Whether you want to learn how to photograph as a hobby or are learning how to take professional photos in order to earn a living, you have to start somewhere.
When I started my career in photography I read as many magazines as I could looking for photography tips for beginners. This was before the Internet and it was much harder to find information about photography then. There were books but books cost money and, as a struggling student, money was a real issue.
Today things are much easier. Search the Internet for ‘photography tips for beginners’ and there’s no shortage of useful advice and informative articles. YouTube is a mine of useful videos: both technical and artistic. And the advent of digital photography gives advantages I could never have dreamed of all those years ago. No longer do you need to take 36 shots before processing the film to see how they all turned out. Now you can instantly see the results of any shutter press. You can almost instantly move someone’s head from one body to another. It’s magical.
So here’s a quick list of photography tips for beginners:
- Get out of your house and take photographs at every opportunity. As Matthew Syed says in his amazing book ‘Bounce‘, the more time you spend doing something practical (so long as you are always pushing yourself out of your comfort zone), the better you will become. Spend as much time as you can actually taking photographs. Get yourself in to as many different situations as possible so that you give your brain time to learn how to manipulate light and compose well in non-familiar territory.
- Learn how to photograph things you don’t enjoy taking photographs of. If you love landscapes then ask people you know whether you can photograph them. Okay, you could take them in to a landscape, but that would be cheating! The idea is to give yourself as many different experiences as possible so that you learn how to take professional photos in as many different environments as possible. The variety will help your brain gain experience and generalize the concepts you learn.
- There will come a stage where you want to specialize. Perhaps you gain more success with people than you do with, say, still life photography. That’s fine so long as you really do have a good base knowledge in many aspects of photography. Time spent specializing will make you better at taking photographs in that particular environment. If you want to learn how to take photographs professionally (that is, make a living from it) big clients usually look for people with proven experience in their field. Rather than a general portfolio, an exhibition of themed work paints you as an expert in that genre (whether you are or not!).
- Learning how to take professional quality photographs is just one aspect of growing as a photographer. If you want to make a career as a photographer (or even if you just want to be asked to hold local exhibitions) you’ll need to learn how to market yourself. It’s all very well knowing how to photograph, for example, architectural scenes like a pro but if nobody knows you exist you’ll never get any work. In Michael Gerber‘s famous book The E-Myth Gerber explains the mistakes that small business owners make – and how to fix them. One such issue is the need for a small business owner to be expert in too many different areas of business. As a new photographer your obscurity is an issue. You may know how to take professional photos but you won’t get the opportunity to be paid for your work unless you market yourself. It’s not all about Facebook and Twitter (there is so much competition there now). Marketing is a skill and you need to be good at it – or hire someone who is.
Of all the tips I could give you, #1 above is probably the most important. You don’t want to fall in to the same trap that I did – it put my photography back by years! I describe what happened to me and how I fixed it in this post.