An image is worth a thousand words, yet photographers read millions of words about their field in order to take their work to the highest level. While raw talent does play a role in the journey to becoming a professional photographer, the ones who make it are those who put countless hours of unseen work behind their work. The pictures you see displayed on your favorite photography website or social media account are probably light years ahead of the first images captured by the artists.
There is no secret that will take you from zero to hero when it comes to photography. Nonetheless, there are many tools and guidelines that will help you improve the quality of your work as you develop your skills and style. Ready to start your training? Let us be your Philoctetes and start your training with these 21 photography tips for beginners:
Shoot everything, every day
The only way to get good at something is by practicing. Always carry a camera with you, and capture everything that catches your attention. You don’t even need a professional camera – your smartphone will work just fine. This exercise will help you train your photographic eye and improve your results day after day. As a bonus, you’ll learn how to see and appreciate the beauty in the mundane. If you feel like you're running out of motivation, look out for different freelance photography jobs and add a monetary incentive to this self-improvement journey.
Buy knowledge, not gear
We live in a consumerist society and, for the most part, we kind of love it. New cameras and lenses are being presented pretty much every week. Each of them with brand new features and improvements. However, the hype surrounding them might push you to buy much more equipment than you need.
What good is it to have these amazing tools if you don’t know how to use them? Instead, invest the money you might have spent on the latest gadget in courses and books to improve your work. Learning new techniques will help you much more than getting a slightly brighter lens.
Light it up
Photography literally means drawing with light, so the importance of understanding this element shouldn’t come as a surprise. The way light is used in a picture can be the determining factor between a good and an outstanding photo. Start by doing some research on the origins of the camera obscura and keep on reading about the characteristics of light. Once you have a general idea, put everything into practice and see how each situation affects your images.
Control the triad
There are three things you need to master when it comes to achieving the perfect exposure on your photos: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Essentially, these settings control how much light enters the camera, for how long it can enter, and how sensitive the sensor is to this influx. Oh, and you’ll also need to understand how they affect each other. While shooting in Auto Mode lets you achieve proper exposures without no knowledge required on your part, you will have to give up all control over how the image looks in exchange.
Find your muses
Discover at least one image that inspires you every day. Spend time looking at other people’s work. A lot of time. Use social media channels to follow the latest work of the photographers whose work you feel most inspired by. Do some old school research as well. Go to the nearest library and borrow some classic photographers’ books. Visit a museum and see how the painting compositions relate to your favorite photos.
Stay true to your work
Humans are very easily influenceable, even if we try to convince ourselves of our uniqueness. As a media creator, every image you see will likely affect your work in some way. This is where the biggest risk of social media for photographers arises. It’s very easy to be tempted to recreate the compositions or processings you find around these networks. However, the world does really not need yet another copycat in search of Instagram fame. Focus on the specific elements you like instead, and see how you can use them to keep developing your own style.
Identify your subject
Each photo you shoot needs a clear subject. Trying to put too many elements in the frame will only result in a messy composition. By setting a clear point of interest, you’ll be able to direct the viewer’s’ attention to the point you intended, making sure to transmit the exact image and feeling you had in mind. To do so, find a clear background that gives your subject the attention it deserves, and find the right position for it within the frame.
As Robert Capa once said: “If your photographs are not good enough, you’re not close enough.” Zooming in, rather than taking a few steps towards the subject, is one of the main mistakes made by beginners. While the zoom might come in handy in some occasions, it should not become your default solution. Getting closer will also allow you to see the subject in more detail and form a deeper connection with them.
Lower the camera to take in every scene and enjoy every subject. Paying attention to your surroundings and interacting with the people you’re working with will allow you to create connections that you can use to improve the image. When shooting a stunning sunset in the mountains, having your eyes glued to the viewfinder might make you miss the way the forest behind you is lightened by the last rays of sunshine. In portrait photography, connecting with your subject is an absolute must if you want to capture truly striking shots.
All great pictures have a story behind them. This tale is not about something that happened before the image was taken, but rather about the story viewers imagine when they look at it. The ability to compress a strong emotion within a single frame is one of the main differentiators between an average shot and a masterpiece. This is why being able to connect with your audience will play a major factor on your likelihood to become a professional photographer. Before you press the shutter, create a mental image of the story you want that shot to tell and use all the tools you have to make it happen.
Understand composition rules
Rule of thirds, patterns, implied motion, depth, leading lines… – there is a long list of photography composition rules that can guide you on your quest to capture outstanding images. Despite their name, they should be seen as a tool to improve your work, rather than a mandatory feature you should include in all your photos. Reading these rules will help you get a better understanding of how we see images and, as a result, you’ll be able to increase the quality of your work.
Break the rules
Once you have learned the rules by heart, break them. It is very important that you follow this order, as you’ll need to understand what makes those rules so great in order to keep their essence on your photos. Trying to go rogue before you have mastered them will likely take your images back to square one. Have you ever seen Picasso’s step-by-step animal creation? It takes a lot of knowledge to be a creative spirit – and to get away with it.
Think before you shoot. How fast and well you can think before snapping that shot will determine how good the picture you took is. Yes, it is as complicated as it sounds. The good news is it will get much easier as you get comfortable behind the camera. Eventually, it will become such an automatic response you won’t even realize all the thinking you’re putting into nailing the light, subject, and composition.
Constantly stepping out of your comfort zone is key to creative development. You might be tempted to focus on capturing specific types of subjects in a particular manner. Maybe you found your best results are coming from shooting outdoors pet photography with a prime lens. Finding your calling is great and should be nurtured and treasured. However, limiting all your work to such a niche topic will significantly limit your creative development potential. Keep challenging your creativity by shooting under different conditions, using a variety of focal lengths, and finding new subjects.
Find new perspectives
Don’t simply put the camera in front of your face and start shooting. Look for a new viewpoint to highlight a certain quality of the scene. Changing the way we’re used to seeing things will immediately peak the interest of those looking at your photos. Get above or below your subject to play with its size and the emotion it transmits. Backlights, reflections, and tilted horizons are also great ways to capture interesting compositions.
Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if you know beforehand that the outcome won’t be perfect. Trying a new technique or style and not being able to capture one good shot is completely fine. In fact, most lessons cannot be learned without making a fair share of mistakes as you practice to get better. Even if the result is your worst picture ever, take the time to understand what went wrong and how you can make sure you avoid that issue next time.
Master the tools
There is so much to learn from every single piece of equipment you own. Even your smartphone camera probably has a dozen controls you need to figure out how to use. Start by reading all manual instructions. It might seem like a waste of time, but you will definitely discover a few new things from it. Put every feature to practice and see how you can make the most out of each one of the camera accessories you have.
Do your edits
The aversion to “photoshopped images” is one of the most damaging photography myths. While you should capture your shots as close to the final result as possible, they will always need some post-processing. This is especially important when shooting in RAW, as the images you get will likely be quite bland. Knowing your way around photo editing software will also allow you to develop a consistent style across your portfolio.
Be a Renaissance Person
Photographers tend to focus on a specific genre. This allows them to develop a curated style and skills that are tuned for a specific audience. While this might be your end goal, it is not something you should apply in the early stages of your photographic journey. Touching many different disciplines will help you shape your talent and allow you to create higher quality content in the long run.
Share your work
Creating a professional photographer website is not something you should keep in the back of your mind until you become a master in your field. In fact, putting your work out there for anyone to see can become a great motivation to keep improving as your journey advances. Unlike social media, a photography website allows you to control all the information you offer to visitors as well as how exactly your images are showcased. By pairing both of these platforms, you’ll have access to a powerful tool to build your brand at the same time as you are developing your work.
Join a community
Surrounding yourself with similar-minded people can teach you more than any book and tutorial out there. Whether you find them online or offline, being in touch with other photographers will do wonders for your inspiration, motivation, and results. Ask about their techniques and styles and see what lessons can apply to your own work. Sign up for photo sessions with shutterbugs of all levels to test your limits, and maybe even make new friends in the process.
Create a free photography website and share your photographic journey with the world!