The beauty of art… there are no rules, no curriculum, no set path that you must follow in order achieve what you aspire to be. While the freedom to learn as you wish at your own pace is great, a little guidance and direction didn't hurt anyone. In this article, I’ll explain further. I’d like to share some thoughts looking back on past experiences when I started to learn photography for those beginning in photography that may find useful.
This piece can be easily applied to any genre in art, but most of us are photographers here or at least aspiring to start their journey in the photography world. All of our stories are unique, at some point a camera (or phone) fell in our hands and we instantly felt that “feeling” we can’t really describe.
I’ve come across many who are interested in photography or are at least curious or someone who is trying to figure him or herself out in which genre suits them best. That is what has inspired me to write this article.
So You Want To Start Taking Pictures, Huh?
So you’re interested in getting into photography? Awesome! So how do you really get started? This is what you should really do. Before you log onto Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, or whatever shopping site to go buy a camera. Let’s stop the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) before you run up your credit cards. Think about, is that next piece of gear really going to make you a better photographer? Is it really? Sure it might make your pictures “look” better, yes gear does help, but let’s be honest, when you’re starting out you really don’t know what you’ll need right away. You wouldn't want to spend your hard-earned money on a 85mm portrait lens come to find out you prefer to shoot wide-angle landscapes, would you? As you develop your skills you will grow out of your gear and will be able to make informed decisions on what gear to purchase next.
With that said, it may be best to use whatever you have at the moment, it may be your girlfriend or boyfriend’s camera, an old point-and-shoot you never used, or even just your phone that you’re holding right now.
It’s Not The Tools, It’s The Carpenter
Often the misconception is that better gear automatically makes you a better photographer. Does it really though? Beginning photographers often make the mistake of worrying about having the best gear possible prior to even learning the fundamentals of photography, which is how to interpret light and how to capture it. I am partially guilty of this, but learned this later on. A long time ago during my fishing days I noticed there are hundreds and thousands of fishing lures on the market, it then dawned on me, fishing lures are designed to catch fisherman, not fish. This analogy can be applied to camera gear as well.
You do not necessarily need to have the best gear to be a great photographer. Fstoppers writer, Andrew Griswold, makes a living off just using his iPhone. Lee Morris, one of the founders of this great site shot a fashion shoot by just using an iPhone. A camera is just a machine, it’s up to you to control the machine or it ends up just controlling you. In fact, Flickr says that the mobile phone was the most upload device on their service this year. “It’s not the tools, it’s the carpenter.”
My best advice is to use what you have and go with it.
Seek Out Inspiration & Learn
Before we open a Facebook fan page or make a website, this is a very crucial time in your journey in photography. This is in fact one of the most important stages in your career if you’d want to pursue photography professionally. It is an opportunity to learn and hone your craft without expectations, without clients expecting quality results, without the “not so fun” stuff that involves being a professional photographer like meetings, marketing, contracts, releases, etc. This is where you indeed can have the most freedom of creativity, make mistakes, learn from them, and to grow as a photographer. Let’s not rush into being Joey L., Peter Hurley or whomever you inspire to be; they all had to start somewhere. As I mentioned in my black and white article: learning is a process, we all want to be the best we can be, a little patience will help get you there.
There are many great sites on the web to seek out inspiration, log onto 500px, Flickr, or Instagram. Save some photos you like. Find some photographers that inspire you, study their work, save their photos too and print them out to make an inspiration wall.
Learn about light; learn about Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO; become a sponge and soak it all in. Log on to Fstoppers.com and dig through articles. Learn through tutorials on the web, YouTube has endless amounts of useful tutorials at your fingertips. Perhaps make an investment on a tutorial or two. The Internet is what you make of it; it's an amazing tool.
Just Go Shoot
The most important aspect of learning photography obviously is just going out and shooting. Albert Einstein said it best, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Every photographer’s story about how they got started it unique. A great idea is to take photos of what interests you when you’re starting. I remember when I dipped my toe in photography in high school, while I was fishing in Florida everyday after school. I would paddle around in my kayak; take photos of my catch, birds, sunsets…whatever crossed my path. I had a point-and-shoot my mother gave me for Christmas that was waterproof and used it to the best of my abilities.
The point I’m making here is, look at your surroundings to gain more inspiration to shoot. You may live in an area where the landscapes are gorgeous, or have friends who model, or where the streets are full of life like New York, or you might even have some friends who are in a band. I remember in college I got myself a media pass so I could shoot the USF basketball games court side. Another great example is a long time friend of mine, Frank, has been fortunate enough to travel the world while in the military. From Alaska, to Bahrain, to living in New York city, he's been able to make a name for himself with his street photography as shown below. Whatever it may be, take advantage of the opportunities presented to you and that surround you in your environment. Just go shoot.
In the last few years up until this year, I tried every genre of photography I desired. From landscapes, street, sports, studio, and portraits. I can honestly say I learned and took away something from every experience and experiment I tried. It wasn't until later on I found that portraits was something I'd like to focus on and shoot exclusively. You will find your niche, everyone eventually does.
Sometimes photography can be taken way too seriously to the point where we might skew away and forget why we started in the first place, and that we enjoy taking photographs. Just remember to have fun, make the best of the card you’re dealt, learn and soak in as much as you can, and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. With patience, your photography will evolve over time.