There are certain things as a photographer you should know regardless of if you are an expert or a novice. These simple yet powerful lessons not only differentiate you but also help you grow in your art and your photographic career. For every newbie photographer, these are essential lessons to learn and practice.
Note: For the purposes of this article, all the images used here are SOOC (Straight out of camera). This is done to demonstrate key concepts highlighted here. My camera of choice is Canon 5D MKIII with a few common Canon L-series lenses like the 50mm and 85mm.
#1 – Know your gear inside out
This almost seems like a no brainer but I am surprised by the number of people who say that they have a really fancy (and expensive) DSLR camera but still shoot in auto mode 100% of the time. Now before you get all upset and say that there is nothing wrong with shooting in auto, I will raise my hand and say that yes, I also shot in auto when I got my first DSLR camera. But very quickly I realized that my camera (a Canon 5D MKII at that time) was a fantastic and sophisticated piece of equipment that was capable of some incredible shots if I only knew how to operate it.
So take the time and really know the ins and outs of your gear. The user manual is a great place to start to not only familiarize yourself with what all the buttons do but also where they are located on the camera. You should be able to adjust settings without removing your eye from the eyepiece/viewfinder when you are composing your frame. Think about it this way, would you like to own a convertible and always drive with the top up (i.e. closed), even on the most gorgeous of summer days?
Here are some ways to learn the ins and outs of your gear.
ISO – Play around with various ISO settings to understand how it affects exposure and what is an acceptable ISO grain (for you). This will help you make photography decisions in low light situations. Some of these ISO decisions may be limited to the kind of camera you have. Regardless, you should know the upper limits of your gear.
Sweet spot – Find the sweet spot for your lens. Every lens has an aperture setting where the image is sharper overall than others. This will help you analyze what is the widest aperture (smallest f-stop) you can shoot in and still have the image in focus. This is different than the depth of field (which is how much of the scene is in focus) in that the actual resolution of the image is sharper at the sweet spot.
Minimum shutter speed – Find out what is the lowest shutter speed you can handhold your camera and get a sharp image. This will also help in low light situations as well as in creative motion blur type shots when you don’t have a tripod handy. The general rule of thumb is to shoot at one over the focal length of your lens.
Weight – Find out what is the maximum weight you can comfortably carry without hurting yourself or almost passing out because of discomfort from carrying excess weight (true story!)
#2 – Know and understand light
There are some photographers who only shoot in natural light while others only shoot using some form of artificial light. Then there are photographers who shoot in any type of light and do a fantastic job at that. There is no right or wrong answer here in terms of preference but it is important to know how to shoot in any form of light. That might be the only thing that stands between you and the shot of your dreams.
Knowing how to read, analyze, and play with light is one of the most basic and important skills every newbie photographer should know, in my opinion. Keep in mind that not all light is equal from a purely technical standpoint (tungsten versus fluorescent versus white-balanced light). Certain types of light are good and others are not so good. Experiment with many different kinds of light so you know how to read light, then learn how to shoot in each.
These three images were all shot within the hour just before sunrise.
3 – Practice good ethics
Be respectful of the people, places, and things you photograph. I cannot tell you how much it pains me when I see photographers (both amateurs and professionals) disrespect their surroundings. Be it climbing where they are not supposed to, keeping heavy equipment on delicate surfaces, overcrowding and overstaying their welcome in public places and not giving other general tourists the opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
Pay special notice to other photographers. These are folks in your industry even if they are beginners. They are all in it for the same reasons you are – love for the art! Leave that sense of entitlement behind, just because you have more expensive gear does not make you a better photographer or a creative artist. Take the extra effort to find out what the photography rules are in the places that you intend to photograph and stick to them.
4 – Safety
Be safe when you are out and about. Always be aware of your surrounding especially if you are a female photographer who tends to travel alone. Check out this article Safety Tips for Travel Photographers (Particularly Women) that addresses this issue. Remember safety always comes first, art next.
5 – Be your true self and be patient
Whether you choose to be in business or not, be true to your art. Get inspiration not just from other photographers but also from daily life. There are many amazing things around us at any given point in time. Just because no-one else photographs it does not make it boring. Similarly think outside the box, just because everyone photographs something a certain way does not mean you have to follow the pack.
When you are starting out, don’t obsess over clients, getting work, and making money. Yes, they are absolutely important, I will not disagree, but take the time to perfect your art (to the point where you are confident charging money for your photography) and then the money and fame will follow.
Also give out as much as you can, be helpful and uplift others who are on this journey with you. The more you put out there the more you will receive from the universe! I truly believe in that mantra across all walks of life.
I am always coming up with shoot concepts and ideas to keep experimenting. Some work and some fail miserably but that’s okay. I take everything as a learning experience and try to stay positive in my game. An editorial shoot with my daughter captured on film was a complete disaster as I got all the setting wrong and ended up with grainy, grudge frames! – but I learned a whole lot about film and light and how different it is to digital!
Are there any other life lessons that photography has taught you? In the spirit of building this community of creatives, feel free to share it with others.