Your gear does not make you a good photographer. If you are just starting out, a top of the line camera is likely to not only be be a waste of money for you, but also make your learning process a bit trickier. A bit like buying a formula one race car to learn to drive.
When you do want to buy gear, research first. It’s really helpful to take a look at some photography forums or articles here on dPS to find tips on beginner cameras. Once you find something that sounds viable and fits your budget, read reviews, and again look to forums such as Flickr, where there is a chat group for nearly every brand or model of camera, and they are often more honest about any issues.
The same applies to other gear like lighting. You don’t need to set yourself up with professional soft boxes to try studio lit portraits, you can try some of these DIY lighting tips, or find some cheap beginner setups on Amazon or Ebay.
Take lots of photographs
“Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
As with any skill, the more you use it, the better you get. As you progress with your photography and look back on those early beginner shots you thought were fabulous, you’ll be able to see Mr. Cartier-Bresson was very right.
Read the manual
Camera manuals are at best, the most boring thing you have ever read in your life, with the possible exception of that friend that wanted you to read all 600 pages of their poetry about love and skin rashes.
It’s a good thing both in the beginning, and to refresh down the track, to know how this wonderful instrument (your camera) actually works. Even if you don’t recall all of it, that doesn’t matter, you will learn or be reminded of something helpful.
Yet it’s such a hard thing to read that manual! So it’s best to place it somewhere where you can push through it in small instalments while you are passing some time such as: the bathroom, in the car if circumstances have you often sitting there waiting for the kids, or at work during lunch break. Just as long as you give that thing a good going over.
Workshops and courses
So you’ve got the photography bug. You might be thinking, “Ooooo! I’ll sign up to a bunch of courses, workshops, buy online courses.” It might seem like a good idea and while they can be fantastic, I don’t recommend going nuts with your enthusiasm, and signing up for courses and workshops the moment you get the photography buzz.
You are currently reading one of the most useful photography sites on the entire internet. There is more information, tips and tutorials on this site, and others, than you will ever need to get you started and beyond. Once you get the hang of things, then you will have a better idea of the type of courses and workshops that would suit you. So I’m not saying don’t take a course – just wait until you know what suits your needs.
Connect with other photographers
This is invaluable, whether you sign up to an online group that use your brand of camera, or join a local camera club, your photography will progress faster, and it will be more fun with the help of fellow shutterbugs.
Camera clubs often have monthly competitions to practice with and sometimes organize photo tours, exhibitions and other activities. Talking with knowledgeable photographers or even fellow beginners can not only inspire, but also keep you motivated.
Sign up to some reputable photography newsletters and Facebook pages, or even approach photographers you admire to ask questions. Most professional photographers don’t mind answering a few questions, as long as you are respectful and polite, and don’t demand too much of their time.
You may have taken up photography with a certain style or subject in mind, but it can be helpful to try all styles. You never know what you might have a knack for, or what you will learn along the way.
Your friends and family may love you but they will lie to you about your photography. Unless you have a very honest friend or family member who actually knows a bit about photography, it’s often more beneficial to get feedback from strangers.
Signing up to a photo sharing site where others can comment on your work will get you mostly honest feedback, sometimes brutally so. I posted the image below on a feedback site some years ago. Aware the image had faults, I was keen to hear what someone else could point out for me, that I might not have seen after working so closely on the image.
A fellow submitted a lengthy comment , basically pulled it apart, pointing out several (million it seemed) faults, he really went to town on it. But while the comments were brutal and borderline unkind, it was useful advice. All of which I ignored in regards to that image, but was useful for later attempts.
Enter free competitions
If you have loads of money to spend, and confidence in your work, by all means as a beginner enter some of the big competitions. You wouldn’t be the first to take out a major prize in the first few months of picking up a camera. But there are loads of free competitions out there for you to throw some images, at and see how they go. Have a read of this helpful guide to entering competitions.
Aim to get off Auto settings
If you really want to be a good photographer, this is vital. No rush though! Just enjoy photographing in Auto Mode, and experiment with the settings as you go. Manual settings are not nearly as difficult as some beginners think. It can be a bit like learning to drive. In the beginning, it can be challenging to manage gears, indicators, and steering, all the while trying not veer off the road. But, with a bit of patience and practice, it becomes second nature. When you are ready to try manual settings there are plenty of beginner guides and cheat sheets here on dPS.
The digital darkroom
If you are really into your photography, you will need some sort of editing program. In the days of film photography you needed a darkroom and the use of heavy chemicals. But these days, thanks to modern technology, you can edit almost anywhere.
There are free and simple programs like Picasa, which have their limits, but are good for those just starting out. Then there are the big guns like Photoshop and Lightroom, which can be daunting for beginners, but it’s worth learning even just the basics of these programs, if you intend to get serious about your photography at some point. As with getting off Auto settings, it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first, and the internet is bursting with free tutorials on pretty much any program you choose.
This is the best and most important part of photography, the enjoyment of it.
Don’t get bogged down by unsuccessful attempts, or by comparing yourself to professionals. Even the best photographers in the world were beginners at some point. Just keep taking photographs, keep learning, keep challenging yourself, and above all keep enjoying the fun you can have with photography.
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