What do I need to learn to be a photographer?

The advent of digital photography has led to an explosion in photography, both as a creative art form and as a career choice. The basics of becoming a photographer are straightforward now; You can buy a camera and some equipment, learn photography from many free online photography courses, practice your photography skills, find a niche that you can focus on. You can indeed find your answers to the question, “What do I need to learn to be a photographer?”

However, though it sounds easy, the truth is not that simple. Photography is a highly competitive field that requires you to have talent, skills, marketing acumen and discipline to make your mark as a professional photographer. To be successful, professional photographers need not just to be talented; they also need the tenacity to put in long hours, compete hard due to supply-demand imbalance and manage their business as an entrepreneur.

While you can earn much more as a photographer, based on your talent, skills, portfolio, and business acumen, it would be wise to make sure that it’s your passion and love for photography that’s driving your decision to go down the path of becoming a professional photographer. 

Once you have figured out what motivates you and decided on taking up photography as a career, it’s time to start looking into the big question of ‘how to become a professional photographer. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

In this comprehensive guide, we have covered all the aspects and steps that you would need to take to complete your journey from a hobbyist/amateur photographer to becoming a professional photographer:

There’s a lot to learn. Take it one step at a time.

Once you decide you want to become a photographer, you can learn if you’re going to do it right. You need to understand f-stops, ISOs, exposure, focus modes, white balance, light, composition, focal length, how different lenses affect your images, posing for portraits, and communicating your voice to the world through your pictures, and so many other things.

Looking at the list altogether can be overwhelming, but if you break it down, you can do it! Decide what you want to work on first and concentrate on that. If you’re going to start by focusing first, then read all you can to get the best direction from your particular camera.

If you want to understand how to get a properly exposed image first, concentrate on really understanding how ISO, f-stop and shutter speed all work together to determine your pictures’ exposure. Break it down into manageable chunks and once one thing is second nature to you, find something else to concentrate on.

If you try to get it all at once, you may find yourself overwhelmed, throwing your camera back into auto, and giving up on what could be an exciting artistic outlet. At Wild Romantic Photography, we have the best Melbourne wedding photographer to take memorable photos on your wedding day.

I was shooting in manual matters.

What do I need to learn to be a photographer?

First, when most photographers talk about shooting in manual, they are talking about shooting in manual exposure mode, but that does not generally mean also shooting using manual focus.

Second, possibly an even more important reason is that metering to zero according to your camera’s meter isn’t always the correct exposure for the scene in front of you. Because your camera wants to meter to a middle grey, if your location is light-coloured, you may need to overexpose according to the meter to get the proper exposure.

The converse is true for dark scenes. Putting your camera in manual exposure mode, grabbing a grey card and learning to use it is a great way to begin to understand this. You will hear people refer to the Zone Method, exposing to the right, or any number of other ways to find the best exposure.

Still, the main thing to understand is that your camera’s meter can give you a guideline, but it wants to meter to middle, grey metering to zero won’t always be correct. Also, there are times when you will have to make trade-offs and either over or underexpose unimportant parts of the scene to make sure the most important things, say the people in the image for a portrait, are correctly exposed.

You want to decide what is most important, not let your camera decide. Looking for wedding photography Melbourne? Look no further! Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Understand Exposure

Once you have a solid grasp on aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and how they affect your photos’ look, you need to put them all together and learn how they balance to create a good exposure. One of the trickiest things is first figuring out what people mean by a “good exposure”. Some folks make it seem like there’s a correct exposure and a wrong exposure, and if you get it wrong, you’re pretty much a doofus. That’s silly.

And if you go online and try to get a clear definition? Ha, good luck! They are all super confusing and don’t get to the heart of creating a good exposure. (My personal favourite is “The intensity of light falling on a photographic film multiplied by the time for which it is exposed”….Uh…so do I need a calculator for this?) So we made up our definition of exposure:

Good exposure is how bright you want the image to be. If it’s more brilliant than you want, it’s overexposed. If it’s darker than you want, it’s underexposed. Simple. In the end, it’s your own creative decision. You’re the photographer, after all. But you need to know how to adjust all your settings to get that exposure you’re looking for and how to use your camera to help you figure it out.

Don’t fear high ISO’s.

A bit of noise is way better than an image out of focus from too slow of a shutter speed. Plus, if you have a properly exposed idea or exposed to the right and maybe slightly overexposed (though not blown), the noise shouldn’t be too bad, even with a beginner level camera. Go ahead and bump up that exposure as much as your camera will let you so you can shoot using natural light indoors, or by the light of a lamp or iPad, or to grab the last rays of light outdoors.

You don’t need the latest and greatest equipment to make beautiful images.

When you are new, it can be easy to think that buying a better camera or the lens that everyone is raving about makes your work automatically better. For better or worse, that isn’t how it works. Hard work, study and practice are what it takes to make your images better. Once you have a basic set-up, it’s up to you to take it as far as you can.

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.

Study the light.

After the basics such as exposure and focus are mastered, really consider learning to read the light. Nothing can take an image from okay to gorgeous as well as excellent light. You can learn about light in a class, from a book, and from simply becoming aware of the light around you as you go through your day. Notice how the light falls on people and things as you go about your day, how people are lit in paintings and on TV. Eventually, reading the morning is hard to stop. Someday soon, you may find yourself running to grab your camera as you notice how the light is hitting your little one as they play in the front hall or come across a gorgeous sunset.

I don’t think anyone can indeed be the master of light (except maybe the Greek God Apollo). We photographers are the glad and willing slaves to light. Without it, we can’t do our work. And it can be a fickle master (primarily if you use natural light).

But to learn about light. To understand its many facets and subtleties. To know how to work with it in any circumstance. To create it. To seek it. Well, this is the photographer’s lifelong pursuit. We won’t ever really be the master, but we may come close with many respect and decades of practice.

Where to begin? Simple. Outside. They are endless lighting opportunities waiting for you when you step outdoors. Can you shoot in the harsh midday sun? Golden hour light? After the sun goes down? When the stars come out? Then hop back inside. Use the light of windows. There is unlimited variety there, and you can start to get the finer points down in such a simple (but complex) scenario. Ready to keep learning? Try your hand at creating your light (like a wizard!).

Learn how to use an external flash. Rent, borrow or buy a few studio lights, and start to create your lighting setups. Keep seeking light, keep learning about it, and keep pushing yourself into new lighting situations. It will bring you a lifetime of photographic adventures and more than a few great images. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day. 

Focus on getting it right in the camera before spending all your time worrying about processing your images.

This is not to say that you can’t be learning the basics of an editing program or two, but before you spend all your time learning how to fix bad images with post-processing, try to work on getting it right in camera. As you know more about processing, you can always go back and reprocess older images even years later if you still have the SOOC (straight out of the camera) file.

Still, there won’t be anything you can do about your baby’s blurry images from not understanding the basics. Also, shooting in RAW gives you tons of flexibility for editing when you get around to it. And having a nice SOOC allows you to use your processing to bring out your vision instead of fixing a bad image. I know that RAW can sound very scary, but it’s not.

Yes, you have to do at least the basics to every image because your camera isn’t doing it for you, but you have so much control over the outcome. Want to change the exposure, no problem dramatically. Did the light change, and you didn’t have a chance to change the white balance? You can still do a lot to correct that if you shot in RAW. RAW is the digital equivalent to a film negative. It gives you a great base to develop the image to suit your vision.

Take the time to understand how to post-process by hand.

What do I need to learn to be a photographer?

Even if you love using actions and presets, knowing how to edit an image by hand is the best way I know to bring out your vision in every one of your pictures, not just the ones that your favourite preset works well on. It’s easy to take things too far when just editing with actions and presets if you don’t already have a good feel for how programs work and what a well-edited image should look like.

Also, once you do start post-processing, make sure you understand white balance and skin tones. Even with great light and great technicals, if your white balance is radically off, your images won’t look as polished and professional as they could be. You may not notice as you’re learning, but as you look back on your early work, you’ll probably wonder how in the world you thought that orange baby looked good.

A calibrated monitor will help you develop your eye. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally; keep practising, study your images and the others around you. Be sure to print pictures, too, to help you notice things that you might miss on your screen. 

Learn the rules so you can break them with purpose.

I sometimes see people who think that their style should include:

White balance that is off.

  • Compositions that are highly unique but maybe not very good.
  • Other things that break the conventional rules of photography.

It’s usually easy to separate those who have internalized the rules and are breaking them on purpose to convey their message and those whose eyes just aren’t developed enough to know how to break the rules to communicate their vision to their viewers. They break the rules simply because they don’t know them.

Be one of the ones who know the rules so well they can break them to your heart’s content. At Wild Romantic, we have the best wedding photographer in Mornington Peninsula to capture every single moment on your wedding day. 

Slumps are normal.

Someday you may realize that while you’ve been learning a lot, your work seems to be getting worse. Chances are you’re not getting worse; it’s more a matter of you noticing things that you didn’t see when you were first starting. If you need to, go back and look at your work from a couple of months ago, and that should give you some perspective that you are improving, even if it’s easier to notice the less than perfect aspects of your images now. That being said, when you initially switch to manual, you may have a time when your work isn’t as good as it was when you were shooting on one of the auto modes. Push through that barrier, and soon your images will be way better than they ever were before.

Don’t think that slumps are something that only happens to beginners; once you’ve gotten to the point where other people think your work is good or even excellent, you may still have times when you aren’t feeling great about any of your latest creation. Slumps come with the process for many artists. You’ll have to figure out what works for you — shooting through the slump, putting the camera away for a while, coming up with a personal project, etc. — but know that you are not alone! Almost all of us feel that way sometimes.

Not every image needs to be a work of art.

Once you know how to take a great image, it can be easy to fall into the trap of not taking any picture in less than ideal conditions. Don’t fall into this trap. You will still want to remember the birthdays, vacations, trips to the playground and all the minor everyday events, even if the light is less than ideal or the background is busier than Times Square. Yes, some people can take these less than ideal circumstances and still create amazing images, but even if you are not one of them, don’t let the quest for beautiful photographs stop you from documenting the important people and milestones along the way!

Enjoy the journey.

I’ve been at this a long time, and one thing I’ve learned is that growing your photography is a journey without a finish line. As long as you continue to create, you will never arrive at a point where you know everything or have no room for improvement. There is always something else to learn. And no matter how good you get, there will always be someone better than you. Don’t let comparison or the quest for perfection steal your joy in the process.


So those are absolutely core aspects of photography that every shooter should be studying and developing. Some of them can be understood in a short period, and others will take a lifetime to master. But that’s good news. You’ve got a lot of exciting learning ahead of you!

But are there other things to learn? Are there other topics to dive into to help your photography? Of course, there are! These are just a starting point. They get you proficient with a camera and the language of visual art. From there, it’s a whole world of things to explore. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

Maybe you want to do portraits, and then there’s a ton of subject interaction and psychology you could learn. Or perhaps you want to dive into travel photography. There you have a wide variety of genres, from photojournalism to landscape. Then an anthropologist’s curiosity for culture and a historian’s interest in the past will serve you well in telling the stories of the places you visit. There’s no end to what you can learn as a photographer, but these things are a perfect place to start.