Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Photographer 1
Owning a camera doesn’t make you a photographer any more than having a pet goldfish makes you a marine biologist. So how do you go from camera owner to photographer, or even professional photographer?
Every photographer started out a bit differently. Some started taking photos before the digital photography era. Others took online classes, while others hang fully-fledged degrees from their office walls. Many learn by picking themselves back up after falling flat on their faces and trying again.
The CreativeLive Guide on How To Become A Photographer will help point you in the right direction with these 12 actionable steps.
Step 1: Just get started
Mark Twain may have been referring to writing when he said that “the secret of getting ahead is getting started,” but the idea applies to photography too. The camera’s different knobs and buttons can feel downright daunting — the important thing is to just take the first step anyways.
Dig out your camera manual and tuck it in your bag for easy reference — or download the PDF version to your phone. Look up some basic terms like composition and exposure. Flip through your old photos (or shots from a photographer you admire) and make a note of what you like and what you hate about each one. Start following a few photography blogs or sign up for a beginner’s photography course online.
Step 2. Take lots of pictures — then take some more
Big surprise — becoming a photographer involves taking pictures. But you don’t need to wait until you know the difference between shutter speed and aperture camera settings before you start capturing images. You’ll get off auto mode eventually. Even shooting on auto mode can help you practice a few things — like timing, for example, and composition (which is what you leave in and what you leave out of the photo).
It is really only through massive amounts of trial and error that you will start to improve, so get going.
Step 3: Get comfortable with your specific camera
A camera is only as good as the photographer behind it — so how well do you know your camera? What’s the fastest way to adjust the ISO? Does your camera have auto bracketing, double exposure or time lapse features? Dig into the features of your particular camera so that when you need to quickly access a setting, you know where to find it.
Along with understanding what and where the features are, it’s a good idea to understand the limits of your gear. Can you shoot with your lens at a wide open aperture and still get a sharp shot? Test your lens by taking a picture of a piece of newspaper or a printout — most lenses have a “sweet spot” that’s sharper than the rest that you may need to use when sharpness is essential. The same concept applies to your camera. For example, how far can you crank up your ISO before the image gets too grainy to use? Knowing the limits of your gear can help you take better pictures, even with an entry-level camera.
Step 4: Master the fundamentals
Auto mode isn’t all bad, but to really become a photographer, you have to master the fundamentals that allow you to get off auto mode and call your own shots. That means learning the three essentials to exposure: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Each setting effects how light or dark the image is, and how much of your image is in focus. I’m embarrassed to say that when I was just starting out, the extremely important concepts of aperture and depth of field took me a very long time to figure out.
Along with exposure, learn the basics of focus techniques and composition. These are the things that allow you to start taking pictures where you have creative control. You don’t need to tackle them all at once, but you do need to master the fundamentals to make that conversion from beginner to photographer.
Step 5: Keep taking pictures
As you learn new skills — whether that’s through a class, a written tutorial or a mentor — keep shooting and put those skills into practice. Don’t just memorize the definition of aperture, turn your camera to aperture priority mode and take the same image at several different apertures. Then take a look and see how those changes affected the final image.
Learning through a class (or tutorial, book or mentor) is great — but putting those skills into practice helps solidify them, turning concepts into actionable knowledge.
Step 6: Now learn what goes into taking (amazing) photos
The secret to amazing — not just good — photos? Light. The word photography comes from Greek roots that mean to write with light. Without mastering lighting, you can’t take great pictures. Sure, sometimes you get lucky and happen to shoot a subject that’s already in great light, but to take on clients and become pro, you have to learn how to manipulate light to make your own luck.
To master lighting, you need to learn how to shoot in any lighting scenario. How do you shoot with the sun behind the subject and not end up with a silhouette? How do you intentionally using backlighting to create a silhouette? How does the look of side lighting differ from front lighting?