I got my first DSLR camera about eight years ago, and I was so eager to jump right into all things photography! I bought books, watched YouTube videos, and asked all my friends and family to model for me so I could get better. Little by little, I improved enough to the point where people started asking me to take their photos. That little hobby of mine has developed into a full-fledged business that I hope to take full-time after I graduate from college.
Eight years later, I’m still watching YouTube videos, reading books all about photography, and shooting images as often as I can. Not much has changed since then, but I’d like to think I’ve learned some things over the years. It makes me so happy seeing real-life friends and internet-friends begin their journey with photography and develop a passion for this art form that I love oh-so-much! For anyone out there who has recently begun this exciting pursuit of learning all about photography, here are five things I wish I would’ve known when I first began!
This is CRUCIAL! Knowing how your camera works and what you can do with it makes such a difference in improving your photography! This means learning to shoot in manual mode (changing things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO on your own) instead of keeping your camera on automatic mode.
There are tons of resources out there to help you learn how to do this! I watched a lot of YouTube videos until I figured it out. It can definitely be confusing at first, so don’t give up if it doesn’t make sense right away! A quick search on YouTube will pull up a ton of videos you can watch about this, but here’s a little graphic to get you started!
Since this isn’t the purpose of this particular blog post, I’m not going to spend too much time going over what all this means! But basically, your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are all connected, and you’ll set each of these separately in order to achieve your desired exposure. I’d be happy to go more in-depth on this in the future if that’s something people would be interested in, but in the meantime, I highly recommend searching through some YouTube videos on this subject!
Like actually… everything. Shoot portraits, weddings, sports, landscapes, dogs, babies, flowers, proposals, families, fashion, etc. The first time I remember being interested in photography was watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model in middle school. I was convinced that fashion photography was what I wanted to do. But just a few years later, I was sure that sports photography was the path for me. I also swore I’d never shoot weddings. I thought they were scary and overwhelming and too stressful… but guess what my favorite thing to shoot is now? 🙂
Basically, don’t limit yourself! You never know what you might LOVE shooting that you never thought you’d even be interested in. You can learn something from every shoot, and the experience is worth it! For example, my years of shooting sports has helped me with some of the faster-paced moments of shooting a wedding day like the first kiss or the first dance!
Seriously, don’t spend a ton of money on a really nice camera right off the bat!!! First of all, the camera doesn’t make the photographer. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say something like “Wow! Your camera is so good!” 😑 You can take absolutely incredible photos on ANY camera! The other day, my professor showed my class a film by Philip Bloom that was absolutely beautiful. At the very end, a title screen appeared saying that the entire video was filmed on an iPhone 6S. Yep, not even the newest, fanciest iPhone with the dual cameras, but the 6S!!!! Never again will I doubt the power of the camera right on my iPhone, let alone any DSLR camera!
Secondly, you probably won’t know how to use it right away. There’s no point in spending a bunch of money on a fancy camera with a bunch of features that you don’t know how to use or what their purpose is. A good rule of thumb is to wait until your camera is legitimately limiting you before you upgrade. Some of my early cameras didn’t handle low-light very well, and that made shooting nighttime football games pretty difficult. I made the best of my camera and did what I could to overcome its limitations, but when I was able to upgrade to a camera that did handle low light well, it made sense to take that leap and invest in that camera.
Maybe you don’t even have a camera yet, and that’s totally okay! Grab your iPhone and a friend, and head out and take some photos! Or if you want to try something a little different, pick up some disposable cameras and try shooting on some film!
While I definitely think consistency in your work is SO important, you really don’t have to have it figured out yet! Over the past two years, I changed my editing style probably four different times (dark & moody to natural to light & airy to dark & moody and back to light & airy!). At this point, I do think I’ve figured out that light & airy fits my style best: I think it’s timeless, dreamy, and a perfect fit for wedding photography! But I also know that not every bride out there is going to agree with that! That’s why we need photographers of all different styles: some dark and moody, some natural & bright, and some light & airy. Plus, your style is probably going to change over time, and that’s totally okay!
I suggest trying out all the different styles and figure out what YOU like best! Play around in Lightroom with different editing styles and see what fits your style best. But please remember: don’t think that purchasing expensive Lightroom presets are going to immediately transform your images! I’ve honestly wasted SO much money on presets in the past that I wish I could get back because I never used them again! So just keep that in mind as you figure out your style and be very thoughtful before purchasing expensive presets.
It won’t take long for people to start approaching you to take their photos once you start sharing your images. And a lot of times, they’re going to want you to take them for free. Sometimes, I absolutely think shooting for free is a good thing!
For example, in high school, I shot photos of many different sport teams and gave away the images I took to the players, coaches, and parents. Shooting sports was fun for me at the time, and I was more than happy to give people images of themselves or their kids playing the sport they loved! And truthfully, I didn’t think anything would come of shooting those images besides building up my portfolio. Fast forward to 2018: a girl from my hometown reached out to me about my wedding photography. Turns out she had just gotten engaged to a guy from my high school. When they began the search for a wedding photographer, he remembered me from shooting photos at his high school baseball games, and he told his fiancé to look me up. She did, loved my photos, and they ended up booking me for their wedding! Even though I no longer shoot sports, the connections I made at that time when I shot images for free led to me booking a wedding! That one inquiry made the few baseball games I went to worth it, even if I didn’t see the results of my efforts for 5+ years!
That being said, I don’t think you should shoot for free very often. Unfortunately, people will take advantage of you. Your time & talent is worth something, so even if you only charge $25 for a shoot to start with, it shows that you take yourself, your time, and your photography seriously.
I still sometimes shoot for free, but I have a general rule of thumb that I follow regarding unpaid work. If I reach out to someone about doing a shoot (such as a model), then I don’t expect them to pay. But if they reach out to me requesting a shoot, then I will send them my pricing information. There are some rare exceptions to this, but I’ve found that this rule has helped quite a bit in protecting myself from being taken advantage of!
Bonus Tip: Whether a shoot is paid or unpaid, have your client sign a contract!!! Contracts allow you to put the terms of the shoot in writing so everything is clear up front. I use contracts on both paid and unpaid work, even with friends or people I know well. So far I’ve only had one issue with a client who didn’t sign a contract up front, but I wish so badly that I could go back and make them sign one before the shoot!! It would’ve saved me so much stress, emails back and forth, and feeling like I was being taken advantage of (especially since this client was someone I had known for years!). So pleeeeease, have a contract for all your shoots 🙂
Fellow photographers!! What are some other things you wish you would’ve known when you first started photography? Let me know in the comments below!