Christmas is over and after slowly digesting their family dinners, thousands of enthusiasts are eager to learn how to efficiently use their freshly acquired devices. If you just got hold of a camera, you might ask yourself, where to start your journey.
More Lessons Than Expected
For outsiders, it seems like photography was easy and there’s no expertise needed. After all, we all take pictures in our free time, don’t we? Obviously, your pictures will be better when you have a good camera, won’t they?
Unfortunately not. “The photographer makes the image,” is a very common and over-quoted saying, which is still valid. As an advanced photographer you’ll do more than hitting the shutter and uploading your images on Instagram. The truth is, that modern phones have great image quality, but not every smartphone owner is a great photographer. The same counts for camera owners.
If you really consider learning photography, it’ll always be helpful to know where you can get information, what’s important in the beginning, and what all you can still learn.
Keep It Simple in the Beginning
At first, you obviously have to learn how to handle your camera. Part of it happens by playing around. Take your time discovering the features. It’s important that you start to like your camera and develop the tendency to experiment. Still, that’s just playing. Whenever you are free and eager to really learn something more technical, research the exposure triangle and figure out how to shoot in manual mode.
Many people suggest reading your camera’s manual. I never did something like that, but simply tested all the buttons and menus. On the other hand, I ignored many functions of my first camera for years, because I simply didn’t know about them. I discovered them with time, which probably slowed down my process of learning. So, whenever your need to play around declines, maybe take a look at this awe-inspiring document.
Where to Find Information
I learned how to deal with my camera from a very common e-book, which I bought online. I worked through it, understood 65 per cent and remembered 10. While surfing on the waves of photography websites, I started understanding technical terms a little better. In the beginning, everything was new and felt a little intimidating. It took a while until I really understood terms like “hyperfocal distance” or “Soft-edge neutral density filter”, but in the end, it wasn’t that hard.
YouTube is a great source for entertaining and yet educational videos, too. Besides the more technical aspects of your camera, they will also teach you how to approach certain styles of photography and help you understand post processing. They will give you an insight into the skills of communicating, starting a business, and planning a shoot. Nonetheless, you will probably find out that many tutorials that will cost you some money are often better in terms of quality.
The best thing, however, is joining other photographers. Learn from each other by exchanging ideas, sharing information, and critiquing each other’s images. You will find such groups at online platforms, but nothing will work better than real-life photography groups.
It’s Not Your Camera
If I only knew how little my camera was guilty of the bad images in my beginning days, I would have saved a lot of money. Too many people have approached me and asked which camera is the best. “The best camera is the one that’s with you,” is another over-quoted wise saying, so I rather reply: “Any camera with a 35mm prime lens on it.”
A 35mm prime is so versatile that you can shoot almost everything with it. It has its limitations of course, but in my opinion it’s the best lens to discover photography. Because it’s a prime lens, you can’t be lazy and zoom, but you have to experiment to develop a good image. That’s learning by accepting limitations. Most 35mm lenses are very fast (i.e. they let a lot of light in) and also cheap.
Yet, the kit lens is also able to help you with most of your beginner’s needs. Never blame the gear, blame yourself. The less gear you have, the more you need to improvise and challenge your creativity. That’s often not acceptable for professional jobs, where you need to offer the best quality in a short amount of time. But it’s the best way to challenge yourself and eventually improve your skills.
The Settings Are the Easiest Part
When you have discovered the functions of your camera, understood how exposure works, and what happens, when you press the shutter, you built the foundation of your photography-future.
Without this foundation, everything that you'll build up will remain unstable. Great photographers can change the settings of their camera without taking a look at it, while they are shooting out of a helicopter, dive between sharks, or cower behind a wall in a conflict zone. You don’t have to shoot manual mode forever, but you should understand what's going on in your camera. Most people switch back to semi-automatic modes, whenever situations change quickly.
Building up on this foundation makes the biggest part of learning photography. Composition, storytelling, light, emotion, and the whole toolbox of creativity need to be developed. That doesn’t happen in a few months, it takes decades.
Admit That You’re a Student Forever
Do you want another over-quoted saying? “Your best image will be the one you’re going to shoot tomorrow”— old but still valid.
Once you learned your first lessons and your friends show you their “supercool” images on their smartphones, you will tend to belittle them. Where is their composition? The subject? The story? Even though you’re not a master, you can help them. I found that especially while I was teaching others, I even discovered many new things and developed new ideas. Becoming a teacher for others doesn’t mean that you’re not a student anymore. Just like any other hobby or profession, there will always be someone who does something better than you. Be open to learn your lessons in the most unexpected situations.
The Most Important Part
You can read, study, listen, compare, and do whatever you want. The most important part is, however, that you enjoy the process. Photography can be tiring by times. Sometimes, you won’t be satisfied by your work for months. If you really enjoy photography, you will have the patience to stand these long hauls.
We all have the power to make our own photography journey enjoyable and instructive. Play around and don’t fear to fail. Every failed experiment is proof that you’re pushing the boundaries a little more. It’s proof of your creativity and thirst for action.
In a way, art makes us become a child again. More than just expertise, we need to (re)discover our curiosity and eagerness to experiment. If you keep this curiosity alive, you will soon feel your own development become a success story.