Jan 26

5 Dos and 5 Don’ts for Beginning Photographers

You’re a photographer just getting serious about the craft…

There’s so much gear, there’s so much information, there’s so many buttons!  How do you settle down and get started, and most importantly, how do you get great pictures! I thought I’d put together this little list of five things that helped me progress from a beginning photographer to where I am now, as well as five things I think it is important to NOT do.  I’ve included a few images from my progression from when I first started out just to see where I came from.

5 Dos

Schloss Hohenschwangau - Fussen, Germany - December 2005 - Canon Digital Rebel

1. Get an interchageable lens camera learn everything about it. I think it is key to start thinking about photography with a camera that allows you to have control.  Any decent DSLR, mirroless Compact System Camera, or film SLR will allow you to set aperture, shutter speed, ISO (if digital), etc.  It is important to have this control to be able to understand the technical side of photography.  While the technical side of photography is probably the least important leg in the means to get good images, it is essential to have as a background if you are going to make good shots.

After you get your camera, read the manual from front to back several times and learn how to activate every function, and get familiar with your camera.  When you are comfortable with your camera to the point where it becomes second nature to operate, you can then focus solely on the image, and not be stuck wondering how to change what setting.

2. Get a Prime Lens– A prime lens is a single focal length, so no zooming.  Most generally have larger apertures than comparable zooms, and generally they are sharper as well.

I recommend when you are starting to get either a ‘normal’ prime for your system, or a short telephoto.  A normal lens  has a focal length roughly the same as the sensor diagonal…so 25mm for a CSC like the Micro 4/3 cameras, 30mm for an APS-C sized sensor, sometimes referred to as a 1.5x or 1.6x crop sensor (this is the case for most consumer grade DSLRs) or 50mm for ‘full frame’ digital or 35mm film.   A short telephoto would be something like a 50mm lens on APS-C, 85mm on full frame, etc.  The 50mm prime when using DLSRs is probably the cheapest.  Canon makes a 50mm f/1.8 for around $100, and Nikon makes a 50mm f/1.8 for around $200.  Using these prime lenses will help teach you about visualizing the image before raising the camera, using large apertures and will enable you to get better images in lower light.

Tivoli Gardens - July 2005 - Canon Digital Rebel

3. Experiement and practice – As with any craft, practice makes perfect.  You are going to make a lot of bad images when you start out.  Heck, even when you get good, you’ll make a lot of bad images.  The key thing is to try new things out.  Try different techniques, such as long exposure intentional blurs.  Try different angles.  Choose a subject that you find interesting, whether it be a flower, a building, a landscape or a person, and take pictures of it from multiple angles, with different settings.  A lot of these photos will be terrible, but that’s OK.  There’s an old adage that says “the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is the size of the trash bin.”  For every great photo you see, you can bet there were a lot of duds that you aren’t seeing.  Key to this is educating yourself as well.  Read photography books, read photography magazines that focus on technique rather than gear.  You’ll also notice as you get better that your rejects later on would have been keepers when you first started out.  That’s an interesting experience.  The key here is to develop your vision, develop your style, and it takes some time.  Eventually, you’ll want to start trying to make a statement with your images, but that will come in due time.

4. Look at Great Photographs – The famous bird and race photographer Scott Bourne says that you should look at other photographer’s work that you admire and really examine what makes these images great. I think it’s a wonderful suggestion and while I didn’t do it nearly enough when I was first starting, I did do it unconsciously.  If you do this, it helps see why certain photographs succeed.  Just try not to become a copycat!  The best images invoke emotion of some sort, whether it be beauty, love, fear, apprehension, tension, friendship, grandeur or simplicity.  Find what makes those images special.

5. Shoot what interests you – Everyone likes different things.  Some people like landscapes, some like shooting macro, some love portraiture.  Some like all types of photography, and that’s fine.  Just shoot what you enjoy shooting.  If you can’t stand taking pictures of bugs and flowers, then don’t waste your time on those subjects.  I am kind of a jack of all trades type of photographer…I shoot a lot of different things and styles, but I prefer some subjects better than others.  Architecture and Landscape are my two big things, though I dabble in abstract and macro, and I do take a lot of portraits, though mostly of my daughter.  The key is, if you don’t like what you’re doing, you’ll never stick with it.

Next: 5 Don’ts

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. JustFlyingBy

    My sincerest congratulations, Sir, on the Tate Modern Turbine Hall shot, simply magnificent!

  2. Xavier Paris

    I teach photography and these do’s and don’t’s on this web site are exactly what I say to my student. I teach them Fibonacci pattern, the rule of thirds, etc.. then I conclude once they understand these rules to remember them to often not to use them !
    Like learning the speed, aperture and ISO by heart not to ever think about it later !

  3. Xavier Paris

    StudentS (lol, I do not have only one of course !)

  4. Neville Franks

    After a 25+ year hiatus from amateur photography using a Nikon F1 and shooting b&w, my shiny new Lumix G5 will arrive in the next few days. I’m busily trying to relearn so much of what I’ve forgotten and this and similar articles are a great help. We live on a golf course on the ocean and I’m trying to open my eyes to the many possible subjects I can look forward to shooting. Interesting times lay ahead.

    – Neville

  5. Joetsu

    Jordan–I’ve read through the GH3 manual, but still find all the settings and features a little overwhelming. Any chance of doing a blog on setting up the Quick Menu and Programming modes, please?

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