Get the Best Lens
It’s not all about the camera body. The lens you buy will have the single greatest impact on the images you create, at least from a gear standpoint. Having a top-of-the-line camera body is nice, and if you can afford one, great! But if you’re on a budget, don’t blow your money on an expensive camera. Use that money for a good lens instead. A run-of-the-mill camera body with a fantastic lens will do you far more good than an absolutely killer camera body and a so-so lens.
A (Good) Tripod Is Necessary
I love shooting landscapes. But no matter where your photography interests lie, a good tripod is a sound investment that will pay dividends over and over again. I made the mistake of buying a cheap tripod in the beginning because I assumed all tripods were basically the same, apart from the price. I was wrong. That first tripod wore out, and I found myself buying another one. But I didn’t learn, and ended up buying a second cheap tripod. It wore out too.
A beginner photographer’s journey isn’t all smooth sailing. I should know – when I started out I had no idea what I was doing.
Now, with more than a few years of experience under my belt, I know what I’m doing and have successful images more often than not.
I can look back on my evolution as a photographer and identify a number of things I’d wish I’d known before I plunked down all that money for my first camera. I offer that list to you here so that you can make your transition into photography more easy and productive than my own.
As I mentioned earlier, a great lens should be your first priority. But a great tripod should be the second. Tripods come in all manner of sizes with any number of features. Some are big and bulky; others are small and lightweight. Just know that as with lenses, you get what you pay for when you buy a tripod. Do your due diligence and find one that has a solid reputation for construction and performance.
You Don’t Need a Special Place to Practice
When I first started out in photography, I assumed (wrongly) that I needed to go somewhere to take photos – downtown, the beach, or the mountains. While those are worthy photography locations, what I didn’t understand is that there are opportunities for creating photos right in my own backyard. In fact, I’d argue that it requires more skill when you stay close to home than when you travel elsewhere to find a photo-worthy subject.
When you’re in your backyard, you’re forced to find elements that you can highlight in a photo, be that the coloring of the leaves as they turn in the fall or the way that the evening light casts shadows across the grass. When you challenge yourself to see beauty in the mundane, you help develop your creative eye. Once you do that, you can find beauty in any scene – and that will set you apart as a more skilled photographer.
Shoot in RAW
My first camera could shoot both JPEGs and RAW, but because I didn’t know what RAW was, I just happily took photos in JPEG. It turns out that wasn’t the best choice.
Without getting too technical, JPEG images aren’t as high quality as RAW files. Where JPEGs are compressed, RAW files maintain all the data collected by the camera’s sensor. That’s advantageous in post-processing because all that data gives you more to work with as you process the image.
What’s more, you can work on a RAW file without altering the source information. That means you maintain the file in its original state, yet create new images as you please in your post-processing software. The sheer flexibility you get with RAW will make you wonder why you ever shot in JPEG.
It Takes A Lot of Practice
This might seem like a no-brainer, but hear me out.
I’m sure you understand that photography takes practice. Learning any new skill does. But when I started out, I had no understanding of just how much time was involved. Photography isn’t something that you can master in a few days or weeks, nor is it something that can be picked up by spending a few minutes a day behind the camera. Instead, we’re talking hours and hours of practice over a period of months – and that’s just to get a basic understanding of the central principles of photography.
Ask any professional, and they will tell you that the learning process never ends. There is always a new technique to learn and an old one to perfect, and new gear or software to master. The point is that I’ve been doing this for years and I’m still learning. Just be prepared for a lifetime of practice!
You Will Fail
Again, this seems obvious, but I can tell you for sure that when I started out, I had absolutely no idea how many bad pictures I would take.
That’s not all bad, though. Yes, I wish I could’ve taken more photos that were successful in the early days, but my photography failures were just as much a learning moment (if not more) than the photos that turned out well. The key is not to get discouraged when things go awry and use those times to figure out what went wrong and why, and how you can approach similar situations in the future such that the outcome is improved.
Ansel Adams once said that your first 10,000 photographs will be your worst. That should tell you something about how much work and failure are involved. But, if you ask me, there isn’t a better way to spend your free time than learning photography and developing your creative skills so that you can produce images that will last a lifetime.
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