It has been 3 1/2 years since I got my first camera and a little over a year that I have pursued photography seriously. When I started I wanted to improve as fast as possible and shorten the learning curve, but I didn't know the right questions to ask to help me get there. I know the challenges of starting out, so I have compiled a list of the 10 things I wish I knew when I started photography. I hope this helps for anyone looking to improve.
1. Master Your Equipment
Start out with an entry level DSLR then learn how to use every function available. There is no need to rush into getting an expensive full-frame camera until you find there are limitations with your current equipment. Learn the basics such as controlling shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance and focus points. I once read from a fellow photographer that they would rather be a great photographer using decent equipment than a decent photographer using great equipment. I quite like that mindset, because one thing is for certain the camera does not make the photographer. Credit your amazing work to your skill and creative eye.
2. Invest in Lenses
If you want to improve the quality of your photographs without upgrading your camera body than my advice is to invest in lenses. I started with a Nikon D3100 and the 18-55mm kit lens but I wasn't satisfied with the quality of my photographs. My next purchase was the 50mm 1.4 lens, now that is the lens I use 90% of the time when I shoot. I chose that lens because prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses, 50mm is a great focal length for portraits and I love the control I have over the depth of field. A great lens will improve your photographs immensely.
3. Keep a Gallery of Inspiration
Keep a gallery of inspiration photographs on your phone to bring with you on photo shoots. After being stuck on what to do next while shooting, I quickly learned to collect pose ideas and make an album so when I needed a fresh idea I could easily reference a photo I had on my phone. This also made it easier for the model to see your idea rather than instructing them verbally how to position their body. You can also use Pinterest to collect your ideas, whether it be for poses, art direction, wardrobe, makeup etc. Or if you want to take it a step further you can make a mood board with your inspiration photos. I wrote about how to use Pinterest to make a mood board here. As you can see inspiration photos have a wide variety of uses so save everything that catches your eye.
4. Work with a Hair & Makeup Team
If you are photographing people then working with a hair and makeup team is essential. A hair stylist knows how to work with a persons hair texture and length to style it to match your vision. Quality makeup accentuates a person's features and also has the power to transform a person's face, which effects the entire mood of the shoot. Overall, great hair and makeup will save you hours retouching and it will give your photographs a polished look. My best advice is to find makeup artists and hair stylists that are at the same skill level as you and trade services. Then they can benefit from receiving photographs of their work. I recently worked with an amazing hair and makeup team for this photo shoot and they did a wonderful job.
5. Stick to Simple Props & Styling
When I started I had all these ideas for elaborate props, sets and wardrobe but in order to make an elaborate idea look decent you need an excess of whatever you are using. (ie. you will need more than a bouquet of flowers to make a flower wall) Now I use simple props and styling, at least while I don't have a budget for such items. I find planning a photo shoot around one item you are inspired by helps keep the direction focused. And a simple wardrobe will look clean and not risk looking haphazardly styled.
6. Light is Everything
When I started photography I wish I spent more time learning lighting techniques. I am still learning more about natural and studio light every day, and now I know how important beautiful light is for photography. The type of lighting in your photographs really sets the mood for the image. The quality of light determines the settings of your camera, and the resulting brightness, darkness, vibrancy, texture, tone, and atmosphere in your image. A photographer has the ability to shape and control light in a studio and also natural light. There are endless possibilities, start learning and practicing as soon as you can.
7. Get it Right in Camera
One of the most important lessons for photographers is to get it right in camera. Most of the advice leading up to this point was to ensure your photographs will look their absolute best before you even click the shutter. However, sometimes photographers will default to saying "I'll fix it later in Photoshop." While Photoshop can do wonders to your work, you cannot create a genuine laugh, recover detail in blown out highlights or fix an out of focus photo. These are things that can only be achieved in camera. And factors such as wrinkled clothes, smudged makeup, chipped nails, and grainy shadows are quite tedious to fix afterwards. Take the initiative to get it right in camera, you will be happy you did.
8. Don't Over Edit
Photoshop is an amazing tool available to photographers, and I definitely recommend to spend time experimenting with the different tools and exploring the software's capabilities. The only faux-pas with Photoshop is to over-edit your photographs. I have seen some awesome HDR techniques used on car and landscape photography, but heavy handed editing more often than not will look unflattering on photographs of people. My advice is to think of Photoshop as a way to clean up and polish an image. Try removing distractions with the spot healing brush, dodging eyes, and using curves to colour tone. Watch Phlearn's tutorial to learn frequency separation to achieve clean, even skin tones in your photographs.
9. Experiment with Subjects & Styles
I believe when you start dabbling in photography it is beneficial to try everything, because you won't really know what you love until you do. When I started I kept my focus pretty narrow since I was studying fashion in university that is mainly what I photographed, and I enjoyed it. Then one summer I travelled to Europe for a few weeks and took hundreds of photos of the architecture and landscapes, it was any photographers dream. However I realized at the end of my trip my heart ached to photograph people. I didn't miss taking photos of pretty clothes, what I missed was capturing emotion and moments. That was a big turning point for me, and it was only a little over a year ago. Maybe if I experimented more in the beginning I would have known that about myself sooner, but better late than never. So experiment with different areas of photography because a certain direction may resonate with you.
10. Pick an Area to Focus
Pay attention to what you are drawn to when you experiment with different subjects and styles. When you find a direction that suits you, pursue it and then master it. Strive to define your style so when someone sees a photograph of yours they will instantly know you took it because of your style. I can't say I have done this yet, as I am still evolving as a photographer, but this step takes time and patience. Also what I really wish I knew when I started photography was to show the work you want to receive. By taking every job offered that isn't in your area of expertise, you are diluting your brand and confusing your target client. I understand we all need to make an income and want to get our name out there, but keep focused and produce work true to your brand.
What did you wish you knew when you started photography? Share your personal tips below!