Beginner Photography: 10 Steps to Success

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

Love taking pictures on trips? Enjoy the experience of taking people’s photographs? Want to take your instagram page to the next level? Here are a few things you should know to create better compositions with your camera.


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Waves crashing against a stony shoreline in Javea, Spain

As a relatively new photographer myself, these are the most important insights I can offer to someone who is thinking about starting photography as a more serious hobby or even a profession.


1. What do you want to shoot?

Before you grab a $3000 Sony camera body with a 70-300 Telephoto lens because it has 5 stars on Amazon, figure out what is going to be on the other side of that camera. Different subject matter calls for different bodies and different lenses. A phenomenal landscape camera and a wide angle lens may be perfect for capturing open fields and skies but the camera may take horrible low light photos if you want to shoot star trails. So research the best options for the subject matter you intend to shoot.


2. Understand Manual Exposures

If an iPhone 'portrait mode' shot is the most professional photo you have taken, time to hit the books. You don’t want to buy a DSLR or mirrorless camera and only use Auto functions, it is a complete waste of an amazing piece of equipment. Breeze through Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. This is the absolute beginners guide to comprehending the 3 camera and light variables that make up an exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Peterson does a great job in making the science easy to understand even if you have never picked up a camera in your life.


3. Understand Composition

You may have natural eye for a good photograph. Most people can identify a great photo when they see one but will not be able to tell you exactly what makes it great. Learning to See Creatively, also by Bryan Peterson, is an excellent book in the art of the photograph. It will have you walking the streets with not only a better understanding of composition, but a whole new appreciation for the things you see every single day.


4. Get a Camera Body

Before you invest in a camera, see if you can either borrow someones old DSLR or maybe sell it to you on the cheap. Every day there are new cameras coming out and the technology is always improving. A photographer who is serious about the craft will most likely be making somewhat regular upgrades as dynamic range improves every year. I just bought $2500.00 Sony for $1500.00 used from someone who wanted to upgrade for his wedding shoots to the faster Auto-focus in the newer model. Not a bad deal. Even though the price dropped shortly after I bought it, it was still a great purchase at the time and I absolutely love the camera.


5. Get the Lenses

Again, do your research, make sure the lenses are compatible with your camera. And check online reviews to make sure the lenses are good quality for your purposes. In general, prime lenses take better quality shots than variable zoom, but not having the ability to crop things in-camera can be a little annoying. Do some research on the science and how a prime 16mm F1.8 is different than a 70-200 mm 4.0. Understanding Exposure will tell you about some of these things as well.


6. Get a tripod.

Regardless of what type of photography you do, you will need one of these bad boys. Probably more than one. I started off with this pretty standard tripod. The quick release is a lifesaver, I must say, so shoot for one that has that capability, otherwise taking the camera on and off sucks. I’d also recommend one like this that is adjustable and you can stick in your pocket. These things are insanely convenient if you are trying to bounce around a city or go on a hike and you don’t want to lug a massive tripod with you. Definitely for more casual shooting but really really handy.


7. Get a post-processing software.

I know it is intimidating, but after watching a couple of YouTube videos on filtering in Lightroom, you are going to to want this anyway. Adobe Lightroom is extremely intuitive and you will begin to understand fairly quickly how to make proper edits to your photos.


8. Web Portfolio

Once you begin to develop a handful of marketable images, start a website like this one using Wix or another host. Photography gallery templates are easy to understand and drag and drop your own content through Wix, and it is really easy to get the commerce store up and running so you can start marketing prints immediately for people to buy. Do some SEO research to optimize your photos and you will be off and running.


9. Social Media

Instagram is your best friend. If your personal IG account is full of pictures of you and your friends and family and you want to continue to post those memeries, it may be a good idea to create a new email address and set up a new separate instagram page. This is actually really simple to do and really easy to switch between accounts. That way you can begin to develop a sort of curated gallery of your style of photography. Take advantage of every single hashtag that instagram will let you get away with. Use a combination of popular and less common tags that will put you in front of a larger audience. Also, start a facebook page for your photography and connect it to your instagram. Pinterest and Twitter too. Just don’t overextend yourself by using every platform out there. Make sure you are constantly updating content to the platforms you choose to use to stay relevant and keep traffic coming to your portfolio or monetized website.


10. Stay consistent and true to your style.

It may take you some time to work out what your style of photography is. Personally, I am still getting there because I haven't even been shooting for a year at the time this was written. That is completely fine, but before you start a collection of random photos that you intend to sell like me, note that photography of any kind is a very saturated industry and the more focused and defined your niche and style is, the more it will set you up for success. Also keep that in mind when putting your IG gallery together… If you have a close-ups of flowers followed by astrophotography followed by portraits of people in foreign countries, people will be really confused by your style, regardless of whether the photos are all great or not. Consistency is key. Check out the IG feeds of @yanan.aurora of Boston with consitent saturated red/orange color theme of the traditional Boston masonry or @alvrmed with his desaturated photos with only red and yellow hues left.


Follow those 10 steps and you are on your way.

And you if you are shooting video - Start with this GoPro

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