October 16, 2020

004. How To Learn Photography

If you want to learn photography,  just press that little shutter button. Again and again and again.

I teach photography to a wide range of students. Some start the course with a significant amount of experience, even professional work. Others arrive as total beginners. Regardless of their starting point, there is one consistent indicator of who will show most improvement by year’s end:
How often they get out and take some photos.

Like many things, success has less to do with raw talent and more to do with tenacity.

The more you shoot, the better you become, (and the cheaper it gets. Read on…)

Can you learn to play tennis just by watching tennis?

Can you learn to play tennis by studying the history of tennis, or the physics of tennis balls? Or by asking a tennis coach a zillion questions? Nope.

When you swing a tennis racquet for the first time, do you expect to be able to hit the ball “pretty well”. Or will you make some spectacularly dumb shots? and finally…

will you measure your progress by comparing yourself to a pro?

You can only learn a skill, like tennis – by doing it. Practicing and playing.
The same truth applies to improving your photography – you will learn the most by practicing and playing. Just go out, do it, and have fun. And do yourself a favour: stop comparing your shots to professional photographers, or the latest winner of National Geographic photo awards.

If you are pushing yourself to improve, you should expect to get things wrong more often that you get them right. And making mistakes is not just OK, it is absolutely the best way to learn.

There is no cost nor penalty to practicing your photography.

With digital cameras, you can just keep taking as many shots as you need to.

how to learn photography

It used to be expensive to practice photography.

Cameras have always been something of a luxury item. A decent film camera (analog, not digital) could last 10-20 years.

But every time you took a photo it would cost you more money. Film, processing, printing. You had to spend money just to see if you managed to capture any sort of image at all.

Sometimes the film was totally blank. Ouch. Then you had to try to figure out what you did wrong – way back on the day you had pressed the shutter button. Double ouch.
And when you did finally get a few good pics, you might have wanted to show them off. So there was the added cost of printing enlargements. (Before facebook, people had to see a real print before they could say “like”).

The more you shoot, the cheaper it becomes.

Today’s cameras do become obsolete within a few years. That’s just the reality of digital technologies. Depreciation is now the main cost.

But the ongoing cost of shooting is very low. In fact, the more you shoot, the cheaper it gets:

Lets imagine you buy a camera for $1000. It lasts two year before you break it, lose it, or drop it in the ocean. Ooops.

  • If you had taken 1000 shots : each photo will have cost $1.
  • But if you had taken 20,000 photos: the cost goes down to $0.05 per shot.

So squeeze the juice out of that fruit!

Its pretty hard to wear out a digital camera. The main moving part is usually the shutter. Most modern camera shutters are conservatively rated to last between 100,000 and 300,000 actuations. (And electronic shutters last indefinitely). So unless you are shooting professionally, you are unlikely to shoot more frames than the camera can handle.

The key is to play. As in – enjoy your playtime with your camera. Try to incorporate it into your normal leisure activities. Going for a walk, a bike ride, visiting people and places, traveling, wherever your interests take you.

Tips for more photo practice opportunities:

  • Select some random days on your calendar. Take your camera with you to whatever activies are scheduled on that day. Take 5 photos.
  • Let your photography lead you to explore new places. Drop a random pin on a map of your city and just go there. Take 5 photos.
  • Join a photography club activity. (You can usually go along as a guest – to trial the club without necessarily joining up) Take 5 photos.
  • Book an inexpensive photography tour in your city. Take lots of photos.
  • Book a walking tour that isn’t about photography. Bring your camera with you.(I did a food walking tour of melbourne) Take 5 photos.
  • Google “photography ideas for beginners”. For example: https://www.shutterfly.com/ideas/photography-projects/

    hot chocolate. melbourne walking tour.

    Hot chocolate in “drinking boats”. Chocolate walking-tour of melbourne. Yum.

graffiti. melbourne.

Graffiti. (Also taken during chocolate walking tour)

Let the odds work in your favour.

Great photos are often about being lucky – but you can improve your odds by increasing your photo opportunities. And always shoot more than one frame. It’s sometimes the final frame in the series that captures the moment best. Instead of taking one shot, get into the habit of always capturing a series of 2 or 3 frames.

Remember: the beauty of digital cameras is that there is no cost, no penalty. Even if your “success” rate is only 1 in 100, you can still get a whole bunch of great shots… just keep looking for things to shoot and keep pushing that little button.