How can I teach myself photography?

Photography is undoubtedly the art form of the modern-day – almost everyone has access to a camera, and simple, high-level editing software has exploded the medium.

Due to all this, a new generation of amateur photographers is upon us, in numbers more significant than ever before. But for those who want to exit the rookie realm, do they need photography school?

If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

Teaching any creative discipline enters the touchy territory, especially for people’s ideals and bank accounts. But, in a day and age where many career photographers struggle to get paid work—do you need formal training to stay competitive over the millions of images on Instagram and Flickr? First, it’s essential to figure out why you want the skills.

It does not matter what kind of photography you want to shoot: family, seniors, landscapes, nature, weddings—this will be the guide for you. Beginners need to have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of how a camera works and sees the light regardless of what subject you want to shoot. This is precisely why I created this guide. So you can learn and understand the basics and start to take better photos! 

If you have ever wondered how to learn photography on your own online and master your camera, this will be your perfect beginner’s companion. 

Why learn photography? 

On top of capturing some of life’s most important memories to relive and share decades later, because of the internet and social media, we have an increasing need for photo content. The world wants to see more photos; the world wants to see your photos. But not just any photos! It’s essential that through practice, you develop your skills to see a scene with your eyes and. Will it be easy? No, but you are here for me to teach you the basics of photography to improve your camera’s storytelling abilities.

What’s the purpose of your photography?

Not everyone can take a hobby and flip it into a career, and not everyone wants to. When weighing up the importance of enrolling to study, you have to ask yourself if it’s a good investment. As anyone with a degree can tell you—they’re not cheap. If you want to take good photos but don’t want to drop big bucks on being qualified, there’s a ton of ways to develop your skills—we’ll get to those in a bit.

The pros and cons of photography school

You’re aware of the cost but want to look further into the study – let’s lay out the major pros and cons of photography school.

Pros:

  • A better understanding of the art, its history and its development.
  • Refine your natural skills and learn from people who have succeeded in the business.
  • Gain a thorough knowledge of lighting and composition techniques.
  • Make connections throughout your degree that could help in your professional life.

Cons:

  • Tuition expense is high, and average yearly salaries are low, meaning it could take you decades to pay back your debt
  • Equipment is also super pricey, making it hard to balance the cost of lenses, cameras and accessories with the price of study.
  • Employment isn’t guaranteed, incredibly, as art and photography degrees are limiting.
  • Possibility of having to go back to school to pursue more education if your photography career doesn’t flourish.

Which side carries more weight for you?

Can you learn photography on your own?

Absolutely! The internet has brought the world’s best photographers and best minds together in one place. No matter what kind of photography or question you have, you can find the answer online. Want to know about the inverse square law and why it’s so essential to master flash photography? You can find the answer online. Want to know the basics when adjusting your settings when photographing a newborn? You can find the answer online. Anyone can learn photography!

Passion, Patience and hustle

If you take a passion and run with it, can you be successful without the classroom’s formality? Can drive, thick skin, and persistence be all you need to get skills, money and connections? For some, yes.

Take Chris Ozer—in 2010, and he quit his 9-5 job to pursue a career in photography. Seven years later, the self-taught photographer has an Instagram following of over six hundred thousand and some pretty impressive clients, including Apple, Target, and The New York Times. 

Regardless of what you want to achieve with your photography, here are some sure-fire ways to improve your skills without a degree. Our exclusive range of Melbourne wedding photography will help you not miss a thing on your wedding day.

Where to start with photography

Get familiar with your camera.

I know what you’re thinking—no way am I reading the camera manual. But, it is a great tool when trying to master your chosen model. It’s not to say you have to read 300 pages cover to cover; of course, you can skim areas you already know about or leave particular sections for later, but the humble camera manual holds more importance than you think. Taking the time to research your kit is essential for a couple of reasons:

You need to know about every aspect of your camera. No one knows the camera better than the people that made it.

You might be thinking you’re too good for the user’s manual. But let me tell you, reading your manual is essential for a couple of reasons:

  • You need to become familiar with every aspect of your camera.
  • The more familiar you are with your camera, the sooner it will get out of your way.

The last thing you want to do when taking photos is to fiddle around with your camera when you should be composing your shot or studying your subject. Not only will you look foolish, but you will most likely kill your photo before you even get a chance to take it.

Watch online tutorials

With the inception of the internet making most people think of manuals as artifacts, you can also go to the net to learn. Especially if you find reading difficult/uninspiring, there will be countless videos and blogs on using the model you’ve picked. This is great when looking for reviews from people who have used the rig for a while. YouTube, in particular, is filled with reviews, tips and warnings for photographers. Remember to put what you’ve watched into action!

Hit the books (and online portfolios)

Indulging in a good book or online portfolio will help you absorb details in creative, colourful and exciting ways. They will inspire you and help you figure out niches that you want to play around with. Whilst your learning portfolios can also be a source of incredible frustration, as you look at what others can achieve and struggle to mirror it. Don’t let it get you down, though, just like every good art form; it takes time to master.

Find something to shoot.

There’s no point in having a camera if you have nothing to shoot. You will waste a lot of time and energy trying to make sense of the hundreds of dollars you spent on your fancy new camera if you don’t have a subject.

The beauty of photography is that it has a particular urgency associated with it. No photo gets taken without the need for it. The moment comes, you have your camera, and you decide to press on the shutter release. That’s the nature of photography. The photo is contingent upon a need for it.

Even if you create the need (e.g., fashion shoots, culinary photography, actively going out into the world to take photos), what you’re doing is actively developing the conditions in which photos must be taken. You create those conditions. It is an active choice for the photographer.

The act of finding your subject is essential. Your subject says more about you than you think.

Your subject tells people that you were there and that’s what you saw, and that’s what you chose to take a picture of. As a photographer, you record moments in a story and record moments in your account. Your photos place you in space and time, and, to some extent, you become your subject.

Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Practice, practice and practice!

Nothing will help you more than experience—so bring your camera everywhere and shoot anything remotely interesting! You can take fifty photography courses, read every book about lighting and exposure and talk about it all day – but taking photos is what is going to allow you to unlock your style and natural skill. As hundreds of photos build up on your memory card, you’ll see what needs improvement and where you excel. It’s good to keep some early evidence of your trials and errors so you can look back and see how far you’ve come!

The camera is just a camera.

How can I teach myself photography?

Sure it’s made of super cool materials like magnesium and glass, and plastic. It has so many buttons and dials and doodahs and whatnots. It may seem like your camera is some kind of super gadget ready to be sent into space, able to do magnificent, unfathomable things, but really, it’s just a light-proof box with a hole on the front. No matter how technologically advanced a camera is, it still needs a photographer setting its dials, pressing its buttons, and pointing it at something interesting.

Come to think of it, NASA did send out a couple of cameras into space called Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Those were technologically advanced enough to be sent into play, and yet they still needed instructions from people here on Earth.

What we’re hinting at is that the camera doesn’t make the photographer. It doesn’t matter if you use a plastic toy camera you found in the discount bin at your local store or if you use a super expensive professional-grade, nuclear-powered DSLR that also works as a beacon for your mothership.

The bottom line is when a person looks at a picture, and that picture is judged to be good or bad, they’re not feeling the equipment you used. They’ll be considering the photographer who took it.

The principles of photography haven’t changed that drastically since it first emerged in the 1860s. It’s still about controlling how much light is allowed to pass through a lens and onto a recording medium. And yet, there’s always that misconception that technology is what’s responsible for good photography. The technology was just the spark. The flame is kept alive by the photographer.

Expand your network

Studying, reading, and ogling photographers works and words is essential, but you also need to hit the streets and network. Contacts and referrals enable you to gain valuable skills and get clients if you want to make money. Networking is all about figuring out who you need to know and how you’re going to build long-term relationships with them.

  • Photography is a very personal business; networking lets you get to know people.
  • You are your brand; making yourself known as a person and not just a photographer helps you repeat customers.
  • Networking is cheap in comparison to other marketing strategies.
  • Without good relationships – no business will succeed.

Get a mentor or apprenticeship.

Mentors and apprenticeships are a surprisingly overlooked way of breaking into photography. Ask many successful self-taught professionals how they learned the ropes, and many will credit working their way up the ladder at an internship.

A big tip, though—do your research into who you are going to be working for. It would help if you connected with someone generous with their knowledge and encouraging in their style. The wrong kind of experience can leave you sitting behind a desk all day, filing paperwork and answering phones. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day.

Learn About Exposure

Exposure, simply speaking, is the combination of three main variables that control the amount of light allowed to interact with your camera’s sensor or film. These are:

  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • Film speed (or ISO)

The right combination of these variables is at the heart and soul of every photograph that has ever been taken. However, exposure is an infinitely nuanced topic that belies its seeming simplicity. Entire libraries have been written about the subject of disclosure, and even more, books are being registered on the subject as you read this.

That’s because most photographers who have even a fraction of experience under their belt will have their own opinions about the subject and all of them are right (or wrong, depending on whom you ask).

Therefore, find a way of understanding the fundamentals of proper exposure and learn it on your terms until you can apply it to how you take photos.

Read a book, take a class, or learn it with a friend. In any case, you must learn how to expose correctly to know which rules to break and how to break them for your purposes.

The technical aspects of photography — the parts detached from the “artistry” and the aesthetics of photography — are a broad pool of knowledge filled with numbers and meters, measurements, and science and rules. And while there is a purpose to all that knowledge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will all apply to your work as a photographer.

Learn Composition

How can I teach myself photography?

Learning to compose a shot isn’t merely about framing your subject within the four corners of your viewfinder (although it is that also). Composition (at least to me) has a lot to do with emotion, motion, feel, colour, and many other variables.

You can take all the photography classes in the world. You can do everything right. You can follow all the rules about taking a good photo. However, if something is not right in your image, then something is just not right. If the picture looks good, then it’s okay. The photo doesn’t lie.

Learn the fundamentals of composition (e.g. the rule of thirds, etc.) and find a way to adapt it to your work. Know it, understand it, and then use/abuse what you need to make your work outstanding.

Attend a workshop

Continuing from above, going to a workshop is another great way to learn. Workshops are perfect for people who might want to go to a photography school but don’t want to commit to 3+ years and shell out tons of cash. That’s not to say that workshops aren’t expensive; some are quite an eye-watering—but—put it in comparison to a degree, and it’s quite the bargain. Workshops also tie into many things we’ve already discussed—they’re great for making connections, finding internships and discovering styles/niches you love.

Turn around

One disadvantage of photography (or endearing characteristic, depending on how you look at it) is that it forces the photographer to see our boundless, 3-dimensional world through a somewhat limited, 2-dimensional box. This is enough of a challenge that sometimes that’s all we’re focused on doing, and we miss out on everything else.

So when you’re staring through your viewfinder just itching to take that perfect shot, take a moment and look around you. You never know what you might find.

Smile

When you think about it, a camera is a very threatening object to a lot of people. That’s because cameras represent the possibility of an invasion of privacy.

The camera captures people’s actions, candid moments, and things people might not always want to be recorded. In other words, in front of and around a camera, people often feel vulnerable and exposed. The camera doesn’t discriminate. It does not censor itself. It captures everything you put in front of its lens. That’s why it’s up to the photographer to make their subjects and those around him feel at ease in the presence of his camera.

One way of doing this is to smile sincerely at your subjects and those around you.

A smile goes a long way. It shows you’re friendly and that you won’t abuse the privilege of taking people’s pictures. Even on photo shoots with paid models whose job is to be in front of a camera, a smile, and keeping them at ease, helps with having a more relaxed and pleasant photoshoot.

Join a photography forum

Photographers love talking about photography – and where do they unleash? Forums. Whether you want some honest feedback on your work, want to learn more about a particular style of photography or have a question about your camera – forums more often than not will hold the answer. Don’t always take what someone has said on a platform as gospel, though; it’s still good to back up claims with further research.

We all have different experiences in photography; sharing those experiences with someone else can be very enriching and mutually rewarding. Like in a class environment, we often learn more through discussion and other people’s affairs than if we had studied alone. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.

Set yourself a photography bucket list

Is there any better feeling than writing a list of challenges and working through them till there’s none left?! I don’t think so. Your photography journey can benefit from this, as well. By setting goals or a photography’ bucket list,’ you can find yourself feeling more motivated to get out and get shooting.

Nothing beats experience. You can take all the photography courses you want, read every book about photography, talk about it, and read long-winded articles like this one. Still, nothing will help you take better photos than just going out there and doing it and learning your lessons. The more you shoot, the better you’ll be at taking pictures, and the more insight you will gain into how you can improve.

Make an online photography portfolio.

Once you start building up a catalogue of work, you need a place to present it.

Here’s why:

  • Use it as a resume: show off your expertise and past clients as a way to lock down more work
  • Use it as a marketing tool: gain visibility of your brand by giving your social media posts a call to action
  • Use it to look back on your work: it’s a great way to see how far you’ve come with each photography project

Here’s how:

  • Organise your work into themes: it’ll allow potential clients to quickly and easily navigate your site to see if you’re a photographer they’d want to work with
  • Show your best work: don’t make people go through hundreds of average pictures – highlight the good stuff.
  • Get your head around SEO (search engine optimisation): your site won’t get a lot of action without it.
  • Use a website builder instead of a custom website: website builders like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy for you to design your layout—and they still look beautiful.

Find your style.

When learning how to take photos, an important thing to remember is: be inspired but don’t copy. Sure, you could look at someone else’s work and think that’s precisely the type of photo I want to take, but no two images will ever be the same—so don’t bother trying to mirror others down to the last detail. The best way to develop your style is to keep taking photos—shoot as much as possible, whenever you can until you figure it out.

Experiment and make mistakes

If you want to become a film photographer, then this advice might be a bit costly, but for all those digital users, the beauty of a memory card is that you can take hundreds of duds, and it doesn’t matter. Take photos from every angle, experiment with light, and don’t be afraid to play around with your subject. You may see only one good picture out of dozens when you’re starting, but what’s important is to look back and see what works and what doesn’t for you.

Put your heart into it.

Use the passion you’ve got and apply it to every photo you take, every book you read, every video you watch and every program you learn. Photography is art, and the best art comes from a place of passion. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

Sure, there are fundamentals in photography. There are rules and guidelines for being an influential photographer. But going out there and just shooting is the only way to master them. And once you’ve got and understood those fundamentals, you’ll be better equipped to bend or break them when you find yourself needing to create something truly unique and useful.