7 Things for the Beginner Photographer

There are a million videos on YouTube and courses out there promoting to neophyte photographers.  Wading through various websites, YouTube videos, books and magazines can be daunting.  Here are some basic directions that should help at least a little bit:

  1. Learn One thing at a time

I watch others teach almost anything and shake my head.  The ‘teacher’ often is trying to correct 5 or 6 faults making it very difficult for the person to make any improvement. I’m a pretty competent swimmer and get asked often for pointers.  I also watch others overwhelming the ‘student’ swimmer with correction.  I always try and correct only one thing.   If I can, I’ll try and evaluate the biggest difficulty the person is having with a particular stroke and correct that.  Head too high, stroke to short, or something as simple as get some googles. Not always that easy so keeping it simple I’ll just start with one issue.  It often doesn’t matter which ‘one’ you start with but it gives the person something to concentrate on to get a win with some improvement.  It seems as though many instructors have a compulsion to try and teach too many things at once. **

Studio Portrait

Studio Portrait

When I was learning photography, I wanted to take a course using studio lighting equipment.  I found one at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, an evening six week course taught by a successful photographer.  I decided what I wanted to learn, two or three basic things and concentrated on those.  Many of the students were trying to get seriously fancy and do all these huge dramatic photos.  At the end of the course the instructor said to the class that she felt that I had made the most progress of any student on the course.  

Pick one thing, learn it, then build from there. 

For example:

  1. Hold your camera correctly.  

Cameras are built for right handed people so pretty much everyone is going to use their right hand to push the shutter button.  Place your other hand UNDER the base of the camera.  Put the heel of your hand under the base of the camera.  Your fingers are then forward so that you can use the focus ring or adjust the zoom.  Using the support hand under instead of over the lens helps stabilize the camera to keep it steady.  This will help keep your images sharp.


  1. Don’t cut off their feet!

This is a really simple thing but so many touristy photos do this.  Cutting off the feet makes it look like the people are going to fall over.  Weird.  It is an unnatural spot to crop the photo.  Often people are trying to get the individual with the background of their travel destination.  Niagara Falls, Disney World.  Just pay attention when you are doing a full length photo of someone and make sure to include their feet.  Or zoom in a little closer and crop their legs above the knee.  Do just this one thing and it will improve these types of photos.  

  1. Get an ‘Intro’ magazine.

Growing up as a teen I was once asked by an adult what magazines I read. I think this person was trying to find out my interests and where I was going in life.  I told him about 2-3 magazines that were mainly spectacular photos from around the world.  His somewhat condescending acknowledgement was “Well, I guess they are nice picture magazines.”  Not very nice. 

Popular Photography:

- this magazine was in print for 80 years, from 1937 to 2017


- always thought they had great photos as well as a good coverage of the things I needed to know.

W Magazine:

- this is/was a fashion magazine.  Back in the day is was a larger format magazine.  Whether you are into fashion or not, it is worth a viewing as the photographers shooting for this magazine are incredible.  

These were some of my favourites.  Remember, I was reading these magazines before digital.  Only film existed.  Photoshop was around but you had to scan your photos.  Popular Photography and another one that I liked, can’t remember the name of it were great. Many of these magazines morphed into other things with the digital age. At least some did.

Young horses

Young horses

The thing I liked most about these two were that they covered basics.  I had subscriptions and they would come once a month.  I seem to recall that they ran on a cycle of about 18 months.  There were about 18 basics about photography that they would cover in those months and then they would start over.  They might vary the sequence a bit and certainly there were different authors for the particular articles.   But the beauty of them was they very thoroughly covered the basics.  Remember Rule #1.

Most of these are online now but if you can get and read the hard copy, it will be worthwhile. Personally, I think they try too hard with the online magazines.  Meaning they try and pack too much in.   

     5. Study Art

Do this to help you ‘see’ different ways.  Study the masters (painters), they were masters for a reason.  They had their technique down cold.  Look at successful photographers.  Not only those that are critically acclaimed but also those that make money.  

     6.  Shoot Volumes

Ball's Falls Fall Colour 2Take lots of photos.  Lots and lots.  The beauty of digital.  I went to India in 1988 for almost a month.  I had 8-10 rolls of film with me.  I had to make each click of the shutter count.  I had a blast.  The photos turned out great.  The children were the best.  If I was on a walk about with my camera they would chorus: “Photo, photo!”  It got to the point where I had to pretend to click the shutter as I knew that there was no way I would have enough film otherwise.  

This is the blessing and curse of digital.  You can click away to your hearts content.  But you are now your own editor.  You have to go through them all.  You will soon learn to take an extra moment when shooting to get the shot right.  Maybe take three or four different versions instead of twenty!

     7.  Learn Your Camera

Your camera is a tool. The better you know it, the more confident you are with it, the better your photos will be.  Don’t make it arduous.  Again, go back to rule #1, pick something in the manual that you think you need to know and study and practice until you have it.  

I don’t consider myself a technical guy.  I like to take pictures, create art.  I don’t sit down and study every aspect of my camera or other equipment (including things like Lightroom and Photoshop), but I try and learn what I need for a photoshoot.  Whether it be nature photography or portraits or weddings or whatever.  The key is to look at your results and go to the manual after and see what you could have done or could do in the future to improve that photo or type of photo.  Then go do it again.  No such thing as a mistake.  It is all education.  

Have fun whatever you do!

** if you are interested in a wonderful site for learning technique of swimming check out
Swim Smooth

And please check out my Greeting cards: Cards for all Occasions! 

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