Nov 7, 2020 | General

Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Photography

Ralph

Ralph

What things do I wish someone had told me before I started my photography journey over a decade ago?  From the perspective of someone not looking to be a professional photographer, read on and learn from my mistakes.

It can get expensive

So this should go without saying, but I put it at #1 anyway.  Photography can get expensive.  Really expensive.  For the most part, you do get what you pay for.

The burning question is, “How much do I need?”  That’s the real trick to answer.  

Let’s get this out of the way now.  If you are the kind of person that like to have ‘the best’ it will cost you.  If you want to shoot with the absolute best, you are looking to get in the neighborhood of $20,000 just for a medium format body and at least half that again for the cheapest lens.

Wanting the best in the camera world is nothing like wanting an iPhone Pro because its camera is ‘the best’.

Now that we have gotten ‘the best’ out of our system, let us get back to reality.  Be honest with what you plan to do with the camera you are considering.  I personally think it is more wise to buy a little up from what you initially think.

Put it this way, if you are looking for a decent body to take photos on vacations and family photos, something like a Canon T7 will work just fine.  If, however, you think you might want to take photos of your budding athlete’s competitions, you might want to get something with more frames per second so you can capture those action shots.

Nothing says you can’t sell your old gear and buy better gear as you go, and that is a good plan.  I’ve always found buying new gear to be easy and selling old gear to be a pain.  So I meet in the middle and buy a little more than I think I need.

Buy once, cry once.

Learn the exposure triangle

Now that you’ve chosen your gear, it’s time to learn the basics of the camera.  Nothing is more basic to photography than the exposure triangle.  What is that you say?

Photography cheat sheet. Camera's manual. ISO, shutter speed, aperture, frame frequency. Vector illustration.
Photography cheat sheet. Camera’s manual. ISO, shutter speed, aperture, frame frequency. Vector illustration.

Photography is not capturing a picture, it is capturing light.  Light that is reflected off of all the different things in your image.  To have a properly exposed image, one that is not too bright nor too dark, it must be properly exposed.

The exposure triangle is the relationship of the three aspects of light that you control.  These aspects work together to determine how much light enters the camera for your photos.

These three aspects are: shutter speed, aperture size and sensor sensitivity (also known as ISO).

The sooner you learn about the relationship between these aspects, the sooner you will be able to move into more advanced modes of shooting.  Getting your camera off of the green box and not letting the camera make all the exposure decisions for you is the start of a photographer.

Your photography will boom (and fail) once you get off of the auto mode and make decisions for yourself.  You will also start looking at compositions, scenery, and light in a whole new way.

You will start to develop an eye for photography.

Lenses matter more than camera bodies

Canon 24-70
Canon 24-70

It is easy to get excited about the new gee-whiz-bang camera body coming out this year.  It will probably have more megapixels than last year, more focus points, a higher shutter speed and ISO as well as a faster drive rate.

While that is nice and might be an upgrade, your lenses matter more in my opinion.  If you have the latest camera body, but a poor selection of lenses, you are limited by your lenses.  Rarely will your camera body be the limiting factor in your photography.

By contrast, which lenses you have in your kit will help or hinder you much more than your camera body.  If you can’t get close enough to your subject and you don’t have a zoom lens, you will have to settle for no shot or a shot from a long distance.

For instance, if I am shooting portraits, but I don’t have any fast lenses like a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4, then my portraits will probably lack bokeh, or that blurred background that we like to see.  Without fast enough glass, the whole scene will likely be in focus and the background will compete with the subject for attention in the image.

Learn your equipment

Once you learn the exposure triangle and you start moving into manual exposures, a whole new world of photography opens up to you.  Along with that brave new world is reliance on the different settings on your camera.  

It just won’t do to need to adjust the ISO on your camera, but not know how to adjust it.  Likewise, if you need to adjust your aperture for the desired effect, but don’t know how to do it you will be stuck in a manual on the internet trying to find out how.  You will miss your shot while you were trying to work the controls.

fuji camera settings
fuji camera settings

Learn your camera inside and out.  It will make you more efficient in the field, but being able to change settings is not all of the equation.  You also need to know your camera.  How it responds in this lighting situation or that lighting situation.  How much bokeh do you expect out of your 50mm when the aperture is at 2.8?  Can I hand-hold the shot in this light or do I need a tripod?

You should be able to answer all of those questions, and more, easily once you know your camera.

Shoot in RAW

Most cameras and most people taking photos, take those photos in JPEG format.  There is nothing wrong with this format for most people.  Most cameras will turn out a photo with good colors and a proper exposure.

For photographers that have started moving from the beginning stages into more advanced beginning stages there is more.  There is the idea of post processing their photos.  Sometime due to lighting, or lack thereof, the photos we take will look better with some post work done to them.  

While JPEG photos are good for most people, a photographer that wants to post work may want to shoot his or her photos in RAW.  

A JEPG photo is compressed to save space.  The camera itself makes some judgements on the image at the time it is saved and it saves those decisions when it saves the JPEG image file.  By contrast, a RAW image file is simply a dump of all of the data from the image sensor.  It will be many times the size of a simple JPEG file.

The reason this is desirable is that the extra information contained in a RAW file gives the photographer more latitude during post processing to make changes.  The white balance of the photo can be changed when processing from a RAW file since all the data is still there.  When processing a RAW file, the photographer gets to decide what the white balance should be, or the saturation, or the sharpening, and so on with very fine control of every aspect of the image development.

I shoot nearly every single image in RAW format and I will produce my own JPEG files once I have processed the RAW files.  I generally will not release an image I have taken into the public domain without having done some image processing on it.  Even if I am photographing with my iPhone, I’m still going to process that image.

Post process your photos

As just spoke about above, post processing your images is a must.  You photos will stand out from most other people’s photos simply because you took the time to make some fine adjustments to the image, rather than letting the camera make all the decisions for you.

You might choose to brighten the images just a bit, most people like brighter images.  Maybe you want the colors to pop, you can do that without resorting to some garish “filter” on an app.

Maybe you want to accentuate the cute couple you just captured in a beautiful pose.  You can add a vignette to darken (or lighten) the corners to draw the viewer to the couple.

As you process more and more images, you will start to find a style that is your own.  I like my photos very contrasty, that is part of my style.  Over time you will find your style and it will show through in your photos.

As for what software to use to post process with?  For most of my work, and anything I’m being paid to shoot, I use a combination of mostly Adobe Lightroom and some Adobe Photoshop when needed.  On my phone for something to put out quickly, I will use Snapseed, Retouch and Lightroom depending on my needs.

Learn different genres of photography

As you delve into the world of photography, you will learn that there are multiple genres that all fall under photography.  Some people specialize in portraiture, some in landscapes while others specialize in sports photography.

I spend a lot of time working in real estate and architectural photography as well as sports photography strictly for my daughter’s athletic endeavors.

landscape photography
image of a landscape photographer

Once you find your niche in the photography world, you might be tempted to stay there.  After all, it is your thing.  You are good at it and it is a comfortable space to be in.

I think all photographers should know how to photograph all types of scenes.  You might be a portrait photographer, but I think you should still know how to shoot a landscape, or a building, or a baseball game.  I wouldn’t expect a real estate photographer to be the best at wedding photography, but I would expect that he or she should be able to pull off a better than average showing.

Learn about all types of photography.  After all, who knows?  Maybe you will find another genre you like.

Conclusion

Photography can be a large, open, and complex world full of beauty and wonder.  It can also be a world that can be cold for beginners.  Fear not though, the learning curve to taking better and better photos is not terribly steep.

Devote some time to learning the process and you will see the results.  Take time and allow yourself to fail, and you will learn more than you think.

To quote Henri Cartier-Bryson, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment below or a suggestion at the link above.  Until next time, go take some pictures!

Ralph

Ralph

Ralph is an avid photographer in his spare time. He spends a lot of his photography time shooting sports photos of his daughter, who plays softball and swims. He also has a keen interest in mobile photography.

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