Advice for the beginning photographer

A little more than one year ago I wrote a "from the heart" blog post about my journey as a photographer and a lot has changed ever since. I kept learning, shot so much more than in 2014, attended quite a handful of workshops, mentoring sessions and met a bunch of good photographers.

I have to confess that, quite a lot of times, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information I was getting. I had to step back a few times to try to see the bigger picture and hold on to what made sense to me.

Between "How to be a business owner",  "How to find your voice" and etc., what was most clear to me was finding out the type of photographer that I DO NOT want to be. And that is the the-one-who-is-afraid-of-her-own-shadow... yeah, cuz it might be "stealing" her ideas.

I decided to write this post because if you are able to produce exactly the same work that I produce, just by knowing a few "secrets", then I'm really a bad artist with no real vision and skills of my own. There, I said it.

I have to say in advance, there's a lot of reading and practice to be done. Beware! Also note that this is how I've done it, but there are so many other ways. Find what works best for you.

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So here it is, my "nothing-secret-sauce" step-by-step:

1) Master the foundation of photography.

Nail down Exposure, Composition, your equipment and editing. To learn about exposure and composition: I highly recommend Fundamentals of Digital Photography by John Greengo (via Creative Live).

To learn about your equipment: read the manual, people. Seriously. If you prefer to learn watching, John Greengo also has video courses of most current dslr cameras. I followed the one for the Canon 5D mark II.

To learn about editing in Lightroom: Lynda.com courses are the way to go. Follow all the modules and work through the lessons. And then practice as much as you can! To this day, I'm still learning new editing tricks.

2) Don't get too caught up about gear.

In the beginning we tend to think that camera or that lens will help us make better photos. It is not about gear, really. If you can't create a lovely image with what you have, then you most likely won't do it with a full frame or top of the line lenses.

I suggest really trying your best with your current gear. Master all the possibilities you have with the camera you own now. When you outgrow your gear, then it is time to upgrade. I once met an Ukrainian photographer (Hi Yulia!) shooting the most pretty images with a crop factor camera and a simple lens. It is all about how well enough you know your gear.

My current working set up: Canon 5D mark II body Sigma 35mm 1.4 lens Mamiya AFD 645 body Mamiya AF 645 body (back up) 2 Mamiya 80mm 2.8 lenses Sekonic L-308 Moneymaker camera strap Jo Totes Gracie Bag Amazon camera backpack

Personal work set up: Canon EOS 3 body Pentax k1000

3) Avoid at all costs shooting for free

The only person you should be shooting for free is yourself. If you want to practice, find new face models via modelsmayhem.com or even Instagram.

If you ever have to shoot something for portfolio, charge a decent portfolio fee. The only times I believe it is OK to shoot for free is if what you are getting in return is something that really interests YOU.

Most likely, when you shoot for free, the exposure you get is for more free work. Most professionals wouldn't work for exposure so why should you?

If you don't deal with it seriously and as a real job, other people won't either. You are worth the value you give to yourself. Don't let others put a price tag on YOUR work. Believe me, I learned this lesson the hard way.

4) Have your portfolio reviewed by professionals

Don't be fooled by family, friends and common people saying your photos are great. You run the risk of believing people that don't know anything about it and that way you won't ever improve.

Find photographers whose work you really like and pay for a portfolio review. I'd recommend doing it every 3 months in your first years. Professionals offering portfolio review really know how to do it. Whatever they say don't take it personal but do take the advice.

Constructive criticism has really helped me seeing weak points in my images that I wouldn't know otherwise. You can only make it better if you know which areas needs improving.

This year alone I had my portfolio reviewed 4 times.

5) Shoot only what you love

Finding your style has a lot more to do with finding out who you are and what you love.

Be true to yourself. Don't feel like you have to shoot families if you don't like kids or that you have to shoot all types of weddings if it really doesn't speak to your heart.

It is totally OK to experiment a bit in each style when you are starting but never feel like you have to offer types of photography that you can't relate to.

Experiment, find out what is really your style and go for it. If this is something you have a hard time with, I recommend Ben Sasso's Style and Brand course. Game changer for me. Worth every penny.

6) Don't compare yourself with others

If you want to do it, a fair way is to look for the very first images of those photographers. You'll see how you are actually doing not so bad and won't be feeling so bad like if you would be comparing your beginning with someone else's long road success.

I'd even go as far as saying to stop following every photographer's work. I mean it, both on Facebook and Instagram. It is a creativity killer task and you'll produce more of your own ideas if you don't know what others are actually doing.

7) It takes time

Henri Cartier-Bresson once said "Your first 10.000 photographs are your worst". In a digital era this number should be tripled or even more.

Silly me used to think that holding a camera and making a perfect photo every time, from the beginning, was only a matter of talent and if my photos weren't good, it was because, tada... I just had no talent for photography. Thank God, I'm not only silly but very determined and that's why I, even believing I had no talent, I didn't quit.

I keep experimenting to achieve the images I envision. I know that today I'm a better photographer than the one I was yesterday only because of learning from my own mistakes, which can only occur when I create.

So go get busy! :)

P.S: Would love to hear what worked for you and what you mostly feel you need help with!