Talk to an experienced photographer, and they’ll tell you that photography is both incredibly fun and extremely rewarding. When you’re just a beginner, however, it’s easy to become overwhelmed; after all, you have to understand so many details, covering gear, camera settings, post-processing, lighting, and more.
But don’t worry! I’ve been exactly where you are, and in this article, I offer all the beginner photography tips I wish I had when I was starting out. I share plenty of gear advice, I demystify key concepts, and I offer an array of techniques that will ensure your photos improve in leaps and bounds. Specifically, I explain:
- How to buy the right gear
- How to choose the right camera settings
- Where to start with post-processing
- Much, much more!
Are you ready to jumpstart your photography hobby? Let’s dive right in!
1. Research gear (but don’t go overboard)
Your gear does not make you a good photographer.
In fact, if you are just starting out, a top-of-the-line camera will not only be a waste of money, but it will also make your learning process trickier. (Purchasing an expensive camera as a beginner is a bit like buying a race car to learn to drive).
When you want to buy gear – whether it’s your first camera/lens/accessory or your tenth – do your research. It’s helpful to take a look at some photography forums or articles for camera recommendations. Once you find something that sounds viable and fits your budget, read professional and user reviews to determine whether it’ll satisfy your needs. That said, I do have some recommendations:
2. Buy an interchangeable lens camera
You can capture amazing photos with any camera, but certain models will offer greater flexibility (not to mention better image quality). Smartphone cameras and point-and-shoot models are perfectly capable, but they lack one key feature: interchangeable lenses.
You see, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras allow you to swap out various lenses as you shoot, which makes a huge difference, especially if you enjoy photographing multiple subjects. You can use a wide-angle lens to capture a beautiful scenic shot, switch to a telephoto lens to create a tighter composition, then try out a super-telephoto lens for an ultra-close image of a bird as it flies through the landscape.
Of course, each lens does cost money, but there are reasonably priced models designed specifically for beginners. And one of the benefits of interchangeable lens cameras is that you can always upgrade your lenses – while keeping the same camera – as you become more serious.
Which interchangeable lens camera should you buy? The specifics aren’t really important, but you can get great results from an entry-level mirrorless model like the Nikon Z 30, the Sony a6400, or the Canon EOS R50.
3. Use your kit lens often (but upgrade it as needed)
When you purchase an interchangeable lens camera, it will likely come with a zoom lens, which is also referred to as a kit lens. Many serious photographers are critical of kit lenses, but I’d really recommend using your kit model frequently before splurging on additional glass.
For one, kit lenses are designed to handle many different subjects, so you can use one to really explore an array of different photographic genres and techniques. Plus, because kit lenses span commonly used focal lengths – including 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm – you can use a bit of kit lens practice to identify the focal lengths that really feel right to you.
From there, you can make informed decisions about purchasing additional lenses!
4. Consider investing in a tripod
Once you have a camera and a lens, there’s just one more equipment item that I’d urge you to consider: a tripod.
A tripod will keep your camera stable so you can capture sharp photos even in extremely dark conditions. It can be a huge asset in many different photographic genres, including landscape photography, architecture photography, product photography, and wildlife photography.
Now, tripods can be a bit cumbersome to work with, and they’re not right for every photographer. (Street shooting, for instance, is rarely done with a tripod!) But unless you know for certain that you’d never use one, I’d really encourage you to invest in a solid yet lightweight model and see what you think!
5. Take lots of photographs
“Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So the quickest way to get better? Simply head out with a camera and start taking pictures.
Of course, knowledge does matter, but there’s something essential about holding a camera in your hands, looking through the viewfinder, and considering different compositions. Aim to spend at least a few hours every week behind the lens (and more is better!). It doesn’t necessarily matter what you shoot – as long as you’re shooting, you’re improving.
And don’t beat yourself up if your shots don’t turn out the way you’ve envisioned. Part of photography is about failing repeatedly; over time, you’ll learn how to get the result you want, and you’ll come home with more and more keepers.
6. Read the manual
Camera manuals are quite possibly the most boring thing you have ever read in your life, and reading the camera manual is certainly the most boring thing you’ll ever do in pursuit of photographic improvement.
That said, I suggest you do it anyway.
Why? It’s important to know how your camera actually works, especially in the beginning. And the information will become useful down the line, too. You’ll be out in the field and you’ll want to know how to change a particular setting; if you’ve read the manual thoroughly, you’ll be able to figure it out on the fly. On the other hand, if you haven’t read the manual, you’ll be forced to look up instructions on your phone, and by then your photo opportunity will likely have disappeared.
Of course, you don’t need to read the manual all at once. I recommend you place it where you can push through in small installments while you are killing time, such as in the bathroom, in the car, or in your desk at work.
7. Learn about composition
Composition refers to the way you arrange different elements in your photos. (For instance, do you place your main subject right in the middle of the frame? Do you place it in the corner? Or do you place it somewhere in between?)
And if you can understand how to create balanced compositions, your images will improve in leaps and bounds.
Why? The better your compositions, the more pleasing your images will appear – and the easier it’ll be to capture stunning shots of even the most boring subjects.
One way to delve into composition is through experimentation. Just find a subject (e.g., a flower), then capture lots of images from different positions and evaluate the results. But I’d also recommend reading about the basic composition rules, which will certainly help you successfully frame your shots.
8. Don’t start with workshops
So you’ve got the photography bug. You might be thinking, “Ooh! I’ll sign up to a bunch of workshops; that way, I can improve really fast.”
And workshops are great. But they tend to be geared more toward enthusiasts – photographers who understand the basics and are looking to level up their skills in composition, lighting, and advanced techniques. That’s why I don’t recommend going nuts with workshops right away. Instead, you should really start with the basics:
- How to operate your camera
- The meaning of different photography terminology
- How to determine the proper settings for the situation
Fortunately, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction, because you are currently reading one of the most useful photography sites on the internet. There are more tips and tutorials on this site than you will ever need, especially for a beginner. Once you get the hang of things, then you’ll have a better idea of the type of workshops that would suit you, and you might consider that route.
So I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do a workshop – just that you should wait until you know what suits your needs.
9. Connect with other photographers
Learning photography with others is often invaluable – whether you join an online group or you head to a local camera club.
For one, your photography will progress faster, plus it will be far more fun with the help of your fellow shutterbugs.
Camera clubs often have monthly competitions and may organize photo tours, exhibitions, and other activities. Talking with knowledgeable photographers or even fellow beginners will not only inspire you but also keep you motivated.
Also, sign up to some reputable photography newsletters and Facebook pages, or even reach out to photographers you admire. Most professional photographers don’t mind answering a few questions as long as you are respectful, polite, and don’t demand too much of their time.
10. Try everything
This piece of advice is short and sweet.
While you may have taken up photography with a certain genre or subject in mind, it can be helpful to try all genres. You never know what you might have a knack for, or what you will learn along the way.
So shoot landscapes. Shoot portraits. Head out to the streets and do some urban photography. Find a beautiful flower and photograph close-ups.
You never know; you might find a genre that you absolutely love but hadn’t previously considered.
11. Get feedback
Your friends and family may love you, but they will lie to you about your photography (and they may not even know what to look for). Unless you have a very honest friend or family member who actually knows a bit about art, it’s often more beneficial to get feedback from strangers.
Joining a photo-sharing site where others can comment on your work will get you mostly honest feedback (sometimes brutally so). Years back, I posted the image below on a feedback site. I knew the image had faults, but I was keen to hear what someone else could point out and how they could help me improve.
Well, one fellow submitted a lengthy comment, basically pulling the image apart. He pointed out what seemed like several million faults, and he really went to town on it. But while the comments were painful and borderline unkind, it was useful advice that I could then apply to my next portrait photo shoot.
12. Look at tons of photos
Photography has been around for nearly two centuries, and in that time, practitioners have created billions of images. Many of these photos are bad, but quite a few of them are very good – and by looking at these shots, you can learn from the best of the best.
I’d encourage you to view a handful of photos every single day, no matter what. You can look on Instagram, on a website like 500px, or on photographers’ websites. The key is to find some beautiful images, then spend time absorbing them to the best of your ability. (As you view each file, ask yourself: What makes this shot special? What do I like about it? What do I dislike? How did the photographer use lighting, composition, and other techniques to create a pleasing effect?)
You might also consider heading to your local library and checking out some books created by classic photographers. Sure, viewing contemporary photography is great, but there’s also plenty to be learned from the past!
13. Enter free competitions
If you have money to spend and confidence in your work, by all means, enter some of the big competitions – even as a beginner. You wouldn’t be the first to take a major prize within the first few months of picking up a camera.
Even if you don’t want to spend money to enter competitions, there are plenty of free options. Throw in some images, see how the contest goes, and hey – maybe you’ll win!
14. Test out different lighting scenarios
Lighting is a key component of photography. In fact, lighting can make or break your images, which is why this beginner tip is so important.
When you’re just starting out, it’s essential that you really develop your sense of lighting. In other words, you want to be able to tell the difference between various types of outdoor lighting scenarios and how they affect your photos.
So carefully watch the cloud cover and the time, and make sure you photograph in many different situations. Shoot at dawn and dusk, at high noon, and on heavily overcast days. Then head back home and carefully evaluate the files on your computer. Ask yourself: How does each image look? How do the type and direction of light alter the shadows, the mood, and the effectiveness of each shot?
15. Aim to get off Auto mode
If you really want to be a good photographer, this is vital.
Because while Auto mode is useful enough when you’re just getting started, it’ll eventually hold you back, and it’ll certainly prevent you from realizing your full potential.
You don’t need to rush, though. At first, just enjoy photographing, even if that means using Auto mode all the time.
Then slowly move up the ladder as you familiarize yourself with Program mode, Aperture Priority mode, and eventually Manual mode.
In truth, manual settings aren’t nearly as difficult as some beginners think. It can be a bit like learning to drive. In the beginning, it’ll be challenging to manage gears, indicators, and steering, all while trying not to veer off the road. But with a bit of patience and practice, it’ll become second nature.
(When you are ready to try manual settings, there are plenty of beginner guides and cheat sheets here on dPS!)
16. Get a post-processing program
To become a serious photographer, you’ll eventually need an editing program.
Why? Because these days, editing is an essential part of the photographic process. If you want your photos to look their best, then you must learn to edit.
Which post-processing program is best?
Well, there are free programs such as Darktable and GIMP, which are nice but have their limitations. Then there are the big guns like Photoshop and Lightroom, which can be daunting for beginners. Personally, I recommend just forging ahead with Lightroom; if you intend to eventually get serious with your photography, it’s a hugely useful tool to understand, plus it’s not as difficult as it might initially seem.
Alternatively, you might consider an option such as ON1 Photo RAW or Luminar 4, both of which are slightly more beginner friendly than Lightroom yet pack a lot of power.
17. Have fun
This is the best and most important part of photography:
The enjoyment of it!
Don’t get bogged down by unsuccessful attempts or by comparing yourself to professionals. Even the best photographers in the world were beginners at some point. Just keep taking photographs, keep learning, keep challenging yourself, and above all, keep enjoying the fun you can have with photography!
Photography tips for beginners: final words
Hopefully, you’re now feeling inspired – and you’re ready to continue the learning process.
Photography is an adventure, and it’s a fun one, too. Sure, there will be ups and downs, but in the end, you’ll be glad you persevered!
Now over to you:
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? Do you have any beginner photography tips that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!