5 things I’ve Learned Teaching Myself Photography [Strong Language]

I’ve been at the process of learning photography for a little over a year now. And while I feel I’ve made some good progress, I find it’s good sometimes to stop and look back and make sure I’m actually learning something. SO for this post I’m going to discuss the five things I’ve learned so far:

1) Reading is great, but trial and error is infinitely better:

I can’t even begin to tell you how many articles or books I’ve read on various types of photography and “how to capture [X] shot.” It’s a lot though. What I’ve also noticed in reading so many is they all share something: They are exactly the same. All of them. It doesn’t matter what the style is whether it’s abstract, or astro, or wildlife every article is a five step process and the steps are always the same. I’ll do you all a favor and sum up every article on photography ever here:

1) Have the right gear
2) Make sure your settings are correct
3) Try a different angle
4) Keep Practicing
5) Read my other articles

It’s borderline offensive. I remember reading one article in which the author was discussing why getting into photography as a way to make money is a terrible idea. Basically photographers nowadays are really only selling to other photographers. The idea is to become a “pro” then sell your information to beginners. People don’t make cash on actual photos anymore (or so the article claims). Whether or not it’s 100% true isn’t important. What’s important and obviously true, is the first claim. No matter what photography blog or website you go to, they are going to sell you something, or try to and it won’t be a photo. They’ll have tutorials, and G+ hangout access, and training camps, and everything else on how to teach you to take photos. But there won’t be any actual photography for sale. It’s awful.

So what is my point? Play with your camera. I’ve learned more about how to capture a certain type of photo by going into manual mode and adjusting settings in between each shot than I ever had from reading another article. When I wanted to take photos of the night sky, I went out probably six times over the course of two weeks and I sat outside in the cold and would follow this pattern:

Set Camera to manual -> Set f to 3.5 -> Set Shutter to 20 Secs -> Set ISO to 1000. Take photo. Review. Adjust Shutter to 25. Take Photo. review. Adjust Shutter to 20 and ISO to 800. Take Photo. etc. etc.

I would run the gamut of everything from f10/15secs/ISO10K to what you’d call “optimal settings” ( I find them to be 3.5/20/1K) each time I’d go out. And each time in post I would note which settings generated the results I liked. Once I found my optimal, I commit them to memory and go learn something else. So my advice is quit reading about photography and go take some pictures. Will you have a ton of awful stuff you delete right away? Sure. Absolutely. But you’ll also be learning a lot more and could end up with some really cool stuff you wouldn’t have gotten because you were too busy following someone else’s directions and not experimenting.

2) Memorize your camera buttons and don’t be afraid to customize:

I grabbed this image off Fry’s website as I figure it will work well enough for this portion. The point of this is that when you’re out shooting, you don’t want to be fumbling through the user manual or a google search before every photo as you try to figure out how to change a setting. One of the most important things to know to take decent pictures is where all your buttons are and what they do. This goes back to my first point about trial and error. Also, there is nothing wrong with changing buttons to better suit your liking or style.

I never use AEL. So I changed that button to toggle between manual and auto focus. I set my C1 to be the on camera edits (things like Color Pop or B&W) and I left C2 as delete since I don’t need it for anything just yet. What this has done for me is allow me to quickly change a number of settings and features between shots and do so quickly. I rarely miss great opportunities because I’m fidgeting with the camera and not looking up. Whatever camera you use, make sure you know it like the back of your hand so when you go to shoot, you can spend more time shooting, and less time fretting.

3) Don’t be afraid of Auto, or any mode for that matter:

Most pros will tell you that in order to be good, or to take quality photos, you have to shoot in Manual. That’s bullshit. While I agree learning manual mode will make you a better photographer as it teaches you about settings, and light, and exposure, once you know it, shoot however you want. Want to use color pop and Superior Auto? Cool. Don’t be so worried about what people think. At the end of the day, people can see your meta data (f-stop, etc) but in most cases they won’t know what mode you were in. Sometimes it comes up, but rarely. So if you’re just picking up a shot of the kids, or a bird on your lawn, or whatever, don’t waste time trying to get perfect settings. That’s why auto was invented. Let the camera do the work and focus on actually taking the picture. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter that you had the perfect settings and proper manual focus is your viewfinder is empty from taking too long.

4) Don’t expect any help from the “Pros”:

You’ll find lots of photography pros and amateurs that you look up to as you go through this journey. You may even think to yourself “Hey, This person is awesome, I’ll ask them how to do [X, Y, or Z]!” Good Luck. I’ve found the majority of them won’t respond to your tweets, or Facebook messages, or hell even acknowledge you followed them. They don’t care. Their business isn’t helping you get better (without selling you something) and most of them hate that you’ve taken up photography.

I see articles all the time from grouchy old pros, where they complain that “Everyone with a smartphone is a photographer these day!” They’ll bitch about the new technology and auto mode, they’ll regale people with tales of having to shoot 16 rolls of film and have no worthwhile pictures, and they’ll say that new photographers are crashing the market by undercutting their outrageous prices.

Fuck em. Photography isn’t for the elite, few. It’s for everyone. Whether you own a Nikon D810 or a Samsung flip phone, if you enjoy taking photos, then take them. If you think they’re good enough to sell, try and sell them. If you think you’re good enough to do portraits, do them. Who cares what they think? The point I wanted to drive home is that you can’t rely on anyone else to teach you anything without either demanding a lump sum of cash first, or complaining about doing it the whole time. You’re better off teaching yourself the same way I did and just realizing that it’s gonna take a lot of time, and A LOT of practice.

5) If you want to go pro, prepare to drop some serious cash:

Finally, the hard part. At some point in your photography you’ll think to yourself “I love this, I think I want to do it for a living!” Buckle up, buttercup, and be prepared to drop some dough. The cost of going pro isn’t small. Registering a business, getting the gear, investing in advertising, etc. It all piles up and can run a lot more than you might think. In my case, just getting a business license for the state of Utah is gonna cost me 200 bucks. Then I’ll need some local stuff so I can try and set up a booth at the farmers market, or sell through a local gallery. That’s another 200-300. Then I’ll need some extra lenses and batteries, so if I do a portrait shoot, I can get the photos the client wants. There anywhere from 500-1000 smackers. Then you have travel costs, maintenance costs, printing costs, the list goes on forever. So if you want to go big, be prepared to drop some cash down as the cost of doing business isn’t a small one.

If you’re really serious about it, here’s a few links I’ve found helpful:

http://www.danheller.com/photo-inc.html (How to start a photography business)

http://www.nolo.com/ (Info on forming an LLC)

That’s it for this one. Thanks for stopping by and hopefully you find this somewhat useful and not too crotchety. Till Next time!


3 thoughts on “5 things I’ve Learned Teaching Myself Photography [Strong Language]

  1. It is easy to see from your article that you do what you do because you love it. I know that feeling. I’m an amateur photographer and it’s a true labor of love to take 100 shots to get a few that really capture the feeling of a moment that you most wanted. We live in this big beautiful world and I so love the artists out there showing it in bits and pieces in their photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, words, poems, whatever. It’s all beautiful to me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this article but, well yes I can. I love it. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s