So you want to become a photographer. First, let’s narrow down what we are talking about. Webster’s dictionary defines photographer as; one who takes photographs, especially as a job. This is the type of photographer we will talk about here even though you may only want to be a hobbyist photographer. The reason why I will focus on a professional photographer is this will give you, most times, the skills you need to know.
Get out of auto mode
I know many people will argue this point saying it isn’t necessary to shoot in manual mode. The reason I say to get out of auto mode is because this will force you to learn how to achieve the exposure, focus, depth of field (how much of a scene is in focus), freeze or blur action, and much more.
Note: In this article I won’t go into great detail on aperture, shutter speed, or ISO (film/sensor sensitivity to light). I will cover these topics in subsequent articles.
Modern digital cameras contain power programs that will help determine good exposure, shutter speed when to use flash, focus and many other things. That sounds great, right? Sometimes it is great other times not so great. The camera doesn’t know what is important to us in a scene. It may choose a point of focus on an object other than our intended subject. It may choose a shutter speed too slow or too fast. It may choose an aperture creating more depth of field than we want or not enough. As the photographer, we know what is important in the scene or how we want our final image to appear, or at least we should know this if we are to become a photographer.
Stop buying gear until you know about your current gear
We all love new stuff. We see a new lens, or a new camera and decide we want it because it is the latest greatest thing ever. Until you know the in’s and out’s of your current gear, its limitations and capabilities you may just be wasting money and at the same time making your learning more complex.
Gear envy will eventually fade. You will get to a point where you know what you need.
At the same time, cheap isn’t always the route to go. I have owned a number of “cheap” pieces of gear to only need to replace it with more expensive gear. This has increased my cost. Once you understand exposure, focus, depth of field, ISO, how to use them to achieve your vision you will be in a position to make better-informed choices and decisions.
That cheap tripod may end up costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars because it failed. The cheap flash may not have the power of functions you will need to achieve your vision.
I still use a flash that was introduced in 2003. It still works and fits the need.
Don’t rely on social media for learning
Social media is fun. It is entertaining. It isn’t an educational resource that can be depended upon and I will explain why.
Unless you have met, in person, you never know who is on the other side of the keyboard giving you advice. I don’t mean to imply that all advice you get from someone on social media is bad advice but that you should verify that information. Does the other person just know how to do a good internet search or do they really know the information? If it is the former, you can “Google it” yourself. Do your own research. Why, because it may also help you to understand the why behind the information. Understanding the why will give you insight that you can use in the future to decide if it is appropriate to use or not use in the current situation.
The internet can be a wonderous place to gather information. It can also be a disastrous place for information. Check your source, verify the information. Just because it is on the internet doesn’t make it true or false.
Find a school or mentor
This may often be a challenge, especially if you are in a small town or rural area. There are a number of online schools or established photographers who will mentor you. This may not be free but as the old adage says, “You get what you pay for”. Before anyone asks, yes I did both. I did an online school and had local mentors who helped me learn.
This is another area where some will disagree arguing that “you can learn everything from the internet”. While this is often true it is also unlikely that you will push yourself to explore areas where you may not feel confident or genres of photography other than your current interest. This may limit your growth. Finding the school or mentor who pushes you to explore those areas may also expose you to a genre or style of photography you will enjoy.
Some issues to be aware of when finding a school or mentor. Be wary of either that believe there is only one way to do something or attempt to make you a copy of themselves.
Stop worrying about editing
I will start by saying, I am NOT anti-processing. In fact, I am all for it and encourage you as well as my students to learn editing and post-processing; in due time. While we can “fix” some issues with a photograph in post-production the real goal, to me, of post-processing is enhancing a work rather than fixing it. This is why learning about exposure, depth of field and composition is important.
Along with stop worrying about editing, don’t worry about logos and watermarks. Again, this is something that should come later in your learning process.
Get out of auto, learn how to operate your camera. Stop buying until you know what you need and why. Don’t rely on social media as the sole source of knowledge. Find a school or teacher to help guide you along the way and push you in your interest. Stop worrying about editing.
This isn’t meant to be a complete list of areas to work on or a how to do it (I’ll cover some of the how to do it in subsequent articles). This is meant to be a guide to help you get started on your quest.