keep certain ones. (What went right, what went wrong).
- Take time to revisit those photographs you kept 6 months, a year or even several years ago and compare them to the latest ones you now want to keep. Are your latest photographs honestly better?
- Ask yourself honestly is your keeper rate improving in the type of photography you most often shoot?
If your answer to the last two is No, revisit the first piece of advice and take more photographs.

Hunter Chan's picture

I don't quite understand the keeper rate thing. When you get better, you naturally have a higher expectation for yourself and therefore your standard for a "keeper" gets higher.

Malcolm Wright's picture

True, but if you're progressing your ability to capture what you wanted in the first place should also be improving. Of course your critical aspect with the expectations you have might improve faster than your technical ability to capture what you want, so revisit the first piece of advice.

Hunter Chan's picture

Yep...And also the time you put in may be increasing, as I have experienced. For now finishing a photo in 2 hours is a miracle for me...😭

Hunter Chan's picture

I just don't have the money to buy an off camera light..Or to color calibrate my monitor 😂😂😂

Malcolm Wright's picture

Any old light would do even a torch, just watch out for mains electricity powered lights unless your camera has built in flicker detection.
I don't get colour calibration of monitors either as it's only something photographers seem to be encouraged to do.
The viewing public don't colour calibrate their monitors, their televisions, tablets, laptops, smart phones or any other device. It's reckoned that approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are supposedly colour blind :
https://www.colourblindawareness.org/colour-blindness/#:~:text=What%20is....

Would colour calibration of a monitor help someone with colour blindness? There's a question ..

Then there's personal preference as to the warmth of colours.

The saying is 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' . This leaves me questioning where colour calibration of monitors actually fits in.

After all the manufacturers of monitors must do some calibration when they make them, otherwise if they were always far off colour no one would buy them.

Hunter Chan's picture

Thank you so much for your detailed explanation! I will try building lighting setups with the torch and lamp in my home for still life photography. And the color calibration thing doesn't bother me as much now... :)