#1 Invest in the right photography gear

Remember that old saying “All the gear and no idea” ?

Well in photography you need some basic gear to get started and the great photographs will come from your eye, not the gear.

Some of the best photos out there have been taken on the most basic cameras.Let the subject matter, the light, the composition and the story speak for your images not what camera you shot it on.

You can take a photo with a phone, a toy camera and so on. But let’s assume that you want to step up your game and take photos that are above average, a little better than a phone snapshot and will make people stop for a moment and take notice.
For this, you will need a camera on which you can control and manipulate the settings. All modern cameras, that are above a point and shoot entry level, will offer you settings like Time value, Aperture value, Bulb value and more. The reason these cameras have these settings is so that you can control the type of photograph that you want to create.

So do yourself a favour and purchase an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera but make sure it has manual settings for aperture, Shutter speed, ISO and bulb mode would be nice too.
And you are better off buying a body that takes different lenses. You will soon become frustrated with just the one lens and will seek the freedom to take wide-angle photographs as well as telephoto zoom photographs.

An example of these cameras is the canon rebel series shown here to the right.
All the major camera manufacturers offer a line like this. Have a look at the Fuji Film mirrorless range. they are doing some great stuff right now.

Click to jump to Ebay.
Click to jump to Ebay

#2 Buy used gear first

There’s no reason at all why you need to be buying new camera gear, especially when you are getting started. The thing about camera equipment is its full of guys and girls who we could affectionately call “Gear Heads”. These are people who always have to have the latest and greatest gear.

They will always be selling their superseded gear on eBay when the new model hits the shelves. They are often under the impression that 5 more megapixels or a new function on their camera will help them take a better photograph. Whereas they could be spending time working on their skills and studying the history of photography from the greats that have been before us.

#3 Start learning 1 element of photography at a time

In photography, all your photos will be governed by the exposure triangle equation. As seen by the image here on the right there are 3 sides to this triangle represented by 3 factors. 1 Shutter speed, 2 Aperture, 3 ISO.

Now this may seem daunting to get your head around from the start but dont worry. All you need to do is learn one of these 3 at a time. Learn Shutter speed first. Put your camera in shutter speed priority mode or TV mode on some models.

Play around with what it means to take fast shutter photos at say 1/1000 sec compared to slow shutter or “long exposure” photos at 2 sec. You will then find that your 2-second photos are probably overexposed “Blown out” because to much light as hit the sensor. So this means you need to either speed up the shutter speed or add a filter over your lens to filter out some of the light.

So there you go. You are already off and running as a creative photographer.

If you would like to learn more about beginner photography we have a great course online for you here.

By WClarke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A long exposure photo.

#4 Learn some basic Photoshop

Your camera is only a basic tool that will capture a photograph to the best of its ability. Your eyes, however, are a much more complex device capable of seeing many more colours and textures. So you need to start to think about the fact that all your images can be improved and brought closer to what your eye saw on the day with the help of some basic editing. Lightroom is the number one editing program for photographers around the world. Followed in close second by its sister program Photoshop. These 2 programs together are an essential part of a photographers toolkit. Start shooting in Raw, import the photos into Lightroom, make some final touches in photoshop and export from Lightroom to a .jpg file on your local drive. From there you can share these photographs with the world via social media, websites etc.  Lightroom and Photoshop are subscription-based products and are at a low fee of around $11 USD per month. Click on the Adobe banner below to get started.

Lightroom Interface
Photoshop interface

#5 Invest in a tripod

Investing in a tripod will be one of the best things you will do in order to start to take creative photographs. A tripod will allow you to steady your camera and start to take photographs that are not classed as “snapshots” but instead classed as “creative photography”. A simple example of this is a sunset photograph. Lets say you point your camera towards the sunset and set the aperture to f14 so as to capture a deep depth of field and have everything in focus. You will set your ISO to 100 because low ISO of around the 100 level means you get no noise (graininess) in your photograph. Now in order to properly expose or “meter” your photograph, you will need to allow the shutter to stay open for longer. Maybe the meter in your camera will suggest a 1-second exposure. For a 1 second exposure, you cant hold your camera by hand as you will produce blur in the photograph from your body movement. So this is where a tripod comes in.

You don’t need to buy a super expensive, carbon fibre, big name tripod. All you need to start with is one that will not move around. Often the light plastic tripods picked up on eBay or in department stores are so light that they will actually move in the wind. This, in turn, will give you blurry photographs.

Consider a basic entry level tripod with an Arca Swiss mounting plate. The Arca Swiss design is a universal design across all brands. This means you can, later on, use an L bracket with it. An L bracket will allow you to mount your camera vertically in the middle of your tripod instead of having it dangling off the side like with a traditional tripod head mounting system.

Arca Swiss head

#6 Take your camera out of auto mode

Your camera has many modes on that little dial at the top. Usually, the auto mode is marked in green print. But auto will only every deliver an average photograph. The focus point will be averaged. The metering will be averaged. The colour will be averaged and so on. The whole reason you have a camera with options is so you can use them and create a photo that is above average.

So take small steps. Put your camera in time priority mode to start your first steps away from the auto setting. Time priority mode of TV mode on most cameras tells the camera that you want to control only the speed of the shutter and the camera should balance the other settings around this priority.

Start to take photos of fast-moving objects like cars. See that you will need to speed up the shutter speed to freeze the action. Now set your camera on a tripod and set the shutter speed to 1 second. Now you will understand that it’s a bright photograph so 1 second is only for darker environments.

This should start the wheels turning for you and get the creative juices flowing. Now add one more step and limit your ISO from the auto setting to a low setting of 1oo. Now you’ll find that you will need to open the aperture or the “F-stop” (F4, F8, F14 for example). Opening the F-stop lets more light in.

Off you go. See what you can create 🙂

By Graphic by : Althepal Derivative work:Mehdi (File:ModeDial.svg) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

#7 Stop relying on your phone for your photography

Mobile phones have definitely come a long way in the last 10 years or so. But they are still lacking key features that a DSLR camera can provide. Features like being able to shoot in bulb mode for star trails. Being able to add filters such as neutral density filters.

When you eventually branch into flash photography you will be glad that you have trained yourself on a decent camera and not just relied on your mobile.

And what about when you want to go pro and start to charge money for your skillset? You cant turn up for a headshot session at a business and just pull out your mobile phone.

So take the time to travel around where you live and practice your skills with your camera at least once per week. After only a short while you will understand your camera thoroughly and you will be taking some great photographs.

#8 Learn a new technique every time you shoot.

The best way to develop a wide skill set in photography is to learn new techniques. And the best way to learn new techniques is to master one at a time.
For example, you could learn interior photography to a decent level. Then you could move on to portrait photography. Once you’ve nailed that to the point that you think you are happy with move on to the next technique.

But here’s the thing. You will think that you have mastered the technique because people tell you that your photos look great and you’re getting a few Instagram likes. This does not mean that you have mastered the technique. You will be forever learning. Leave your techniques open to criticism and improvement, this will ensure that your photos are constantly getting better and better.

Try looking at other photographers work and if you think it’s of a better quality then break it down and analyze how the images were made. Try to add parts of their technique to your own.

Consider doing online courses also. We offer a course on headshot photography here called “The Easy Headshot“.

Also a Beginners Guide to Photography PDF Course.

Interior photography
HDR photography
Composite photography

#9 Devote time to your craft

Now that you’ve set your sights on becoming a photographer you need to devote regular time to your craft.

Think about setting aside at least 1, preferably 2 or 3 twilight times a week to practising your craft. This is how you are going to improve. And when the weather is not suitable outside for photography consider practising your interior or headshot photography.

A good way to keep all the knowledge that you’ve learnt at arms reach is to makes notes on your smartphone. Each time you nail down a setting that works for that particular photography genre put the settings into a new note on your phone. That way when you’re on location and about to shoot a headshot session of your best friend you won’t have to try to remember what F-stop to set your camera at in order to capture the perfect amount of bokeh (blur) behind your friend. You can just bring up your notes and refer to them.

#10 Continue learning

It’s important that you continue to learn. Every time you have spare time seek out a new piece of knowledge. One of the best places for free knowledge is YouTube. Some of the creators on You Tube take their channel very seriously and do it full time for a living. It’s so great for beginners because it’s like a free university online, with the advantage that you can skip ahead in the class if you know the subject matter already. Or you can pause the lesson and practice the skill then come back and revisit the video lesson.

Here are some of the more educational channels about photography on YouTube.