3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Photography

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There are a some lessons that we all learn the hard way. Trial and error, though equally arduous, are still the two most ingraining teachers any of us will ever have. We often learn more from our failures than our successes. But like Newton tells us, at times we move forward only by hefting ourselves onto the shoulders of giants.

Boldness learn

More than anything, I wish I would have learned a few things sooner. There are so many lessons that would have benefitted me if I had only understood them on the front end of my trip into the photographic unknown.

So, in the spirit of solidarity I will share three things I wish someone would have told me when I started photography. Perhaps there were those who tried but for whatever reason I either couldn’t or wouldn’t understand. Hopefully these hard fought teachings will help you move forward and give you the mentality you need to start creating better images. Here they are in no particular order.

Learning chicago

The type of camera I would need

This is a dodgy subject that plagues many who are just starting out, or those who want to get more serious about their photography. I began my journey shooting a 35mm Nikon N65 with a 18-55mm kit lens that I bought when I was 18 years old. It was my first real camera. The late teenager version of me saved his money and paid $265 for it but I still felt as though I needed a better camera in order to make better images. That was 15 years ago.

Even then I was under the impression that I would need a “professional camera” in order to be a professional photographer. If you had asked me then, I wouldn’t have been able to even tell you what a “professional camera” actually was.

Camera types

What I wish someone had told me was that the best camera doesn’t exist. The only thing that truly matters is the knowledge to use whatever camera is in your hands to the utmost of its (and your) ability. True, times have changed and imaging technology has advanced alarmingly fast. Some people now earn a living with only the cameras in their smartphones.

The thing to always remember is that most cameras are capable of producing images of astonishing quality when coupled with a proficient user. Whatever camera you might currently have is likely more than enough. Allow your skills to mature and you will know when it’s time to upgrade.

Photography create

What post-processing is – and what it is not

Before you begin scrolling in horror at the very mention of post-processing let me assure you that this in not a dreaded commentary on what may or may not be considered “Photoshopping.” Instead, we’re going to talk about some misconceptions I had when first beginning to process my images.

I was under the impression that “getting it right in the camera” was an all encompassing mentality that meant nothing needed to be done after the moment of capture other than showing the image to the world. That is not necessarily true.

What I wish someone had told me was that all photographs, even analog (film), virtually always benefit from some extent of work after the image has been made. The quote which changed my thinking towards post-processing came from none other than Ansel Adams himself:

“The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.”

Journey photography

The point Ansel was making is that yes you always want to strive to achieve the best exposure you possibly can in-camera so that you have a more complete representation of the scene in order to manifest a final photograph intermingled with your own creativity. Post-processing is not something to be avoided but rather embraced as a logical second step towards achieving your visualization regardless of what that visualization may be.

Perfection is unattainable

That’s right. No photograph is perfect and very few photographs are ever elevated to the level of fine art, whatever that means. This was an illusion that burdened me during my early days while learning to create photographs. I had an enormous misunderstanding about what actually went into the production of an image both creatively and technically.

One thing that I did know, was that my photographs looked nothing like some of the wonderful images I saw online or in photo magazines. I became discouraged, all the while feeling as if I was doing something completely wrong.

Perfection unattainable

What I wish someone had told me was that even if you labor in photography for the rest of your life, you will never snap a perfect frame. Your photographs will certainly become stronger as you hone your technique and acquire more capable gear, yes. But don’t think that you will ever reach a day when you can say, “Ah, now I’m perfect. All my photographs will be flawless from here on out.” That day will never come.

The craft of photography is a practice in personal evolution. It is a journey of constant learning. So take a breath, relax, and enjoy the process for the beautifully weird trip that it is.

Conclusion

These are just a few of things that I wish someone had told me when I first began making photographs. Do you have any lessons you have learned that could help others? List them in the comments below!

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Adam Welch is a full-time photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at aphotographist.com or pick up his new photo book of wild pony portraits, Faces of Grayson.

  • Rishab Sanjay

    I’m currently just starting out as a photographer on instagram by capturing in a smartphone, I want to take my photography to the next level, and I’m planning to buy a Canon 700d and get a photography certificate somewhere. My dream is to become a Nat geo photographer

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Boy howdy Adam, did you ever nail it! I read another piece someplace (maybe even dPs) that pointed out that cameras actually do matter, depending on what it is you want to photograph. For example, if you are a birder you need good burst speeds and long focal lengths/zooms. But the author of that piece also argued that, basically, cameras is cameras, and the old saw is always true: the best camera is the one you have with you (which nowadays is very likely to be your phone). I was a working pro for more than 30 years so I got over my gearheadishness long ago. Today I use only compacts because I don’t want to schlep gear. I know their limitations and work within them. I’ve only rarely encountered a situation where a compact was just not able to get the picture I wanted, maybe not as close as I’d like or more noisy than I’d have preferred, but I can usually figure out a workaround as opposed to hefting 50 pounds of gear, cuz I just don’t wanna. ? You can’t have perfection in an imperfect world, and that’s why the photo gods gave us Photoshop. ?

  • I am so grateful I discovered post processing! Now I feel like each non edited picture looks awful and I have to adjust it in Lightroom.

    Cristina | *janded

  • I can identify with your first point about the ‘perfect’ camera. It’s so easy to get sucked in to the hype (even your own!) but it’s equally amazing when you actually learn how to use the camera and see what power you have over it. Your skill and the way you see your images is far more important than how expensive your camera is.

  • D-az-L

    If you plan to do studio work…or work with children…or pets…or groups…be certain to get a camera that has a trip-cord jack….and a hefty tripod that won’t topple if you bump into it.
    The cord gives you mobility to move in or out (to adjust clothing or play with children) and a free hand to use tools like squeak toys or bubbles. (NB: I don’t know about others but Olympus wireless trips only work within 15-degrees of lens centerline…to do ‘selfies’! No good for any of the above.)
    Plus buy a second camera that can handle your lenses and cards. Digital cameras can flat-line with no notice. I’ve even seen them totally seize-up due to static electricity!

  • Very true words, Charles! The more time wears on I find myself dumping more and more of my gear. I’m glad you liked the article 🙂

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  • @rtoffelix

    Cannot thank you enough for this article! I wholeheartedly agree with all the points made & as someone with perfectionist tendencies, the last point is especially relevant.

    Looking at some of my past snaps i have that occasional “what was I thinking” moment or find myself revisiting photos to post-process them again from scratch.
    Kind of glad to know that it isn’t just me though. Haha.

  • Perfect camera doesn’t exist – you always like to think that you need the the next big thing but it’s better to develop the skills and expertise to get great photos with the kit you have than join the ‘all the gear and no idea’ brigade!

  • Mark

    Whilst you don’t often need a professional (or perfect) camera you do need one that is appropriate for the type of photography you wish to do. For example I used to own a 5D MKII, a pretty expensive piece of kit when purchased, which was great for my travel photos but it was hopeless for taking pictures of my young children. The reason being that they won’t hold still (the best shots are often whilst they are busy) and the camera was lousy at action shots. Sure I could get great portraits with beautiful bokeh at times but any movement and the hit-rate plummeted.
    I updated my camera to an A6300 and whilst I miss the FF sensor and lens choice (I prefer not to use an adaptor as they aren’t great for action) this camera has continuous eye-AF, not to mention a more expansive focus area, and barely ever fails to nail the focus. I have gotten so many more keepers with this than the old Canon just through focus accuracy alone. Add that it is so much more portable, therefore I take it out more often, and I have found a better camera for my purposes (albeit at the expense of DoF). I’m yet to find a non-professional camera other than a mirrorless which can focus so well on a moving target.

  • Patti McCormack Corley

    How did you learn Lightroom?

  • Well, at the beginning I’ve simply pressed every single button and experienced with different photos. After I started watching YouTube tutorials and also read a book about photo editing. Still a lot to learn anyway.

  • Tom Gomes

    Thank you for the Ansel Adams quote. It’s a common misconception that post processing is analogous to deceptive “photoshopping”. Nothing could be further from reality. RAW format is a digital negative, and like a film negative, needs to be processed. It gives the photographer the ability to overcome the limitations of any camera and reproduce your vision of the image.

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