10 Things Nobody Tells Photography Newbies

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Every time you read an article or a book, a blog post, or a tutorial, there is always something new to learn about photography. Technology is always moving forward, software being improved, new features and functionality released. Someone has a new technique or tip to share. So many things to learn, yet it is one of the joys of photography as well. Your boundaries are in many ways limitless, it is an artform you can take and develop and make it your own.

Still there were many things on my journey that had to be learned the hard way, as is often the case. There are some fundamental things it took a while to understand, mostly because no one shared these nuggets of information. Maybe they just thought it was so obvious, that everyone would figure it out?

Hopefully these tips from my experiences will help you in your photography journey.

1. Photography is hard to learn

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Your camera is a marvel of modern technology and science, with lots of buttons and dials, and all sorts of fancy features. To have control over how it creates your images, you need to learn how to use it with some level of skill. Then there is the art side of the equation; composition, framing, mood, telling a story. So, many new concepts and ideas to learn, both technical and creative.

Dropping $3500 on a fancy new DLSR and lens doesn’t make you a capable photographer, any more than buying a set of chef knives makes you a Michelin starred chef. Your camera is a tool, which needs thousands of hours of time invested into learning how to use it. If you aren’t prepared to read books, watch videos, and go out again and again to shoot, then your rate of improvement will be minimal.

2. Photography is an expensive exercise

It starts with the really expensive bits, the camera body and the lens. Before long you will want more lenses. A camera bag is necessary to carry it all. A tripod to hold it still. Filters for long exposure shots. Wireless remotes, flash or other lighting gear, the list goes on. There is always something new and shiny to spend money on.

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Don’t forget things like decent footwear and outdoor clothes. Gas and accommodation costs for travelling locally, plus fees to get into parks also need to be accounted for. Travelling overseas is a luxury for many people. Don’t forget insurance too. It all adds up to a lot of money.

3. Camera gear is heavy

Good quality lenses are full of optical quality glass, and as a result they can be quite heavy. By the time you have two or three of them, and a DLSR body and other accessories, your kit can easily weigh 5kg (11 lbs.) or more. The more gear you have, the more you have to carry with you. This is one of the reasons the four thirds (mirrorless) technology is becoming so popular, the cameras (and lenses) are much smaller, and therefore lighter.

4. Having the right gear matters

Long lenses are necessary for wildlife and bird photography. Special gear is needed for astrophotography. For that super close-up shot, a macro lens (or filters) are a must. Studio portrait work means soft-boxes and professional lighting gear. Tripods, filters, wireless remotes etc., it all makes a difference, and having the right gear for the job is important.

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5. Gear doesn’t matter at all

Composition, framing, creative or artistic imagery, all elements that you, the photographer, bring to the image. It could be shot with your phone or the latest DSLR on the market, but without the creative input, your image may be missing that critical ingredient. Being in the right place at the right time (e.g. sunrise or sunset) or travelling to exotic locations, climbing a mountain, driving for hours to be in just the right spot, these are all things you have to do to capture the image.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Climb a mountain

Climb a mountain

6. It takes a long time to get competent

When you first get your camera gear it’s exciting and fun, so you take lots of pictures. Eventually you may get frustrated at how your images look, compared to those seen online, and one of two things will happen. The most likely outcome is that you give up because it’s too hard. The alternative option is you work even harder at learning your craft, you read more books, maybe join a club, or attend some workshops.

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Someone clever (quote attributed to Malcolm Gladwell) worked out that it takes 10,000 hours of effort to master a new skill. Ten thousand hours! That’s over a whole year! You have to fit that in around work, sleep, and time with friends or family. That means it could take you years to get good at this.

7. Social Media is not your friend

When you first start sharing your images, your friends and family will like them. That’s because they like you and want good things for you. Getting likes is an instant form of gratification that can be addictive.

The problem with social media is that most of the people viewing your images are not photographers. They cannot give you useful technical advice or critique on your images, the kind to help you improve. If all you want is to get the most likes, then that will have an impact on how you learn and grow as a photographer.

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There are groups and forums online, full of photographers who are often willing to give feedback. But accepting criticism is not something most people are comfortable with, and it can be really challenging. Some people are nicer about it than others too, so you might have to spend some time finding a place that you feel comfortable.

8. If you want a sunrise, you have to get up before the sun does

Yeah it’s easy to read it and nod your head, and go, “Sure, I can do that”. It’s a different story at 4am when your bed is nice and warm, but outside it’s cold and dark. Plus you might have already gotten up 10 times in the last couple of months to go shoot, and none of those mornings paid off.

Want to travel to exotic destinations? You have to save up to be able to afford it, take time off work, maybe travel with non-photographers and have to make some compromises when you travel. That incredible shot in a remote location means you have to hike in, carrying your camera gear, a tent, food, and everything else as well.

Exotic destinations

Exotic destinations

Photography requires a lot of commitment to your craft, learning it, and then going to the places you need, to capture the images you want.

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9. Post-processing is just another tool

Little is more divisive in the photography world than the question of post-processing. If you shoot in RAW then it’s necessary to edit the files with some form of software. There are many options available – Photoshop, Lightroom, OnOne, DXO, and the list goes on. Some people prefer the “get it right in camera” and shoot JPG approach instead.

If you do choose to shoot RAW and want to edit your images, that means learning to use the software. Like everything in photography, it isn’t quick or easy to figure out, but once you do learn it, the value it brings to working on your images is valuable. It’s not necessary to spend hours on every image either, with some handy presets or actions, it might only take a couple of minutes for most of them.

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10. Are you a follower of fashion?

There are noticeable trends and styles in photography, which are in fashion at any given point in time. Astrophotography, long exposure, HDR, silky waterfalls, light painting, and other special effects are all styles seen a lot at the moment. By all means learn from them, there will be valuable skills to obtain, but be careful to keep within aesthetically pleasing limits.

Long exposure

Long exposure

It can be easy to do the same as everyone else, which limits your ability to learn and express yourself. Do you want to travel to an amazing location and stand at the usual viewpoint and capture the same image already taken by thousands of other photographers? If you have time, and there are options for other viewpoints, and it’s safe for you to explore them, consider doing so.

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Don’t be afraid to try something different, and whatever you do, make sure it gives you images that you are happy to have in your portfolio.

Summary

Some of this will seem perfectly obvious, and some of it you may well disagree with. There may be some uncomfortable ideas in here, or some other things you would have included instead – feel free to share your thoughts in the comment below, as others may well agree with you.

The one thing you can be sure of is that learning anything new is hard work, and the longer you do it, the more there is to learn. There is one more secret to share with you though. If you do the work and keep learning and pushing yourself, it does get better. Once you master the basics and understand your tools, you have a whole new opportunity to have fun and try creative things, experiment with the really cool concepts.

One last final tip – Everybody starts at exactly the same place – at the beginning.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Stacey Hill invested in her first DSLR back in 2007. While having many adventures out and about in the South Island of New Zealand, Stacey took to blogging about her experiences learning photography. Recently she discovered the fun and creative possibilities to be had with Photoshop. She can be found having an opinion all over the place here.

  • Darcy Lynn Delia

    No truer statement has ever been spoken

  • Stacey

    Don’t be a Jerk and Act Like an Adult is advice that never goes astray, anywhere really 🙂

  • R.G.Menon

    My father used to tll me anything cheap is after all is cheap. It, I have learned is very true about skills too. However much you may learn the artistic portion is somethig that is inherent in one I suppose.

  • Darcy Lynn Delia

    I know people that own a 45k dollar hassy and cant take a contest winner to save their life. I think you are boardering on “camera Snobbery” its your way of telling you and others that you are elite. Where do I find your portfolio?

  • Waters

    My first photography teacher told me this at the beginning…”sometimes it isn’t worth it to take the shot.” That really holds true only when you’ve attained a certain level with the experience and a desire to produce that million dollar shot. I say if you’re almost sure you wont be passing that way again in a longgggg time…’click’.

  • Stacey

    True but there is a difference between click and CLICKCLICKCLICKCLICK etc with no real thought put behind composition, lighting etc. Spray and pray will only get you so far!

  • Karen Garay

    For social media for my photography, I use Photography Amino, available in the Amino app which has many specialized categories. You can get it for iOS or Android. All users are photographers of some level, from beginner to pros. It’s a good place to get constructive feedback, not just likes. You can learn or mentor or both.

  • Stacey

    Interesting, I hadn’t heard that these sort of apps were around.

  • Stacey

    Possibly, I used to think I wasn’t artistic at all and then I was lucky enough to find a course that taught me that I could be – maybe we all just need to find our space in the artistic side of things?

  • 11. A 50mm lens on a crop sensor is a bloody awkward field of view; you want 35mm on a crop body.

  • red rackham

    As an hobbyst photographer, I find most of your points are true.
    1. Yep. Anyone can take a photo nowadays without spending lots of dollar, but not everyone can take a ‘great photo’ that evoke something to the people who look at their photo.

    2. Completely agree. Although sometimes you can squeeze some dollars by buying 2nd hand stuffs and only buy equipments that will fit your photography style. For newbie, renting equipment or borrow them from your fellow photographer is a good practice to see whether that equipment is really necessary.

    3. Yes. One among many reason why I move from DSLR to Mirrorless 😀

    4. Agree, but remember the point no.2

    5. Agree. I have friend that has equipments about 2-3 times expensive than mine but struggle to produce ‘great photo’.

    6. Agree. It takes looong time to learn to shoot properly and few hundred gigabytes of unused shots (at least, for me that was the case).

    7. Kinda agree. But it can help if you post your photo in the photographer group in the social media and state that you need advice or comments or critic.

    8. Oh yes. And if you want sunset, you have to get to the point at least 1 hr before sunset to ensure you got all your gears ready.

    9. Yes. I personally use Lightroom (and sometimes ACDSee if I got extremely lazy). The existence of presets or actions did really help, particularly when processing lots of photograph, but takes time and certain skill to do it properly.

    10. Agree. But since I’m still learning now, it’s good to try something similar to others, not just only to follow the trend, but to learn the technique as well. Personally, I’d like to learn light painting and astrophotography 😀

    11. My personal advice to some of my friend that just start doing photography: shoot with prime lens. I personally feel that my skill improved very fast after I start shooting with manual primes, really challenge your ability to deal with the limitations of your gear.

    12. Another personal advice for myself, shot as much as possible. Even if I didn’t learn something new, it makes me understand the characteristics of my gears and my photography style.

    Sorry for the long post, here is one of my latest shot 😀

  • red rackham

    Agreed. But they are among the cheapest prime money can buy (aside from the vintage lenses). Good for beginner who wanted to learn to master DoF and to get the ‘bokeh’ 😀

  • Stacey

    Hey thanks for the reply, yes shooting as much as you can is certainly good advice. I have seen several people recommend sticking to a prime lens as a educational choice, but I am too impatient for that. I have a nifty fifty and don’t use it nearly enough 🙂

  • Stacey

    It does mean you have to work harder to compose the image well, so thats a good educational learning experience right there 🙂

  • me

    Points 5 and 6 are the only ones that really apply to newbies. The rest comes after they are newbies.. To me a newbie is someone who buys a low-midrange camera and a 18-55 kit lens. They generally have no idea about the controls, less composition, though some in my camera group have taken excellent images with point and shoot and phone cameras.

    All the rest comes after the newbie stage.

  • Gabriele Cripezzi

    Wait a second… you started photographing in 2007 and you think you can write an article about things nobody tell you? 🙂

  • Gabriele Cripezzi

    There are things nobody tell you in photography, but they are not listed here. It’s stuff that if you know, you make millions in photography and also in cinema. It’s stuff nobody really tell you unless you reach the level in the business where they need you to know.

  • Peter salmon

    As being interested in photography since a teenager (I’m now 78) the best thing I’ve found is to join a photography club. You get plenty of information and feedback on your images. In-club competitions, outings with like minded people to interesting places, and advice on all aspects of photography. Plus talks from professional photographers, and club evenings with demonstrations on photo editing, print mounting etc. Give it a go.

  • Stacey

    I agree Peter, I interviewed all my local clubs and joined one which I am still a member of 10 years later. I tried another as well for a couple of years, but it was a bit far away. Its an excellent place to learn and have fun in a supportive environment 🙂

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