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What I Wish I Knew Starting Out

When starting out in photography the sheer amount of what there is to learn can be overwhelming.

But, those who are truly passionate stick with it – and endure a lot of trial and error.

Here are some things I wish I had known what I started out.

 

How Long It Takes to See Results

While nearly everyone with a camera hopes to see fantastic results the first time they take their camera out, the reality is that it normally takes a very long time to be able to make the type of photos you want to make. Many photographers will admit to it taking them moths to learn how to shoot in manual mode before they even moved on to mastering concepts like light and composition, not to mention more advanced concepts like color theory.  And of course post-processing, even if minimal, is an essential skill to making good photograph and is a completely different skill set from shooting.  Feeling overwhelmed?  Don’t be.  Take one step at a time and really learn each component of what makes a good photograph and with each new.

Feeling overwhelmed?  Don’t be.  Take one step at a time and really learn each component of what makes a good photograph and with each new

Take one step at a time and really learn each component of what makes a good photograph and with each new skill you master you will make better and better photos and get closer to your vision.  The wait is worth it!

 

The Importance of Education

Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Hardly anyone intuitively learns how to operate a camera in manual mode, how to use Photoshop, or even how to seamlessly shoot a wedding day.  Even when you do learn these things, there are always areas where you can improve and there is always more to learn, such as learning how to use flash or diving deeper into editing techniques.  Learning from those who are top in their field will greatly shorten your learning curve and with so many great resources.

Hardly anyone intuitively learns how to operate a camera in manual mode, how to use Photoshop, or even how to seamlessly shoot a wedding day.  Even when you do learn these things, there are always areas where you can improve and there is always more to learn, such as learning how to use flash or diving deeper into editing techniques.  Learning from those who are top in their field will greatly shorten your learning curve and with so many great resources for education there is no excuse for not taking some classes.  Follow photography blogs.  Click & Co. (http://clickandcompany.com/)  offers many tutorials related to photographing children, is home to forums for all skill levels, and offers a huge array of classes starting monthly that are available as

Follow photography blogsClick & Co.   offers many tutorials related to photographing children, is home to forums for all skill levels, and offers a huge array of classes starting monthly that are available as study along or full participation with detailed feedback from an instructor.  CreativeLive is a hugely popular site for on-demand streaming photography classes (all available for free when first broadcast) on everything that is relevant to hotography.  Classes include best way to set up a new camera, to shooting everything from food to landscapes to families (posed, documentary, newborn, lifestyle and more) to star trails to editing skills to color theory and more.

 

The Importance of Daily Shooting

Taking classes and getting feedback is important and putting what you learn into practice is essential.  No matter what your skill level is, there is a good reason for shooting everyday.  Newer photographers will want to practice getting their exposure triangle right in every type of lighting situation and with every type of subject.  With enough practice, this becomes intuitive.  More experienced photographers can practice improving composition skills, getting better at identifying the “decisive moment” to click the shutter, shooting in harsh or low light, or improving other skills that will make you a better photographer.

World renowned wedding photographer Roberto Valenzuela discusses in his CreativeLive classes  how even though he typically shoots weddings on weekends only, he spends the week working on his lighting  and posing skills and going out to challenge himself to find the best place to shoot in any location – including alleys and gas stations so that he will always be able to produce gorgeous images for his clients no matter what circumstances he is presented with while on location.

Gear Isn’t Everything

 When starting out it’s tempting to think that new and better gear will allow you to make better pictures nearly as soon as you open the box.  There is no doubt that more expensive DSLRs with greater ISO capabilities will help you make better photos in low light or that a $1,000+ 70-200 lens is necessary to get a very specific painterly look to your backgrounds, none of this gear will help you if you don’t understand how to find good light, the basics of good composition, or how to shoot on manual mode.

Great advice I got early on was to stick with the gear I had until I could very clearly articulate the limits of my current gear and how it was holding me back as well as clearly explain how the new gear would help me get past these hurdles.  Just because you think a certain lens sounds cool or you learn that your favorite photographer uses a certain camera are not good enough reasons to purchase new gear!  There are many places to rent camera bodies and lenses if you are not sure you really need new gear and spending a weekend with a sought-after lens may convince you that you really do need it to make the kinds of images you want – or save you from making an expensive mistake.  Most experienced photographers will tell you that you are likely to see a bigger improvement in your images by taking a class or investing in a mentoring session that you will by buying the latest camera model.

 

How to Embrace Difficult Situations

While some photographers stick only to photographing in a studio where they can control every aspect of lighting and the background, most photographers do not operate solely under these conditions.  Even photographers who work solely in a studio need to be able to handle equipment failures or an uncooperative client or pet.   Most photographers will encounter difficult lighting situations, unsightly locations, or children who would rather run around that sit still for a portrait.  Anticipate what might go wrong and learn about how to handle them ahead of time.  Again, classes like Ordinary Locations, Extraordinary  Images and Location, Posing, and Execution can help.  Learning how to get natural expressions with methods like the Moment Design technique can help make any subject feel comfortable almost immediately.

 

The Importance of Experimenting

In photography, there is no one right way to do anything.  Five different photographers will approach the same scene five different ways.  Experiment with different techniques and methods.  Even if you love natural light, learn how to use flash.  Try more experimental photography techniques like using a prism or a Lensbaby.  If you always shoot outdoors, challenge yourself to shoot indoors.  You may find a new form of photography you love or a new trick to make your life easier.  Even if you don’t love any of the results of your experimentation, you will still undoubtedly learn more about photography in the process.

It’s Ok to Make Mistakes

Especially when first starting out, you will make a lot of mistakes.  Remember how important it is to experiment?  This will definitely involve making a lot of mistakes.  Don’t let this get you down!  From each mistake you will learn what you did wrong and what you need to learn to ensure you don’t make the same mistake again.  Keep in mind that even the most experience photographers make mistakes from time to time to accidentally cutting off limbs to getting their exposure not quite right to missing “the” shot they were hoping to get.  Instead of dwelling on your mistakes, focus on your successes and every few months compare new images with old ones to see how far you have come.

The Importance of Finding Your Voice

 When starting out, it’s tempting to want to make photos that look exactly like those of your favorite photographers.  Or, you may see image after image with a certain preset or action applied and decide you want that precise look for your photos as well.  However, because photography is a deeply personal art form it is impossible to make photos that look exactly like anyone else’s.  Take some time to identify the favorite photos you have made and really think about what appeals to you about those images.  Do you love documentary-style family photography?  Or does posing newborns or couples appeal to you more?  Maybe you get more excited about photographing your food than eating it or maybe you feel you best when heading out into nature with your camera.  There is no one genre that is better than another and no one right way of photographing a person or even a tree.  Maybe you discover that you love black and white images or that you love only those images with a film look.  Find out what speaks to you and tailor your photos to your voice.

 

 

Charge What You’re Worth and Be Professional

Once you are ready to take the plunge, it is common to question how good you really are and whether anyone will really pay for your photography.  While it’s common to offer discounted or even free sessions while you are building a portfolio, it is important to establish what you are worth early on.  Pay attention to all of your expenses, ensure you are being compensated for your time, and be patient while you find your client base.  Say no to requests to work for free unless there is something in it for you!  It may work for you to be open to non-standard arrangements, such as exchanging services for products, memberships, or another type of in-kind payment but make sure the barter is equivalent to what you would regularly charge.  Related, it’s important to establish your professionalism at the outset by always suggesting the best times for shoots according to the light and other factors and establishing expectations through a contract and client guide at the outset.

How To Give Back

Chances are you got into photography because you recognized its importance in documenting lives, as an art form, or for some other reason.   There are many ways you can use your talent to give back.  Through projects like Spectrum Inspired and Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep photographers donate their time and skills to photograph children with autism and families who experience infant loss.  Other photographers donate their art to hospitals or homes for the aged.  You need not work through an organization to give back.  If you see a family in need, such as with a critically ill family member or a refugee family with nothing to hang on the walls of a new apartment, reach out with an offer to help.