How To Help Someone That Is New To Photography Become An Amazing Photographer

How To Help Someone That Is New To Photography Become An Amazing Photographer

Every photographer worth their salt has had that moment when they get a message from an excited friend who just bought their first camera. That friend is absolutely thrilled with their purchase and has become starry-eyed with the prospect of all the amazing photos they will soon create. There is only one problem: they know nothing about photography. That is where you come in. You have the opportunity to mentor them and create a shooting buddy for the indefinite future, so get it right!

Take It Slow

You didn't learn to be a proficient photographer in a day, so don't try to dump everything you know onto your friend immediately. To begin, they don't need to know all the techno mumbo-jumbo that is involved in photography. Instead, help them learn the simplest basics so they don't become overwhelmed and discouraged. My advice would be to not even worry about the exposure triangle right away. That is a Day-Two conversation. Instead, help them understand what focal length is and the basic operation of their camera in automatic modes. Let them get a handle for aiming and shooting, then slowly ease into the technical aspects. Yes, I know Auto is for the plebs, but your friend is a pleb, so encourage instead of making a fun discovery into what feels like a college math course.

Encourage your friend shoot things he or she will quickly have success with. A great first step I find is in shooting their beloved pets, if they have one (as with the photo above!). Pets make a great learning opportunity because no matter what, your friend will love the photos because they love their pet. Plus, the fun and goofiness of shooting a fur baby helps keep the photography from becoming too serious.

Check Your Elitism At The Door

Your friend probably didn't buy the best DSLR on the market. They most likely bought an entry level camera with an 18-55mm kit lens. It is most likely a Canon Rebel of some denomination. It doesn't matter if you think Canon is an evil incarnate or if you know that lens is effectively plastic garbage. Don't even bring it up. As far as your friend is concerned, they made a great choice, so let them revel in it and fall in love with photography. Gear lust will find its way to them soon enough – no need to accelerate it, or you may intimidate them and push them away from the enjoyment of photography. The same goes for any other type elitism. Encourage them to shoot whatever they want, however they want, and have fun doing it.

Make Sure They Have Fun

The future of your friend's photography career utterly depends on them having a blast with their first camera, so your job is to make sure that they do. Be excited with them as they discover new things. Encourage constantly and don't worry about "constructive critique" for now. Let them have fun and love the images popping up on the back of their camera, even if those images don't look like much more than snapshots.

Point Them Toward Relevant Education Sources

A new photographer isn't going to see the value in a $300 DVD with dozens of hours of content – even if that content, theoretically, would teach them near-everything they need to know. Instead, find videos or books that are quick to ingest that lower the learning curve. Personally, I usually go with Scott Kelby's Digital Photography series as a wonderful first door to step through.

Ease Them Away From Other Aspects To Start

I've found that the second many new photographers purchase their cameras, they are already browsing for lights or other similar gadgets. Don't directly discourage this interest, but also know that if that friend jumps in too deep, too fast, it will not only be extremely expensive, but it will also be discouraging. Help them learn the photography side first. Then they can worry about all the other jazz such as lighting, filters, post processing, etc. A camera, the kit lens, and maybe a tripod are really all they need to start. Everything else is white noise.


Never forget that when teaching new photographers, it is about them, not about you. Your focus should be on them and only them. Having a friend that is just as enamored with photography as you are can be one of the most rewarding experiences, so don't worry about yourself – it will be worth it in the end. Instead, do everything in your power to help your friend have as much fun and feel like they are having as much success as possible. That success will quickly morph into motivation, which will then ignite their interest in becoming better photographers. And that is when the real fun starts. But never forget, the most important part of the whole process is their motivation to keep shooting. Motivation makes great photographers. Without it, nothing else matters.

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Anonymous's picture

Wholly agree with this article! Well, except the 'elitism' part; my sister bought a Nikon. KAPOW!!!

All Nikon jabs aside, the absolute first thing I cover in any lecture I give is subjectivity. Learning the most fundamental purpose of photography (zeroing in on the purpose of the photo's existence and building everything else around it) before even mentioning anything technical helps them develop their own style right out of the gate. Better yet, it transforms everything that they learn thereafter into an 'oh yeah!' moment as they'll understand the "why's" behind DOF, lens/focal length choice, shutter speed... you know, photography stuffs.

Anonymous's picture

I've tried your approach only to be met with a glassy stare. At first, most folks just want purty pictures. :-)
BTW, whatever system you have is probably almost as good as Nikon so there's no need to be defensive about it. ;-)

Anonymous's picture

Confession time... I came close to nabbing the D5. I was so sold on it, in fact, that I was willing to drop even more cash to adapt my EF lenses. But then I hoisted the 1DXII and my eyes glossed over as I reminisced on the first time I pulled my 5DIII out of the box... *Wipes tear away*.
If not for the mount and the different menu system, I might have gone with that instead of my 1DXII. At that price though you're going to get a phenomenal image no matter what. Feel free to judge me now...

Anonymous's picture

Okay...time for my confession. About 20 years ago I had a part-time tech job at Best Buy and we got so many Canon printers back, it soured me on the brand. Also, I like the song, "Kodachrome".

I've thought about buying a Canon, aside from my P rangefinder, to learn how they work so as to help the many people I know who have them.

Very accurate and timely article. Sometimes the way that we bring others into photography may help the craft or hurt the artistry of it. I had the pleasure of bringing a young photographer into our works. Check out his work at .

Anonymous's picture

Great article. My problem has always been curbing my own enthusiasm. They're usually not as excited about their new camera as I am! :-)

Jorin Ceranka's picture

Haha, same here.
Great article at a perfect timing.

The few times I've had the pleasure of being asked to give some "pointers" or "tips" on photography, I've always focused on the subject. What do you like? What do you know? Who of your friends would be into a photo adventure as subject or co-conspirator? Is there another hobby you have that you could capture with your camera? Take something they are already excited about (e.g. travel, skiing, music, etc) and help them see it in different ways. Then when they come back they will have hundreds of questions about technique and why things did and didn't work out.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

Anytime a friend gets their first DSLR, I lend them my copy of Understanding Exposure in which I've highlighted the areas I think are most important. If they actually read it, then I'll put out time and effort teaching them whatever they want to know. Most people think their pictures will be amazing with no effort because they bought a good camera (I know I did when I first started) and get bored when I start explaining stuff to them. Making them read that book first weeds out the people that are willing to put in some work from those that aren't.

Wayne Denny's picture

That book is fantastic. I've personally given it out to 6 different people when they're starting out, it's one of the best ways to start out learning what your camera can do.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Tell em to shoot JPG. :)

Matt Crace's picture

The one thing that is so often overlooked is the manual that comes within the orgasmic aroma filled new camera box.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Personally, I'm not a fan of those manuals for brand new photographers, they are great once the user had grown a bit but to a brand new photographer they are about as dry and boring as possible which kills motivation.

Tyler Thomas's picture

My girlfriend is in the process of getting a D3100 with an 18-55 and 55-200 and several times I've caught myself right before I would say something elitist, realizing it's not going to be helpful. Acting excited for the glass like that is even harder but I know I should if not only for the reason that it will mean her hands will be out of my bag for longer hahah.

But in all honesty, "Having a friend that is just as enamored with photography as you are can be one of the most rewarding experiences..." is just the truth and nothing but!