How to Get Started With Photography
Your jaw drops to the floor when you behold your favorite Instagram feed. Perhaps, you’ve even been told that you take lovely photos.
But deep inside, you’ve always felt that you want to do more. . . And so you wonder, how to get started with photography the right way?
That’s precisely what you can learn in this complete guide for aspiring photographers.
Truth be told, you’ve probably already started. Nevertheless, in this article, you’ll learn everything you need to take your photo game from near-zero to hero.
Learn everything from composition-to gear recommendations, inspiration, and practical photography tips.
Let’s jump right in.
What You Need to Get Into Photography (Equipment Aside)
Interest in the Art and Craft of Photography
With the advent of the smartphone, everybody and their grandmother are now photographers. But if you are reading this, then for you, it’s different. You tend to obsess over the details. You get mesmerized by impactful, visual storytelling.
Maybe you want to capture the moment in a way that changes the viewer forever.
Perhaps you just like to walk alone and get lost in your surroundings, and buttons and clicky dials are like magnets to you.
Whatever the case may be, you’ve been bitten by the photography bug, and the only way to scratch the itch is to go take some photos.
As you know, any craft takes time to develop, and there is no substitute for experience. Are you burning to lift your skills from mediocre Facebook and Insta posts to work that turns people’s heads, ignites their hearts, and steals their breath?
If so, then understand that it won’t happen overnight. Thankfully, though, if you can find time to go shoot regularly, then there is hope. Consistency beats talent every time.
Whether you decide to constantly drag a camera around or plan your commutes with wandering around and picture-taking in mind, you’ll eventually see your photos improve.
The photography basics are pretty quick to learn, as you’ll find in this complete guide.
As an upcoming – or even experienced – photographer, having the right mentor is a game-changer. It doesn’t have to be in real life, either.
Why not pick your favorite photographer on YouTube and try out their ideas. Following along will undoubtedly impact your photographic journey.
Speaking of journeys, no two are the same. While it can be interesting to follow in the footsteps of the giants, you’ll do your own thing, anyway.
If there is an active photo community in your area, why not join it? And if there is none, then you could always create it!
Suppose you’d rather not hang too much around other people. In that case, there is a deluge of online forums where you can discuss everything photo, camera and accessory-related.
When figuring out how to get started with photography, there is no shortage of sources to draw inspiration from. Not only can you study work by icons like Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Truthfully, any event or experience in daily life could become the theme of your next photographic body of work.
There are print books with anything from fine art photography to pictures of doors or manhole covers worldwide. If you can find a fresh angle, a story to tell, and open the viewer’s eyes to details previously unnoticed, then why not do so?
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to get inspired. Meetups and photo clubs are two other popular options, not to mention web articles on everything from gear reviews to photography in cold weather.
Beginners often have some great questions about photography. Here are some popular questions we’ve been asked:
- Why Do We Look Better in Mirrors than Photographs?
- Why Are Photography Darkrooms Red?
- What Is a Megapixel? How Many Do I Need?
- Should I Get My Camera Together With a Kit Lens?
- How Do I Prevent Camera Condensation When Moving From the Cold Outside to Warm Indoors?
- Is Canon or Nikon Better?
- Are Gray Import Cameras OK To Use?
What Are the Best Resources for Learning Photography?
People learn best in three ways; either auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. By now, you’ve probably figured out which one works best for you.
You might have an intuitive sense of whether you are drawn towards landscape photography, street, or something else.
Maybe you find visual learning the most effective? Then, books, exhibitions, and videos might be the best method. Or perhaps, you learn best through listening.
In that case, audiobooks and even podcasts could be your thing. Taking an actual photography course offers an efficient, structured way to learn.
One thing’s for sure, though; there is no substitute for doing. You can memorize all the photography-related knowledge in the world. Still, you won’t really learn without going out and applying it.
For most, it’s recommended to take on a mixed approach when learning how to get started with photography. Start with the basics, apply them, and then go from there.
For the adventurous amongst up-and-coming photographers, flicking on the manual mode and diving head-first is not uncommon. After all, you can always supplement with video guides and read tutorial articles as you go.
Who knows, maybe your newly learned skills could make you a side income through your own event or product photography business.
On the business side, stock photography is undoubtedly still a thing in 2022. However, you will be coming somewhat late to the party. Keep in mind, though, that getting any mileage in stock those days requires a strategic, focused approach.
Photography can be a pretty expensive craft to learn. When first getting started, the number of equipment options can seem daunting.
There is no upper limit to how much dough you could spend on lenses, bodies, and various nice-to-have gadgets.
In reality, though, you don’t need an expensive and clunky DSLR camera to get started. In fact, you probably already have an advanced, capable digital camera – your phone!
Believe it or not, many current smartphone cameras outperform purpose-built camera systems from the not-so-distant past.
Therefore, we recommend you just start with the tools you already have! You would be shocked to discover what is possible once you learn to harness the power of mobile photography, be it on Android or iOS.
Are you ready to take your mobile photos to the next level? Here are some key concepts to explore!
- Learn manual focus and exposure – and how to lock them
- Try apps like Lightroom and Halide
- Shoot in raw format, if your device allows it
- Avoid zoom (unless you have a multi-camera phone)
- Be mindful of lighting, whether natural or artificial
- Try external mobile lenses like fisheye and telephoto
You’ll find out that even when and if you get a proper camera body, you’ll often still reach out for your phone a lot. The best camera is the one you have on you, after all.
Heck, every time you walk down the street with your phone in hand, you are one click away from candid street photography. Use the button on your headphones to activate the shutter in an uber-stealthy way.
A Good Beginner Camera
Eventually, you’ll hit the ceiling in terms of either low light capability, ergonomics, or flexibility. Or perhaps, you just have an insatiable hunger for tinkering around with a proper camera body.
Either way, your passion and curiosity for photography will eventually lead you towards investing in a dedicated camera.
This has many advantages like better shooting comfort, a viewfinder, and a lack of distractions (I am looking at you, social media).
Needless to say, proper cameras technically are still way ahead in terms of image quality. Although, who knows how long that’s going to last.
This begs the question: what is the best camera for beginners?
It depends! What’s your budget, what do you want to take pictures of, and what are the most essential attributes in a camera for you?
As a complete beginner, it might be hard to know. Suffice it to say, there is technical capability, affordability, and size/weight. Pick two.
Should you buy used or new lenses as a beginner? There are pros and cons to both. Generally speaking, we recommend new photographers to get one of the following options.
Either an entry-level model like a Rebel SL3, paired with a 50mm prime lens, or a pre-owned but higher specced body, perhaps with a handful of lenses.
Often, you’ll see attractive deals, including a camera body and a cheap zoom lens. Beware! Although there is, per se, nothing wrong with a kit lens, you could hardly make a worse decision when first learning the basics of photography.
If you already happen to have one, don’t worry. It probably has Image Stabilization to help deal with camera shake by introducing a few stops of light.
It also offers variable focal length, for what it’s worth. And when you’re ready to upgrade, you can always sell your lens on eBay.
At the end of the day, it entirely comes down to your needs and wishes. Suppose you’re aiming to take on paid photo or videography gigs ASAP. In that case, you might just as well invest in professional equipment from the start.
On the contrary, almost any digital camera coupled with a manual prime lens is enough for learning and having fun with photography!
Keep in mind that lenses retain value much better than camera bodies. Especially if it’s well looked after. This means that you can pick up some spectacular-looking glass on a budget and probably pass it on with little to no loss once you upgrade.
On the flip side, new equipment comes with a warranty, which gives peace of mind.
Unless you decide to shoot film only, storage media is something to keep in mind when getting involved with photography. Digital photos take up space, and high-res images and videos fill up even more.
Picking the correct type of SD card is a project in and on itself. Tons of abbreviations and markings let you know the cards’ specifications. Optimally, your camera has to be able to make use of them to their full extent.
Check out this article to learn all you need to know about memory cards and other storage options for photography and videography.
Otherwise, just make sure your storage media is in the correct format (SD, MicroSD, etc.) and big enough in terms of space.
You can’t go wrong with SanDisk, Samsung, Kingston, or Lexmark. All four have an excellent reputation and top-notch performance. Ask any pro photographer worth his/her salt, and they are likely using one of those three.
SD Cards aside, you can choose to save your photos or video footage in the cloud, on an external drive, or a combination. In fact, for complete peace of mind, we would recommend the latter.
A standard best practice for backup is to have your data on at least 2 separate, physical locations (+ the cloud backup).
We recommend you pick up at least two SD cards and a protective case for them.
A quality memory card case costs next to nothing but will generally do a stellar job of shielding your files from shocks, dust, moisture, and other environmental factors that could otherwise corrupt the data (and destroy your work.)
Photo Editing Software
As a newcomer to digital photography, the software landscape can seem overwhelming at first. So many options, so many features.
You might think that Adobe Photoshop is necessary to edit photos like a pro. Nothing could be further from the truth! Although PS is an incredibly potent tool, much less will often do.
Truthfully, it depends on what device you’ll use for editing. If you’ll be viewing and post-processing raw photos on an uncalibrated computer monitor or TV screen, then you won’t get the color accuracy and resolution, anyway.
Note: we’ve previously covered (in depth), the best budget monitors for photo editing and the best budget laptops for editing photos.
So what software do you actually need?
The simplest solution for most beginners is to simply use your smartphone. Adobe Lightroom Mobile is available for Android and iOS, and the subscription includes 1TB of cloud storage.
There is an intuitive UI and great integration with Adobe’s software suite. Lightroom is available both for tablet/mobile and desktop. In fact, it’s one of the preferred tools amongst photographers-newbies and pros alike.
There are even handy community features, built-in tutorials, and nifty sharing options to make your life easier.
That said, there are other popular, competent alternatives to Lightroom. Other noteworthy solutions include DarkRoom, Skylum Luminar, Capture One Pro, and RawTherapee.
The above are all solid tools for anything from portraiture to travel photography, architecture, and anything in between.
They all offer advanced raw photo editing, including color grading and retouching. Are those advanced applications too complex? Don’t worry!
There are perfectly suitable ways to get started right away. If your phone doesn’t have included image editing software, simply scan the Google Play Store for good photo editing apps.
Remember, if you start out your photographic adventure with your phone, then make sure to select the highest quality settings, including the raw option, if there is one. This way, you’ll get some more leeway in post-production.
And, who knows, you might even fool the viewer into thinking that you’ve used a costly DSLR or mirrorless camera with fancy glass!
Beware! Once you first tap into the sweet temptations of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, the impact can be vast. New photo equipment is exciting and inspiring (for as long as it lasts, which is not forever…)
Essential Camera Accessories
We’d argue that the first and most important camera accessories you should worry about are genuine batteries, a quality camera strap, and a protective bag for storage and moving around.
Those items should be on your shortlist whether you have a DSLR camera, a mirrorless, or something else.
The straps from Peak Design are immensely user-friendly, durable, and flexible. Offerings from makers like PD, Woolnut, Gitzo and more, have something for every taste.
Depending on what genre of photography you’re most interested in, a tripod can be super helpful.
Whether you want to do studio portraits, landscapes, or creative long exposures and time-lapses, fixing your camera in place eliminates shutter speed from the equation.
Of course, it’s no silver bullet – but the possibilities that come with a tripod are immense!
Just remember, if you are picking one up, then think ahead. Will you be using it for video? Does it have to be ultra-portable, extra-sturdy, or feather-light?
Tripod heads are a topic in itself, but for starters, just make sure that you get one with a plate. This way, you’ll be able to quickly attach and detach your camera to and from it.
Lens filters are another super-compact, affordable, and valuable camera accessory. Videomakers, YouTubers, and vloggers swear by adjustable ND filters.
Landscape photographers, amongst others, tend to appreciate circular polarizing filters.
If in doubt, just go with Hoya. It’s made in Japan, the threading is perfect, the optical quality is world-class. They are a bit more pricey than most but well worth it.
On the budget end of filters, K&F Concept offers terrific value. Be sure to grab a filter removal tool while you’re at it. Filters can be nearly impossible to remove by hand if over-tightened.
Since drones have become highly accessible and powerful, the aerial photography game is open for everyone.
If you decide to go the drone photo route, it’s wise to start small with an entry-level unit that you can practice on and crash. Yes, that’s going to happen, trust us.
Once you’ve gained some confidence as a drone pilot, then it’s time to get some decent VR goggles and upgrade. You’ll get the most value when building your own.
Still, there are perfectly suitable off-the-shelf photography drones starting from just around a couple hundred bucks!
Needless to say, there is a deluge of great photo and video lighting options out there. Reflectors, speedlites, and studio lights can all make or break a shoot.
In all honesty, though, we recommend that complete beginners at photography learn to use natural light first.
Professional photography often requires a proper lighting setup. Still, even as a complete beginner, you can certainly manage this without breaking the bank.
Vital Skills to Learn as a New Photographer
Understand Light (Exposure Triangle Explained)
The exposure triangle is a straightforward concept. There are three components: Shutter speed dictates how much light gets to hit the sensor, before oh well, shutting close.
Aperture is the size of the opening at the front of the lens. It dictates how much light can get in at any given time.
ISO refers to the light sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the number, the more sensitive (but it introduces noise as you crank it).
Those are the basic building blocks of exposure. You get to balance them for enough light while achieving the best possible image quality and the aesthetics you are after.
Photography literally means drawing with light. Naturally, this implies understanding how light works and how to create something bewitching with it.
There are multiple facets to this. Time of day is just one of them (blue hour and golden hour). But also, there is shooting against the light or not (both have their place!).
If you’re just figuring out how to get started with photography, you’ve probably heard the term ‘good light’ before. And sometimes, this requires creative thinking.
Light bounces off shiny surfaces or gets diffused or outright absorbed in textured and matte ones. The surface color matters, too.
Use this to your advantage! Learn how to properly expose the subject while conveying the mood you want.
The dynamic range is narrower in the digital realm than with film photography. This means that you’ll often need to better control the shadows and highlights.
Country-intuitively, sunny days are often not optimal for taking eye-candy photos. Instead, try going shooting in overcast, even cloudy and rainy conditions. Just don’t let your gear get drenched.
You’ll find that the clouds act as a giant softbox, diffusing the light for a pleasant, flattering look. This goes not only for portraits but also for landscape, street, and anything in between.
However, don’t be afraid of breaking the rules, either. It’s entirely possible to create jaw-dropping, editorial-style imagery with harsh shadows and high contrast. You can even use shadows as compositional elements!
The importance of composition cannot be overstated. The first basic composition technique to learn is the rule of thirds. But some shots work best with Fibonacci spirals/golden ratio or even bang on in the middle.
Eventually, you’ll develop an eye for what’s the best angle to shoot from in a given situation.
Sometimes, going super-low can capture interesting foreground detail and create an impressive effect. Conversely, going high can create a totally different feeling.
Some lenses will let you get extremely close to the subject, even magnify it to crazy dimensions.
This is called macro photography, and it reveals a whole new universe to observe and capture. In fact, there is a particular type of lens, called a macro lens, specifically designed for this purpose!
Try using a tripod or monopod to get a high view. Or even crawl up places to get the money shot. Just be careful, especially if it’s raining.
Experimenting with your composition is one of the most vital photography tips we could possibly give.
Often, the essence of a photo comes down to patience. It’s not uncommon for landscape photographers to capture the same spot for years until finally reaping the rewards.
Street photographers might compose the shot and then camp around until the subject enters the frame.
Remember to take inspiration from other people’s work, too. Go right ahead, steal an idea from a professional photographer.
There is no harm in trying to recreate a shot if only to understand the concepts underpinning it. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get the exact same photo, anyway! Instead, your arsenal of techniques and ideas will grow click by click.
Basic Camera Operation
So you’ve read several photography articles, watched hours of YouTube, and even read a book on the topic of photography. But how well do you know your camera?
The thing is, all cameras have their own feature sets and distinct quirks. Different manufacturers have different design principles, menu systems, and button layouts that vary even within the same product range.
Before diving even deeper, you must know where to find the basic settings. You need to know how to adjust your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO at the bare minimum. Quickly changing from manual to autofocus is vital, too.
Once you commit the basic camera controls to muscle memory, it’s a great time to explore the menu. In all likelihood, you can even assign shortcuts and custom keys. You might even enable back-button focus and never look back.
Get Familiar With Your Camera as Beginner (Modes, Best Practices)
Once you understand them, the camera modes make perfect sense. Although auto-mode could probably do a decent job, it’s best to forget that it exists if you’re trying to learn photography.
So how to know what camera setting to use when? Simple. Learn them, and then decide based on what you want to control in the shot.
Our recommended modes to try out (a lot) are:
M (manual mode). Pretty self-explanatory, this mode makes no decision on its own. Instead, the camera relies 100% on your judgment as a photographer. It’s not always practical, but sometimes, manual mode is the only viable option.
AV (aperture priority). This one makes for an excellent walk and shoot mode. Here, you dial in the aperture.
The camera automatically adjusts shutter speed and ISO for what it perceives as optimal exposure. On the note of exposure, you’d mostly be best off sticking to spot metering (but learn where to change it, anyway!)
TV (shutter priority). It stands for time value and is a must-know camera mode. As you might’ve guessed, you set the shutter speed in TV mode.
The other settings are determined by your digital camera. This comes in super handy when a quick-or slow-shutter speed is critical to tell the story or let in enough photons.
There are also other modes like Program, Creative, Video, and several more. However, as a beginner, you are best off spending most of your time in either AV or M!
The latter represents a severe learning curve, but is also the most rewarding to succeed with.
Whichever mode becomes your favorite, don’t worry too much about it. In the end, the audience doesn’t care. All it wants is to be moved by your pictures!
No matter if those are shot in fully manual or on complete auto-pilot and with cutting edge, AI-driven autofocus tech.
How to Master Your Camera Fast
Frankly, there is no substitute for experience. To become familiar with your camera requires that you spend some time with it.
Explore the menus, change every camera setting to your liking, and perhaps even glance at the camera manual.
Most importantly, though, try to set aside some time every week (or even better, every day) to go shooting. You don’t even have to leave your house to photograph, either.
Everyday photography can be super fun to produce memorable-even print-worthy shots at any given moment.
You could dive head-first into family photography, garden or pet photography, or even everyday captures of tastefully composed household items.
In other words, there is no excuse. Photographic opportunities are everywhere around us, and exploring those is the fastest way to master your camera. Eventually, you’ll be able to operate it as second nature!
Basic Camera Maintenance
Like playing golf and cleaning a motorbike, camera maintenance has a particular zen aspect. Over time, any camera or lens builds up dust and grime from the surroundings.
Keeping your photo gear clean will prolong its life span, reduce the chance of malfunction, and provide a more enjoyable experience during shoots.
But how to actually clean your camera and lenses? Easy! Grab a camera cleaning kit that includes a soft-bristled brush, a blower, and sensor wipes.
You want to methodically go over the entire camera body with the brush, using small movements to get the dust particles.
The same exact process can be applied to the lens barrel. Just be careful not to push stuff into the gaps around the zooming area.
After meticulously brushing off your gear, it’s time for a clean, slightly damp cloth. Use a drop of soap to help remove any accumulated oils.
As for cleaning the front element of your lens, a microfiber cloth for optics will do the trick. You can go through the whole surface using q-tips and pure alcohol for a deep clean.
Simply go over the glass with an alcohol-dipped q-bud while rotating it in tiny circular motions. Replace the tips as you progress. This should make the front element crystal-clear, as new. It will also result in peak sharpness again.
Best Photography Tips for Newbies
Don’t Force It
Once you discover how to get started with photography, it’s easy to go overboard and try to move forward as soon as possible.
However, growth happens with consistency-not by random, sporadic sprints. Take your time. Dissolve in the photographic process, be present, and learn from your (and others’) mistakes, and you’ll see progress in no time.
Start With What You Have
The most crucial thing in a photograph is the photographer, not the equipment. Start with your phone, point & shoot, or whatever you have at hand.
Once you outgrow your current camera, then you can graduate to something like the Sony A7 IV or a Fujifilm X-T4.
No doubt, a flagship digital camera will help you produce exceptionally high-quality digital images. Still, it won’t add to your skills.
Challenge Your Comfort Zone
As a photographer, it’s easy to get stuck in a routine, doing whatever you’ve learned at the time. But to grow, it’s best to keep trying new things. Angles, locations, subjects, techniques-there is so much to explore.
Look on Pinterest, Instagram, or Flickr if you need inspiration for photography. Or simply give yourself the assignment of capturing a particular, perhaps somewhat mundane scene in a fresh, moving way.
Once you begin to develop your photographic eye, you’ll find beauty and interesting compositions where others mostly see nothing of interest.
By trying a wide range of photographic styles, your scope gets broader, and you get a sense of which ones you prefer.
Photography is storytelling. And storytelling has been with us since the dawn of humanity. Keep in mind that the most powerful images are the ones that touch the viewer’s soul. They literally change the beholder forever.
Try your best to convey emotion with your images. There are many ways to do this; color, composition, expression, movement, negative space, and so much more.
Those elements are like dials that you can turn to create a two-dimensional snapshot in time.
Once you master this, you’ll be able to create truly remarkable work that evokes anything from smiles and awe to goosebumps and chills whenever a photograph is analyzed.
The most important of all photography tips is to have fun in the process. What’s the point of learning photography if you’re not enjoying it?
Chill, play around, stay curious, and just shoot. Through doing, the learning will come by itself, even though some theory is helpful along the way.
Also, don’t be afraid of taking too many photos. In digital photography, every actuation is essentially free. So don’t be trigger-shy. Click away, knowing you can just delete if you don’t like the result.
Another mega-helpful tip for new and seasoned photographers alike, especially for spontaneous photo walks, is this;
Take a couple shots as soon as you head out. This mentally puts you in photo mode and takes the pressure off.
You’ve already started, and your eye is observing everything at a completely different level than before.
Every photography career has to start somewhere-whether you are aiming for the stars or just want to grasp the photographic basics to take better pictures with your phone.
If you’ve been pondering about how to get started with photography, it’s easier than you think. To sum it up: start with what you have. Learn composition and lighting, get to know your gear, and have fun.
There is really no excuse to not do it if you have the slightest interest in learning photography. You already have a camera in your pocket, and the opportunities to tell extraordinary photographic stories are all around you.