Words of Wisdom for New Photographers

Words of Wisdom for New Photographers

So you received a fancy new DSLR or mirrorless camera for Christmas, or immediately went to the local electronics store with your wallet resembling George Costanzas’ from “Seinfeld,” filled to the brim with holiday gift cards, and picked yourself a kit that has everything you need to conqueror the photography trenches, including not one but two lenses. You may be asking yourself, why would people not buy this? Buying just a camera body when this is such a good deal, makes little sense when you're first starting out. If this is sounding anything remotely close to recent thoughts you’ve had, stick around. In all honesty, I wish I would have had a few of these pointers when I got started in photography.


Ah G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome), so many photographers are plagued with this medical mystery, but the moment you decide you're a photographer your money will vanish before your very eyes and undoubtedly fisheye lenses will appear. In 2017, you’d be hard-pressed to find a camera body that isn’t capable of capturing great images. If you want to invest your money in your craft, start with quality glass. It amazes me when new photographers lust over the latest camera bodies, but wonder why images they take are soft, or “their camera doesn't work when its dark.” Learn the capabilities of what you have, and work towards what you can best utilize. When I purchased my fisheye lens, it was a must have, nothing else mattered at that moment for me. Once I got it home, took a handful of horrible images, it sat for months before I finally realized G.A.S. had won. Don’t get me started on camera bags either. Better yet, watch this.


Work on composition above all else. Whether you are casually taking pictures with your iPhone or working with a $30,000 Hasselblad, how you compose your image will make or break your photo. A poorly composed image captured with even the best equipment at the end of the day will still look like nothing more than a snapshot. There are numerous different compositional rules you can follow. One of the most common is the rule of thirds. Imagine your image is divided into nine equal blocks, which would mean you have two vertical and two horizontal lines. Photographers who utilize the rule of thirds will typically put the most important elements of their scene where the points intersect.

Another compositional ratio many use is the Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Spiral, which is the result of lots of math. For those math nerds among us it's a/b=(a+b)/a=1.61803398875. Seriously, don’t write that down, most photo editors have this added as a crop overlay. You put your main subject along the tight coil, while the rest of the spiral leads your viewers through the image. Take your time, learn to see the spiral in your images.

Leading lines is another classic compositional element that can help lead your viewers through a scene. The Internet is littered with images of people being posed on or around railroad tracks, but have you ever thought why? Leading lines. That being said, it's dangerous, illegal, and has been overdone, so be original. In the image below, I utilized the low clouds moving through the valley as a leading line into the center of the image.

One last note when it comes to composing your image: think about what your photographing. For instance, I’m a 6’7” Jolly Green Giant. If I’m photographing a model who's 5’3” I should be on their level. Same goes for pet or child photography. Shooting from your POV may not be the most flattering look, so change it up.

Raw Versus JPEG

Oh, the debates that have raged since the beginning of the digital age on this very topic. Everyone has their opinion, there are pros and cons to each, but let's not hop on forums posting why one is better than another. This drives people crazy. Let’s treat this topic like religion or politics, kept to oneself unless in the company with friends or family. Do your own research, decide what you like, and go for it. Jared Polin has quite a few videos on this topic, so make sure to check out his website. For the record though, if you only shoot JPEG you're wrong.


Many photographers, if not most, have experimented with HDR (high dynamic range) photography at one point or another in their photography career. Can it look awesome? Absolutely. Trey Ratcliff over at Stuck In Customs proves time and time again the cool things you can do utilizing an HDR approach. However, it’s basically a given new photographers will absolutely over-bake their HDR images into the most unrealistic, oversaturated, noisy images and think they look awesome. I get it, I did it too. I’ve attempted to eradicate the majority of the images I posted in my HDR era from the inter-webs, but for example, I've provided one of my HDR “gems” below. See what I mean? Overdone, haloing around everything, and just overall bad. If you use HDR, think “light touch.”

The Business

Just because you own a camera does not mean you have to be in business. It’s a fact that some people who own cameras actually photograph for merely the enjoyment of it. I admit I got into this crazy business as a way to get my mind off work, and after several years realized this is ultimately what I wanted to do. That being said, give yourself time to learn different aspects of photography. Jumping in head first to photograph events and weddings the first two months after getting your camera is setting yourself up for failure, in my opinion. When you accept money from customers, there are expectations, and if you're not ready to meet those you’ll fail before you even start. While I’m on expectations, do yourself a favor when you're officially ready to accept customers: make a contract. Protecting yourself and your customers is a must in today's world. New photographers get drawn into the fun of the business, like making watermarks to "protect" their images, but when it comes to spending any money on the boring stuff, like contracts, they skirt the issue. Nothing good can come from you not having a contract.

While these topics are merely touching on points that books are dedicated to, remember above all else, enjoy your new camera, learn the craft, and make beautiful images. Mastering light is a journey, don't try to learn it all in one day. Fstoppers community, what other words of wisdom would you offer to new photographers?

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Kenneth Jordan's picture

I'm ready to buy a Canon 80D. I've been told to start with a basic kit lens for many reasons. I plan on mostly portraits for starters. I've found the body at the best price. I'm now wondering if I should get one better lens for starters or stick with the 15-85 kit lens? I'm on disability so cost is a major factor. That's why I'm wondering if getting a bit better lens for starters would be cheaper in the long run.
*18-55 kit lens

user-156929's picture

Buy this: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1143786-REG/canon_0570c002_ef_50m...
It's cheap ($125), very good for portraits with that camera, and you'll always be able to use it for something else if/when you move up.

Kenneth Jordan's picture

This is the info I'm looking for. This lens with the body only isn't much more than the kit lens. I've read that I need to use my feet more for focusing with a 50 lens and that's a non issue.

Kenneth Jordan's picture

To clarify one step further...will this camera/lens combo work ok indoors in a reasonably small studio? How about in low light portraits? Many thanks!

user-156929's picture

It's great for both. Keep in mind, though, while this will be good for portraits and other short-telephoto uses, it's a bit long (on the 80D) for a lot of other uses. If you can swing it, I'd get the 18-55 as well, for general use. The kit lens will work for portraits but you won't be nearly as happy with it.

Kenneth Jordan's picture

Was already considering that. Sounds like a good plan for now for my specific needs. Thanks again.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

You'll really want the newer EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens if you're going 80D. A little bit more reach, and the Nano-USM provides super-quiet focus for video, something you'll notice would be a problem with the 15-85. I've used this combo (80D and the 18-135) on and off and have been pleased with it for general purpose use. It's a good place to start.

user-156929's picture

He mis-typed 15-85. The 18-135 is a bit more than the kit 18-55 and money is an issue but, yeah, I agree!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Ah, yes the new 18-55 does have the STM motor which is quiet for autofocus. But yes, if you can swing it, the 18-135 is big improvement over that. Check out the refurb section on Canon's website or the used section on B&H if you're looking to save a little cash. I've bought from both and have had good experiences.

Brian Pernicone's picture

Words to live by for rookie and veteran photographers alike, especially when it comes to composition. Also, memory is cheap, so always shoot in Raw. Anything else is lunacy. :)

Kenneth Jordan's picture

Then there's a lunatic like myself. A beginner on a fixed income with a cheap computer and zero funds for a better one nor for decent editing software. :-( 😀

Chris PLUNKETT's picture

Unless this is a joke/satire,then how hypocritical is this?
' Let’s treat this topic like religion or politics, kept to oneself unless in the company with friends or family. Do your own research, decide what you like, and go for it. Jared Polin has quite a few videos on this topic, so make sure to check out his website. For the record though, if you only shoot JPEG you're wrong'

Wasim Ahmad's picture

One that always has me scratching my head is why manufacturers bundle most new cameras with an 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 lens and expect consumers to be happy. You take that huge advantage (against cell phones) of having a large sensor, and then handicap it with a mediocre lens that brings low-light performance down to almost point-and-shoot camera levels. Consumers then believe their expensive camera doesn't shoot any better than their cell phone and ditch the whole affair.

user-156929's picture

They draw them in with the 18-55, then try to add on a 55-200. After they get tired of changing lenses, they buy an 18-135, 18-200, etc..
It's all about the dead presidents! :-)

Trey Amick's picture

Wish they would just bundle cameras with 50mm glass. That would be hugely beneficial in my opinion for new photographers to start out with. They get to experience decent glass at a great price.

Kenneth Jordan's picture

So if I can save up a tad more maybe a 50 and an 18-135 should well cover my needs for a while it sounds like. Following all the posts so far. I've seen a good bundle deal with the 18-135 and could scrounge up the little extra for a 50.

AWESOME and truthful article, @TreyAmick! SO true. I'd add to the sage advice for those getting started:
1. Don't expect that when you put a website up with your images for sale that people will miraculously stumble upon your site and flock to buy your images. It just doesn't work that way at all--no matter how awesome they are.
2. Get critiques -- and get them from a body of your work, not just the 1-2 favorite shots you have. We can all knock one out of the park once in a while, but getting a critique of a body of your work--and doing so frequently with different people--will give you a sense of the overall trend of strengths or areas of improvement you may have.
3. Photography is a Journey. Ever person has their own reasons, pace, and goals. Enjoy and savor each step and moment of growth. Don't let the ego-laden, condescending folks you'll inevitably fun into spoil your fun. Some people can't live without putting others down so they can look better.
4. Don't feel like you are a "nobody" or "less than" unless you monetize your work and turn photography into a business. Saying you are "a pro" means you love marketing, business plans, accounting, innovating incessantly, working in a saturated market to create your own niche space, and honestly? Not shooting nearly as often as you'd like. You have to love being a business owner---as much or more than you love photography itself.

I wish everyone wonderful success with your new gear and your new journey! :)

I tend to hang onto my cameras. I bought my Canon A-1 in 1980 and I still shoot film with it. In 2013, I bought a used Canon New F-1 because I always wanted one with the AE Finder FN and AE Motor Drive FN.
My wife had been wanted me to switch to digital. In 2012, she was going to get me a DSLR, but when she said the DSLR was a Canon T3i, I talked her out of it figuring that the T3 would be the last DSLR I would own based on my A-1 usage. I wanted a DSLR that would at least match my A-1 and F-1 in terms of performance: full frame and 6 FPS with the respective film motor drives. The closest match was the Canon 5D III, which I got in 2013.
Over the years, I've gotten some Canon FD mount lenses: 50mm, 28mm, 80-205, 400mm, and a MacroPhoto 20mm. For the EF mount, I just have the 24-105 f4L; my next lens purchase will be the 70-300 and I also need a flash.