Updated: Feb 21
Your Ultimate Guide to getting started with photography. It does not matter if you are a beginner or an occasional photographer, get the headstart you need, with these useful tips.
Imagine you are walking on a street and you see a beautiful flower on the ground. Instead of crushing it in oblivion, you sit down to take a picture with your phone. You take a few snapshots, smile, and walk away. Later when that image shows up two years later in your photo app memories, you wonder if you should think about getting into digital photography. You do enjoy taking pictures, after all. The idea of creating beautiful and strong images fascinates you. But how do you even get started?
Read on to break that beginner’s resistance and get more passionate about photography.
Topics that will be covered
I will be touching upon these important points and most asked questions by photography enthusiasts. I hope it motivates you to photograph more and better.
What are my "Whys"?
If you are thinking of delving into digital photography, first ask yourself why do you want to do it.
Do you want to express yourself through photography?
Do you want to understand your world better?
Do you want to represent your community or the area where you belong from?
Does photography give you creative satisfaction?
Do you enjoy the beauty around you and want to share it through photography?
What do you intend to do with your images?
Does the idea of printing your work or sharing it digitally excite you?
If getting into photography helps in facilitating one or more of these goals, then you should think about investing in a good camera and gear.
Mobile Cameras vs Professional Cameras
With the advancement in mobile phone technology, the phone camera has become more relevant in recent times. With a multitude of features as well as portability, ease of use, and quick sharing, photography is now in the hands of everyone. But the reasons why serious photographers still turn to professional cameras are their ergonomic features, high-resolution imaging, low-light adaptability, the flexibility of using different exposure settings, and the amount of control it gives.
Tips on Buying Photography Gear
I deeply believe that creating strong images is all about your vision and skill. As long as you get a good resolution and Manual mode, don’t bother about high-end professional cameras. Buy a gear that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket. Since, DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and film cameras allow the flexibility of changing your lenses and getting creative, it's smart to invest in one of these when you are starting.
Before you buy any equipment, it’s a good idea to rent it first from one of the camera rental places in your area and test it over a weekend. See how it feels to handle it. Check if it is user-friendly and if you like the results it produces.
When you are ready to invest, the dilemma between buying new vs second-hand equipment settles in. Some people have asked me if buying second-hand equipment is recommended when you have limited funds. I have bought both first-hand and second-hand "like-new" equipment. I would recommend buying only from trusted and verified sellers, such as JJ Forum, OLX, and eBay. Buying from local sellers on these sites, lets you go and check the equipment in person, before committing.
You save a lot if you go the second-hand route but it’s all about personal preference and trust.
The learning curve
To get more creative control over your camera, try stepping out of your comfortable but unpredictable Auto mode. Have you read your camera manual yet? If not, do it the next time you get a chance. Read about all the modes that you have not explored yet. These can be the Aperture (A/Av), Shutter speed (S/Tv), and Program (P) modes. Learn what kind of flexibility and control these modes provide. Once you are confident and comfortable using these modes, try using the manual mode and play with all the three variables of exposure, i.e. aperture (f-stop), shutter speed, and ISO. But first, learn and practice how each variable independently affects your image.
How much practice do I need?
As Malcolm Gladwell suggested in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, you need at least 10,000 hours of effective practice to master any skill. If that sounds intimidating, come up with a concrete plan so you can spend a few hours photographing every week. Pick a fixed day, time, and location that suits you the most. Make it easy for you to sustain this new skill. I recommend you to practice solo as it allows you to work the shot with fewer distractions. That way you can focus better on the subject matter and your techniques.
That said, to get started, going on group photo walks acts like the initial push and lets you venture into new locations in your area. There are higher chances of you photographing because you have committed to a group now.
The project 365
If you want to push yourself harder creatively and improve your skills drastically in a year, you can start a personal photography project called The Project 365. You typically start this project on 1st January and finish on 31st December of the same year. The rule is to take one good picture, edit it and share it with your community every day of the year for 365 days. I did this project in 2016 and you can see my images here.
As challenging as it sounds, project 365 forces you to observe more as a photographer. You tend to carry your camera with you more and keep it handy. Throughout this project, you are forced to think differently and come up with creative ideas every day. It also helps to assess your growth over a year. The best part is- when you look back, you are reminded of the memories associated with that year. That way it also acts as a documentary of your life for that time. Later, you can even print the 365 images into a photobook.
If started with an online photography community, the project also helps in making connections across borders. This is great because usually, photography is a pretty lonely activity.
Learning never stops
Like any other skill, photography requires constant assessment and updating your knowledge. That makes your practice even more effective. Attending photography workshops, photo walks and classes inspire you to take that extra mile and learn about new and advanced techniques. Assisting another photographer whose work you admire, also provides the opportunity to get practical training and a new perspective on lighting and composition. Any kind of learning never goes waste as the results start showing up in your work with time.
For readers, there are many informative books on photography. Try browsing the photography section, the next time you visit your local library or book shop. You can also find many good photography books on Amazon.com. Two books that inspired me significantly were, The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally and Gregory Heisler’s 50 Portraits.
Besides books, there are many resources online as well as video format courses. You can find these on LinkedIn Learning (previously, Lynda.com), Udemy.com, and Coursera.org. Sometimes, universities also offer free online photography courses on their websites, for example, MIT. Joining a photography academy is also a great way to get a deeper understanding and systematic practice.
Sharing and promoting your work
Never hesitate to share your best work and the images that you are proud of. Embrace constructive criticism for improving your craft. For honest reviews, pick a photography mentor who is genuine and guides you in improving your skills. Ask them specifically what they like and don’t like in the image and what you can do to improve.
Sharing your work in active photography communities, social media and forums help you get feedback and informs them of your abilities as a photographer. You never know if you will find your first client from one of these digital platforms.
Apart from digitally sharing your work, taking prints of your photographs lets you see your work in a more natural light setting as compared to the artificial light of the illuminated screens. It also validates your work as an artist and helps you learn the nuances of printing, i.e. colour-grading, contrast, and resolution. If you are serious about photography, you should consider creating a hardbound portfolio and a website for showcasing your best work.
I hope these pointers helped you in some way to get started with photography. I would be happy to see and review your work. Send me an email at email@example.com and comment below on other challenges of photography that I may have missed.