I know the feeling of being new to a field and not knowing where the F to even begin. When I first got into photography, neither Instagram or TikTok were around. The amount of info available on the internet re getting started and finding photography tips was way more limited. I relied on the only two photographer friends I had to get any tips at all and mostly did the good ol' trial and error thing... and trust me there were a lot of errors! In this blog post, I address a few mistakes that I made in the past or that I've seen n00bs make throughout my career and during the times I've taught photography. Hope this helps!
Lower your expectations... your photos are going to be terrible to start off And that's ok. Learning the ins and outs of your camera's settings, focus, rule of thirds, depth of field, aperture, white balance, editing software, colour correcting, etc etc... this all takes a steep and long learning curve. I've been shooting for over ten years and I still sometimes discover cool new tricks with my camera or better ways to retouch my photos-- this isn't meant to be discouraging but invigorating. As artists, we are forever in the student seat, even when we are professionals. There is always a different way to push and stretch our own limits. Hopefully you never feel like the learning is over because that's when work can get dull and inspiration starts to fade. Easy is boring. Challenge is inspiring. Buckle in for the ride and expect your photos to be trash for at least five years. (This time frame is probably arbitrary because improvement depends greatly on how often and how much you are shooting, but again, better to lower expectations.)
Don't waste money on a fancy, expensive camera or lens when you're starting out I see this all the time and I think it's an absolute waste of money. First of all, a lot of people starting out just end up sitting their fancy, expensive camera on a shelf to collect dust after the first month of excitement fades. Once you realise that your photos suck, no one wants to hire you (except maybe your best friend who wants to save on wedding photos only to regret it when they see the results), and that learning how to take great photos actually takes dedicated time and effort, the motivation can quickly disappear. To avoid wasting your money, I suggest buying what most would consider a POS camera (but that's alright because we're leaving big egos at the door here). Really, get on Gumtree or FB Marketplace and try not to spend more than $500 on the camera body and a kit lens combined. A kit lens? Yes, a kit lens. Remember you're a beginner and you don't know much, so a kit lens is fine for now. This is good for when you're starting out because A, you don't need a super pro camera/lens to take photos of flowers or your cat. B, if you realise photography isn't for you, you won't be in debt and you can probably resell for roughly the same amount you got it for (unless you damage it somehow). Start out with equipment that suits your level of experience and knowledge, and when you outgrow that camera, step it up for the next. What do I mean by "outgrow", you might ask? You will know you outgrew your gear when you're trying to shoot in a way that your camera or lens can no longer let you do. IE, you realise you like shooting with dim lighting so now you need a camera with better ISO capabilities where a high ISO isn't gonna make your photos look like pixelated, expressionistic art (unless that's what you're intentionally going for, of course). Intention is important.
Shoot everything When you're starting out, you might think you know exactly what you want but I implore you... before you settle on one area, explore and shoot everything! I used to never take photos of nature because I considered myself strictly a street and fashion/portrait photographer; anything else that fell outside of those areas was not a concern to me. But when I moved to Australia, I found myself surrounded by the beautiful countryside, farms, nature, animals and all kinds of new surroundings. At the start, I denied my own interest in these environments because I kept putting myself in the "Street/Fashion/Portrait" box. If I wasn't photographing any of those three things I felt like I was wasting my time, but man am I glad I finally quit that dumb, boxing-myself-up shit! I believe some of my best and most emotive photos have actually been of nature and the countryside. The thing is, typically I do suggest honing in on one area and becoming a total expert in it, but when you're starting out and you're not too sure what you'll like, it's good to trial it ALL as much as you can. Try weddings, street, portraits, animal photography, nature, underwater (maybe not this one, actually lol), sports, cars, whatever! (But also, no matter where you are on your photo journey, it's important to follow your curiosity, no matter where it's leading you.)
Assist someone whose work you admire (for free) And if the photographer you admire wants nothing to do with you or isn't accessible, move down your list. Write down the top 10 local photographers whose work you like and work your way through it. These days it's hella easy to do this because if you can't find an email, you'll likely find an Instagram or FB page where you can message directly. BE HUMBLE and don't ask for money--I don't know why people hate on internships so much, honestly. If it's a good one and you're new to the game and you're learning, you're getting education for free. That has value. Think about it from the photographer's perspective-- what are they getting from you that they can't get from literally anyone else? In this hypothetical situation where you are the newcomer, you'd be the person getting more out of the deal. Go into it with a game plan and be strategic about how much of your time you are willing or able to give up for free. If you prove to be super helpful, eventually you might become someone who they want or even better, need on set. If and when that moment comes, you can speak about pay. Alternatively, before you even ask to assist, you could simply ask to observe on a shoot. If you get a "Yes", make yourself useful on set by asking if people need coffees or if there's anything you can do. Try not to get in the way too much, lay low and be respectful, offer help if you see an opportunity and maybe you can start wedging your way into an internship that way. At the very least, if you paid attention while you were there, you would've learned something.
Shoot obsessively, consistently and never stop When I used to run my photography group Melbourne Photo Gals (which stopped being as active since Covid hit) I had someone ask, "I've been shooting for ten years but I still don't think I'm that good. What am I doing wrong?" I asked her how often she was shooting in those ten years and the answer was as expected: hardly at all. Truth bomb: it doesn't matter if you've been shooting for 25 years, if you're only picking up your camera for an hour here and there every 3-6 months, your progress is going to be painfully slow. My suggestion: shoot every single day and never stop. It's as simple as that but takes commitment and discipline. When I started out, my camera would literally not leave my side. In fact, most days it still doesn't. I always try to have my camera on the ready because I never know when I will be witness to a moment that I'll want to capture forever. And there is nothing worse for a photographer than being witness to something you find spectacular and NOT having your camera. (These days I ease that anxiety by reminding myself that experiencing the moment is just as beautiful, but the obsessive compulsion within me to capture it is always there.) Thing is, the compulsion to always want to shoot is what ultimately bridges the gap between your current skills and your future skills. Contrary to popular belief, producing a large VOLUME and quantity of work is what will make you improve greatly, not being super selective and spending three months of planning to execute one idea perfectly. Especially when you're starting out, focus on quantity and not so much on quality.
Alright well, that's all I've got for now! If you enjoyed this blog post or got any value out of it, feel free to share with those you think will also get a kick out of it. :)