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The Secret to Taking Great Photographs: For New Photographers

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At this time of year there are so many new photographers. People get dSLR cameras and/or editing software for the holidays. Others have cameras and make resolutions to take more pictures or get great photographs in the new year.

It is great!!! Welcome to the mostly fabulous world of photography and editing.

The best ways to become a great photographer are to: study, read, practice, ask questions, practice, search for answers, practice, practice, practice. That is not a typo –  repetition (practice) is the best way to improve your photography. Whether you are picking up your camera for the first time or have been shooting for ten years, practice is the best way to grow your skills and creativity.

You can ask all the questions in the world, but until you try and fail and try again, analyze your settings, and practice some more, all the reading and questions will never amount to much. There is no “EASY, LOSE ALL THE WEIGHT YOU WANT IN ONE WEEK” shortcut for photography. And now that I think of it, that line does not apply to weight loss either…

Becoming a professional photographer does not happen overnight, nor does becoming a great hobbyist photographer.  Whether you are in auto, aperture priority, or full manual, until you really learn and practice lighting, focus, exposure, posing, and how your camera works, you cannot truly expect to master photography. It takes time and hard work to get consistent results.

Anyone can capture a great photograph…

Anyone can pick up a camera and occasionally get a great shot. For many photos you can pop your camera into auto, program, or even aperture or shutter priority and get nice work immediately.  Anyone can press play on a Photoshop action or click a Lightroom preset – and many times this will complete the look.  But taking or editing a few great images does not mean you are ready to go into business, nor does it mean you have mastered photography.  The ability to capture a few great moments means it is time to learn why those images were strong so you can build on your successes.

How to become a great photographer…

When you take an amazing image, analyze what you did right. If on auto, see what the camera chose for you.  If on manual, start learning why you chose the settings.  Then take images where you did not succeed, those with poor focus, bad lighting or unappealing composition, and figure out what you could do to improve. I still do this every time I take the photos off my camera. Before I delete the bad photos, I quickly assess them and decide what I could have done differently to improve.  For example, “I should have increased the speed” or “I see my focus was on her hair instead of her eyes” and so on.

To get better at photography or editing, whether your goal is to be a hobbyist or a pro, ask for critique from those you respect (one great place to do this is the MCP Group on Facebook).  Share your settings (f/stop, ISO, speed, the conditions) and/or editing steps with your images. Find out from others how you could improve next time.  Don’t take the advice or critique as personal failure.  Use it to get better. If someone has helpful advice, for example that you underexposed or missed focus due to slow shutter speed, or that the eyes look over-edited, go back and practice getting it right. More experienced photographers can grow by learning the art of critique – find the positives to a photo and then explain improvements that can be made, including the most important part, how.  Just saying “you underexposed that by 2 stops” to a new photographer is often discouraging.  If you take time to explain, “next time increase your ISO to 800 or decrease your speed to 1/250,” the person use that information to improve.

Have a camera… time to be a pro?  NO!

Just because you have an expensive camera or lenses does not mean you need to start a photography business. It means you may have the equipment needed, nothing more.  Photography is a fantastic hobby no matter how much experience you gain.  There is no law requiring you to go pro in a month, a year, or 10 years.

If you are new, and do aspire to “be a professional photographer,” please make this a long-term goal. I am not saying this to shoot down your dreams.  I say this because I truly care.

First take the time to really learn your camera equipment, settings, lighting, focus, composition, editing, etc. Do not set a date you need to be earning money.  Instead work hard at the craft and make sure you focus on consistent results and can get quality images in a wide range of situations and conditions.  At this point, you can start to “think” about business.  I said “think” because once you get here, you’ll want to work on your portfolio.  Don’t attempt to compile a portfolio from your “just learning” photos.  Build it once you get consistent, professional results from every shoot.

You will also need more than photography and editing skills to run a business.  You’ll need:

  • Marketing and sales skills to grow and retain your clientele
  • Pricing knowledge so you charge enough to run a profitable business
  • Start up money to invest in legal and accounting professionals
  • Funds to set up a legitimate business based on your state and country
  • A relationship with one or more pro photo labs
  • An entrepreneurial spirit (unless you work for someone else)
  • And the list goes on…

Remember that even if you first thought “I want to be a photographer” that it does not mean you have to do it for a living.  If you have a passion for photography and business, it may be the perfect career move, once you are a proficient.

Join in the fun – learn photography…

I am so excited to see more and more people embrace photography.  The more people who have cameras and who learn to use them, the more photographers who can document life and capture memories in a beautiful way. I hope MCP Actions will play a small part in your growth from our website and blog to our Facebook group and photography and editing resources.

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  1. Joanne on December 31, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Good article – it’s a great reminder for hobbyists that we need to learn to walk before we can run.

  2. Cay Justice on December 31, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Hi Jodi,Thank you for being my inspiration this past year! You’ve helped keep me connected to photography, even though I haven’t been able to ad18c0c7a3314e my D700. I’ve been healing from my second neck surgery, and the D700, with my fast lenses are too heavy to carry! My parents got me an Olympus point and shoot for Christmas, which I’ve exchanged for a Canon Powershot that will allow me to set manual settings. The Olympus did not have manual settings. I’m just thrilled I can carry the Powershot in my purse, and be as ready as possible to shoot when the opportunity presents itself!Thanks again Jodi! Happy New Year to you and your beautiful family!Cay Justice

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