Advice for new photographers

As a self-taught photographer, my photography journey has probably been slower than most. When I bought my first DSLR camera, I never even had dreams of doing portrait photography. I initially just used my camera as a way for me to explore my new surroundings in Boston. It wasn’t until a year after buying my first camera that a friend asked me to take some photos of her cute family. Since then I have come a long way and learned some valuable lessons along the way. Here are my 10 tips for new photographers that I wish I had known when I was starting out.

  1. Don’t stay in automatic mode. I know a lot of people say this, but it’s really true! It is so tempting to always shoot in automatic because it feels safe, but you will notice a big jump in the quality of your photos by simply switching to a different mode that allows you to have more control. I personally recommend trying aperture priority mode when you’re just starting out. In this mode you are required to select the aperture while the camera determines the best shutter speed and ISO. I think you will be surprised by how easy it is to master in a short amount of time, and I think you will be really happy with the visible improvement of your photography.
  2. Invest your money in quality lenses. When I purchased my first camera I had no idea that you could even buy the camera body without the kit lens (noob alert!). Looking back on it, I wish I would have purchased just the camera body and then put the difference towards a more practical lens for me. The kit lens is a basic starter lens that serves a good purpose for many. However, if you already know what kind of photography you are interested in, it be might worth spending your money on a more specialty type lens rather than the kit lens. For portrait photography, I would recommend purchasing a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. It is pretty inexpensive and a great first lens. I found that once I purchased the 50mm lens, I never reached for my kit lens. As time has gone on, I have invested in more quality lenses and have really noticed a difference in the quality of my photos.
  3. Learn the basic rules of photography. There is a lot to learn when it comes to photography and operating a DSLR. Composition, exposure triangle, and depth of field are some of the essential things to know and master. There are a lot of great resources out there (including the internet) that can really help you become proficient in these concepts. That leads me to tip number 4…
  4. Try a photography workshop. About a year after buying my first camera I decided to take a beginners course at the New England School of Photography. It was a great learning experience and really pushed my out of my photography comfort zone. I definitely recommend taking a photography class, particularly if you are feeling uncomfortable with navigating your way around your camera.
  5. Avoid using the pop-up flash. The pop-up flash that comes on the camera creates harsh and unnatural looking photos. Instead, try compensating for low light by adjusting your camera settings. The camera’s ability to adapt to low light situations is one of the great benefits of having a DSLR, so take advantage of it! Two easy ways to increase the amount of light the camera sensor receives is by slowing down the shutter speed or by increasing the ISO.
  6. Learn how to switch between focus points. You will have a lot more control over the outcome of your pictures when you are determining where the focal point of the picture is rather than letting the camera decide for you. The general rule of thumb is to focus on the eyes of your subject. Additionally, when you are taking a photo of more than one person, make sure to focus on the subject that is closest to the camera.
  7. Shoot during the golden hour. The golden hour is generally considered to be the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. During the golden hour you will get warm, soft light that is really flattering. Also, try not to take photos in direct sunlight. If it’s really sunny try to find a spot in the shade to take the photos. This will help prevent harsh shadows on your subject(s).
  8. Try shooting in manual mode before you think you are ready for it. The thing with shooting in manual is that it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. I found that the easiest way to transition into shooting in manual mode is by letting the camera select the ISO (by setting it to Auto), and then you are only responsible for determining the aperture and shutter speed. Over time it will become more second nature, and you won’t have to think so hard about every camera setting in each lighting situation.
  9. Practice, Practice, Practice! There is just no way around it, becoming a good photographer takes practice! I am still practicing and I have been at this for almost 5 years now! When I first decided I wanted to pursue portrait photography, I started by asking friends if they would be willing to be my test subjects. This allowed me to practice in a stress-free environment and become more comfortable behind the lens. I also used my personal blog as an opportunity to try out new photography techniques.
  10. Enjoy your unique photography journey. It can be so easy to constantly compare yourself to other photographers and be hard on yourself because you don’t have x, y, and z, or because you aren’t seeing success as quickly as you would like. It took me longer than it should have to just start enjoying my unique photography journey. Instead of comparing my shortcomings to others, I finally started celebrating my accomplishments and how far I have come. Be confident in your abilities and focus on doing what makes you happy!