As the studio manager of Batdorff Photography, one of my many jobs is answering the phone and talking to aspiring photographers. I take lots of calls from people who are at various points in their journey with photography, but a gentleman that I spoke to yesterday really reminded me of myself and my process in learning photography over the last 5-6 years. So since I get to hear from so many of you, I thought I’d share my process in learning and maybe help you out along the way.
I started learning as a complete non-photographer. The first time I was really driven to photograph something was when I was 10 years old and I made my grandpa drive me around in his Bronco so I could take photos of all the fall colors in northern Michigan with my disposable Kodak. My grandpa, A WWII vet, just passed away last July, so these memories are really special to me. We spent hours doing this every day after school the first week in October during the peak of the season. He never asked questions, he just followed my directions and kept driving until I had what I thought was a fair amount of photos. But I had no idea what I was doing, I just pointed and clicked. Many years later, when I met John, he had to explain aperture, exposure, ISO, composition, all of it from the very beginning. All the basics were brand new to me, and then to add processing to the mix? I felt overwhelmed for sure.
But as I kept learning, bit by bit, I started to truly enjoy the process. Some of my learning was a bit of a necessity, because when you’re traveling around with a photographer all the time, and he takes endless stops and side trips and spends HOURS and HOURS taking photos, well you either sit there and read, or you get a camera and you go along. I’ve never been one to just sit in the car, so I grabbed a camera and started trudging along.
I know exactly what it’s like to learn photography from the ground up. I know what it’s like to feel totally overwhelmed by photo processing software. I think I can really relate to how many people feel in that I wasn’t “naturally blessed” with any talents in photography, I had to learn the skills and the technology from the basics.
So what I’d like to share with you are my 5 tips to learning photography as a beginner:
1) Be forgiving of yourself. When I go back and look at my images from 2007… all I can say is “ouch.” I didn’t know back then that I loved photographing bugs and flowers and all things macro. I was just pointing and clicking. But we all have to start somewhere, and forgiving your mistakes and moving on is key to the learning process. John always reminds me, “Just have fun and don’t over think it.”
2) Find someone who will give you honest opinions. I am lucky enough to have JB at my disposal, and trust me, he’s brutally honest! Encouraging, yes, but definitely honest. Find someone who has no reason to be overly nice to you, someone who you think has a good artistic eye, and ask for his/her uncanny, unrelenting honesty. I’ve had so many times where I LOVE my photo. John’s response? “Yeah. It’s good.” Then, when I push him a little harder, I get, “Eh… it’s okay, but it’s not quite there yet.” This gets my inner perfectionist all tied in a knot and makes me work even harder! But at least I got some feedback and it gave me something to work on.
3) Just play around. Trial and error is your friend. Keep shooting. Even if you think it’s nuts, keep going. I often prefer my very last photo of the series because I pushed myself to keep looking at something in a new way. Same goes for processing: just fiddle around with the program. Lightroom is non-destructive, so edit away! Then hit reset and try again. It’s a no-fail system. This is how I eventually understood the benefits of split-toning or how to properly apply clarity.
4) Make photography friends. Join a club or a group, or travel with people who also love photography. Hook up with people who love to pull over at the side of the road, get out, and spend 30 minutes photographing something that’s really cool. Hang around people who can’t pass up a good rainbow or a killer sunset. You won’t feel guilty about your hobby, and they’ll push you and you’ll learn from each other.
5) Lastly, don’t be in a rush. Learning a new skill takes years. Take your time, don’t get overwhelmed. Nobody picks up a camera and nails their first 500 frames. Seriously, nobody. Say to yourself, in 5 years I’m going to be good at this. And I have no doubt, that given you get out and take photos, that in 5 years you will be SO much better than you are now.
I hope I’ll listen to my own advice here, because I certainly have a long ways to go in my photography journey, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn such an amazing art form. What advice do you have for beginners?