The Quickest Ways to Take Better Pictures as a Beginner

The Quickest Ways to Take Better Pictures as a Beginner

Mastering any craft takes a lot of time, intentional practice, and dedication. However, getting out of the blocks quickly can put you further along that path, sooner.

I bought my first DSLR off eBay and a nifty fifty to adorn the front. When it arrived, I plodded around my house and garden shooting wide open and swooning over the results. Once the honeymoon period had successfully passed, I was left desperately wanting better images than I was capable of. The same old tropes were rolled out about 10,000 hours and lifetimes of work, but what I wanted was to get out of the rookie stage as quickly as possible. I didn't expect to master the craft, I just wanted to get better faster.

That's the magic of starting something new: there's initially no diminishing returns on improvements and you can make leaps and bounds if you get the right information and apply it in the correct way. With the internet attached to us all hours, the information yield of even the nichest of searches is bountiful beyond practical use. So, I decided to compile a list of ways that you can improve the fastest as a beginner, for if I ever lose my memory and need to start again.

A Mentor

Possibly the most difficult on this list to actually attain, but a high-end, talented photographer critiquing your work properly is the single biggest way you can improve. If somebody with a strong portfolio, a lot of experience, and a deep understanding of photography is available to give you constructive criticism regularly or even semi-regularly, grab them with both hands. Constructive criticism and feedback from any old onlooker is as unpredictable as it is plentiful. However, if a mentor isn't a viable path for you, try tip 2.

A Community

I noticed recently that the photographers I surrounded myself with both online and in the real world changed with my abilities and progress. When I was a beginner, I was mostly surrounded by other beginners. Now the communities I am a part of where I look for feedback or advice are other professionals in the same position as me, or better. If you can embed yourself into a group of photographers who are knowledgeable, honest, and fair, you can achieve much of what you would with a mentor. That said, they aren't mutually exclusive. The groups you get access to after purchasing one of our tutorials are a good example and I use several of them.

Challenges

Competitions and challenges are more of a practical suggestion, and a good one. When you're a beginner, I wouldn't worry too much about specializing in one type of photography, but rather enjoy and learn all the different genres and techniques. One way I did this which helped me develop a varied skillset was monthly competitions on a theme. We run these here at Fstoppers, so feel free to use those, but any will do, and the more the merrier. Not only does this improve technical command over your equipment, but it cultivates creativity.

There was a competition for "Rule of Thirds" and I was thinking about entering. I couldn't quite pull of a shot that I was happy with and then, as they things sometimes do, an opportunity was presented to me by way of my kitten and our black and white sofa.

Force Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone

Do this early and do it often. The quickest way to grow as a photographer is to try to do things you're not already comfortable doing. I still force myself to do this where ever possible. In fact, when an opportunity arises that causes me to be immediately filled with doubt and questions over how I could pull something off, it's a good sign I need to say yes and figure out a way. The earliest example of this was when I decided to take portraits of a proper model for the first time. You will make mistakes and have imposter syndrome, but it's where you'll grow the quickest.

Tutorials

This comes with a massive and important caveat: not all tutorials are made equal. While most tutorials will be useful for marginal returns, some tutorials — the ones that are a holistic guide to a genre of photography — are invaluable. I'm plugging our Fstoppers tutorials quite by accident, but they are superb for people trying to learn about a certain area of the industry or to develop skills in a particular brand of photography. However, they aren't the only options and the salient point of this tip is really to find thorough and substantial tutorials with the requisite depth to leave you without more questions than when you started. Ensure the source is trustworthy and the tutorial is well-received, and expect to pay more than a few dollars to have access to it.

Deliberate Practice

I recently wrote an entire article about this, and while "practice" is the most obvious answer to the question of how to improve quickly, it's far from a complete answer. Firstly, you need to be shooting every day, even when — actually, especially when — you don't feel like it. Equally, you need to be conducting deliberate practice, not just going through the motions. Deliberate practice, as I summarized in the above article is:

To put the idea concisely, you set yourself a goal, and then, you practice to reach it with informed and critical feedback. Rather than just repeating a set of actions over and over, reaping the minimal rewards of familiarity and accidental knowledge, you instead push yourself where you're weakest and intelligently evaluate your work and process every step of the way.

Look at images you would like to be able to shoot with regards to image quality, composition, and so on, and then try to. Compare the two images and identify all the ways in which your image falls short. Then you need to work out how to bridge the gap.

Over to You

Veteran photographers, what advice would you give to somebody new to the medium that wants to get better, quickly? Beginners, what area is most mysterious to you and seems hard to progress with? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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7 Comments

Micah Dickinson's picture

My first and primary advice to beginners is always the same: Don’t worry about the equipment. Any modern camera will do. Learn the fundamentals of exposure and composition, and only when you can articulate specific aspects of your equipment that are holding you back do you need to start thinking about upgrades.

Dominic Deacon's picture

I think if I was to go back and give myself a piece of advice it would be, you don't get better fast just by shooting a lot.

I assumed at the outset that by just stacking a lot of shoots on top of one another my skills would progress on their own. In truth I just got myself into well worn ruts and bad habits. Some of those took a long time to break out of. Some of them I probably still lean on and they hold me back.

The second piece of advice I'd give myself is, what happens with the camera is probably secondary to the success of the shoot. If you want a good shoot it's about prep. Spend real time setting up something special to shoot. The right model, the right colours, the right setting. Get all that right and the shoot will take care of itself. The time with camera in hand should just be the last stage of a long process.

John Williams's picture

A camera is simply a light recorder. Photography happens in ones head first. Learning how light “works” is step one. Lousy light will never make your subject look great. A camera records the light that bounced off the ‘subject’. Get intentional, have self talk, “where was the light coming from?” “What was the contrast, size, direction, quality and quantity of the light?”
Simplify your equipment. Truly, a 35 or 50mm lens is all you need, unless you are going to frustrate yourself with capturing birds or sports from the sidelines. That’s “narrow angle” photography. And there is little to no control there.
If one is intentionally making images, instead of “taking” pictures, place your subject outside of the center. We aren’t “hunting for Bambi” here. The viewfinder is not a hunting scope, this, your target has to be off, center. Learn where to aim!
When outside, learn to point down. Unless the sky is your subject, it’s a light source and will be too bright and take the emphasis away from your subject.
Content! What is the story you are trying to tell? Compose it and put it in the frame. First, fall in love with your subject. Then, convey your love to your viewer. See it and walk to it, or build it. Simplify! Keep the noise out. Don’t make the viewers guess at your visual story.
Make the light caress the subject. Isolate your subject. Simplify. Don’t always be sucked-in by color. Learn light by recording it in B+W. Print your images. It’s the only thing you’ll leave behind. Finally, never stop having fun! Looking and Chasing light and putting it in a frame is a life-long pursuit. See! See? It’s not about the camera.

Deleted Account's picture

Quickest way is not to read things like this on the internet and get out there and play.
Sit befind the computer too much you'll be bombarded with why camera x is better than camera y and why Masterclass Z is a must follow.

No, switch off and explore.

Deleted Account's picture

In my opinion the following things are critical to rapid improvement:

1. Buy a really expensive high resolution camera; without that you can't take good photos.

2. Buy super expensive glass; without them you can't take good photos.

3. Learn the rules and rigidly adhere to them.

4. Spend all of your free time on photography sites arguing with like minded people.

Lee Ramsden's picture

Make sure that your camera has 2 card slots as that drastically improves your images,
and bags... lots of bags...