5 things I wish I’d known when I started photography

That first half press of the shutter button. That reassuring beep that my subject was in focus. That wonderful combination of mirror slap and shutter actuation. I was hooked — photography was my new obsession!

Knowing what I know now, some ten years later, here’s some advice I’d give to my younger, more impetuous “photographer” self.

You don’t need to photograph everything you see

Upon owning a camera for the first time I had an overwhelming urge to photograph everything and anything within in my field of view. Ultimately, this was not entirely a bad thing to do, as I learned:-

  • A great deal about how my camera worked and what it’s limitations were.
  • How ISO, shutter speed and aperture values affected the photo’s exposure.
  • What a histogram was

I was assembling a wide and varied collection of photographs. What I wasn’t doing was paying attention to composition.

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst

Henri Cartier-Bresson is famously quoted as saying this. After reviewing some of my early images, I now see exactly what Cartier-Bresson meant. Composition, it seemed, was the furthest thing from my mind. My early attempts at mastering the craft of photography were haphazard and utterly devoid of any compositional elements.

After reading many books and pouring over lots of other people’s photographs, I made plenty of useful discoveries. The rule of thirds. Leading lines. Depth of field. Understanding what these techniques were and how they could be used to turn an OK photograph in to a great photograph, created a seismic shift in the quality of my photography.

I’ll fix it in post

Relying on post production software (Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.) to “fix” things in my photographs was just plain lazy. I could have saved myself so much time and hassle if I’d only stopped to take a moment and analyse the finer details of frame that I was trying to capture.

Moving a tree branch or blade of grass out of frame would have been much easier than spending hours with the clone stamp tool. Running a lint roller over a model’s jacket would have been much easier than painstakingly spot removing a billion fluff fragments. Using a graduated neutral density filter would have been easier than having to add a digital graduated filter.

OK, maybe adding a digital graduated filter was not that hard to do, but my point is that it is better to “see” what should and should not be in the frame before clicking the shutter button.

Create more, upgrade less

Purchasing the latest camera technology is not a fast track to taking better pictures. I fell in to the trap of thinking that if I upgrade my camera, lenses, etc., I will be a better photographer. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Trust me.

Instead of suffering from G.A.S (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) I should have been concentrating on getting the best out of the equipment that I had. I would have also saved a lot of money!

Shoot for yourself, not for someone else

I was obsessed with sharing my work online. I felt that I needed the validation of strangers on photography sharing websites (Flickr and 500px, mostly) by way of likes and shares. Again, I thought that by sharing my work online I would somehow improve with each uploaded photograph.

This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. Letting go of my accounts on these websites was, perhaps, one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done in my life. No longer do I dwell or obsess on what other people think of my work. When I take a photograph now, it’s because I like it!

I definitely feel that my photography skills have evolved, and for the better, since I first picked up a camera many years ago. If you could go back a decade and give yourself some sage like advice on photography, what would it be?

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