Photography is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying hobbies or activities one can take up. With the advent of smartphones and multiple camera setups, it’s a lot easier to get into than before. While almost anyone can take up this amazing art form, a lot of people feel hesitant to do so thinking that they need an innate talent for it.
How can I learn photography on my own? In the age of the Internet, there are really many ways to learn photography on your own. Most recommendable are the paid workshops and online courses that most famous photographers sell in just about any photography genres. The second great way is Youtube.
Is it possible to become a pro photographer without taking any classes? Don’t you need to be creative to take it up as a hobby? Here, we will be answering all these questions and more as we take a deep dive into how you can learn photography on your own.
How can I learn photography on my own?
Photography, like any other creative hobby, requires you to have a certain amount of dedication and passion to excel at it. However, you don’t have to be talented to become a pro at it. At the end of the day, creativity is nothing but a different way of thinking. Over time, anyone can increase their creativity by asking questions and seeking answers. Everyone has a unique perspective to offer and photography is a way in which you can share that perspective. Here are some ways in which you can start learning photography on your own.
- Understanding the camera – Even though one can click amazing pictures using a smartphone, to better understand photography, you need to know how the camera works. While understanding the mechanical aspect of a camera is always helpful, you do have to explore all the features that come with it. Go through the manual and see what the various buttons are for and click pictures with different settings to know what each function does.
- Check out online tutorials – There are plenty of beginner tutorials online today which won’t cost you a single penny. Go through the guides that you feel is right for you and try it out with your camera. A lot of people only watch tutorials thinking that their photography skills will get better. Learning is only half the battle, after all. Putting what you learned to practice is the other half and is an essential step towards learning photography.
- Practice – Once you have a basic grasp of the various functions of the camera, go out and click pictures to better understand them. Try clicking photographs under different lighting conditions and see how it affects the mood of what you are trying to portray. Photography is all about communicating your idea in a visual format. In the beginning, don’t go looking for interesting things to shoot. Instead, focus on shooting normal things and try to make them look extraordinary.
- Network – The next step is to join a network of like-minded people and share your pictures and ideas with them. You can easily find such groups on social media and this can help you reach the next level of photography. You will gain access to not only information from those who are more skilled than you but you will also get to know of various workshops being held near your area.
- Find your style – The style of your photography is what will make your pictures unique from other photographers. Finding your style is something that takes a long time and there is no one way to do it. Some people learn from the masters and borrow different aspects that appeal to them to create their unique style. Other’s find their style through the type of photographs they specialize in such as black and white, portraits, landscapes and so on. This will happen naturally over time and so you don’t have to worry much about it.
The only thing to keep in mind when trying to learn and excel at photography is to always be willing to absorb more information about it. Research about the great photographers that came before and learn what made them so unique. Soon you will automatically be able to see everything around you in a different light and come up with interesting ways to bring what is in your mind to the digital format.
Where do I start with photography?
Here are some ways to get started with photography.
- Discovering your inspiration – Photography is such a vast field that you can easily get overwhelmed if you don’t focus on a specific part at first. Ask yourself what inspires you when it comes to looking at photographs. Do you like portrait pictures or landscapes? Do you like black and white photography over color? Do you like nature or perhaps travel photography? Once you figure out what appeals to you, you can start your journey into becoming better at it.
- Buy a decent camera – When you are starting on your journey, don’t go for an expensive camera but make sure it isn’t extremely basic as well. Go online and research beginner-friendly cameras and what all features they have. In the beginning, always remember to go for manual functionality in your camera. Once you understand how aperture, shutter speed and ISO works, then you can use additional features to further beautify your pictures.
- Pay attention to the composition – A lot of people want to start clicking amazing pictures right away, which is wrong. Like any other art form, if you don’t get the basics down first, you will reach a point where you can’t improve further. So in the beginning, don’t pay attention to how good the picture looks. Try to compose your subjects in unique and interesting ways. Pay attention to your composition and see if it changes the nature of the idea you have in mind.
- Understand lighting – Lighting plays a very important role in photography. It can make all the difference between a great picture and a dull one. Go out and take pictures in different lighting conditions. Try to play with ambient or reflected light and see how it changes your picture. You can even start with a household object and a basic lamp to play with lighting. You can even create DIY reflectors and use bounce light to experiment with pictures.
- Look for a mentor – Like any other creative craft, once you reach a certain point on your own, you need to find a mentor to get to the next level. He/she can teach you tips and tricks and answer any doubts or questions you may have. You can even try to accompany them on various projects and learn from their vast experience.
One day, as you become a master of photography, you too will have to pass down the knowledge to someone else and complete the circle of learning.
Great places to learn photography
Here are some of the best places to check out when learning photography.
- Online courses – There are plenty of amazing online courses too which you can take up at affordable rates. Some of them might be expensive so do watch out for those. It’s not that the expensive ones aren’t good but if you are just starting, it would be better to dip your feet into the pool before jumping in. The only thing you have to do before joining an online course is to see how effective it is. Don’t go by only the customer testimonials you see on the website. Research a bit to get a broader feel of how good or bad it is.
- Workshops – Workshops are a great way to not only learn more about photography but also to find potential mentors and other like-minded people whom you can befriend. Whether it is painting, designing or photography, having a group of peers you can share your work with is invaluable and can greatly help you to improve your skills.
- YouTube – YouTube has a ton of amazing video tutorials at the beginner, intermediate and master levels to help you move ahead in your learning process. Some of them might be difficult to understand and if that is the case, move on to another content creator who will be more suitable for you. Some people have a great knack for simplifying things whereas others might tend to make it more technical and complex. Undoubtedly, the disadvantage of YouTube is that the issues we are interested in are often presented in a selective manner and a lot of time must be lost to learn something.
- Books – Books are always one of the best places to get information from. You can research the type of photography you are most interested in and see if there are any books on that subject. By looking at all the amazing work done by those who have mastered the profession, you will not only be inspired to become better but you might even figure out what art style you want to develop in the future.
- Communities – Whether it is an offline community or an online one, you can greatly benefit from being a part of one. Some websites hold competitions on a weekly or monthly basis to see who uploads the best looking picture. This can not only be very informative but it is also a great way to engage yourself positively as you try to improve your skills. You can also meet like-minded people and create a social group and talk about photography and learn from each other. The possibilities are endless.
Using post production tools in the beginning
Although it might be very tempting to use post-production tools in the very beginning and transform ordinary-looking photographs into extraordinary ones, you absolutely should not do so. It will end up greatly hindering your creative growth and put you on the wrong path. You will reach a point where you will have to go all the way back and relearn the basics all over again and waste a lot of time. These tools can be very helpful once you are good enough but never use them in the beginning.
If you don’t use them and slowly become more and more capable with a camera, you will reach a point where these tools will help you get to the next level. By this time, these software programs won’t be a crutch and instead will be an actual tool you have in your arsenal. A lot of people, unfortunately, end up giving in to the temptation and using them for social media only to become stagnant in their skills later on.
Basic camera functions you should know about
Here are some of the basic things you need to know about photography:
- Exposure – Exposure is the amount of light that is exposed to the camera sensor which leads to how bright the picture looks. You can play with the different settings to understand how an underexposed, overexposed and perfectly exposed picture looks like. Even though many cameras come with smart features that automatically figures out the right exposure, you should always do it manually in the beginning. You can do this by controlling the various functions mentioned below.
- Aperture – The aperture is what controls the amount of light that is allowed to pass through the camera lens. Not to be confused with exposure, the aperture is also responsible for the depth of field. An F/1.4 aperture, for instance, will provide a very shallow depth of field and make the background quite blurry while an F/22 will put the entire area in focus. You can play with the settings to get the right amount of focus based on the type of picture you want to click.
- Shutter speed – This determines how long a certain amount of light will be exposed to the sensor. If the shutter speed is long, then more light will enter and therefore the picture will be brighter. If you use a short shutter speed, then the shutter will close quickly and let less light in. It is also important to note that this will also impact how moving objects are captured by your camera. A long shutter speed will display moving objects as blurred whereas a short shutter speed will help to freeze the motion and display everything in great detail.
- ISO – This controls how sensitive the camera will be when it comes to capturing light. So if you are out during the daytime, then there will be plenty of natural light which will allow you to use low ISO. If there isn’t enough light, you can increase ISO to get a brighter picture. If you increase the ISO too much, however, it will also lead to a grainy picture. So the right amount will be something you have to experiment with based on your environment and how much light there is.
By combining aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you will get what is called the exposure triangle. Exposure is quite subjective especially at the professional level as it can help to convey different moods in your pictures. Try to play with aperture, shutter speed and ISO without overexposing or underexposing to get a better idea of how they all work together in forming the final result.
Understanding your camera
Apart from exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, there are other aspects to the camera you need to know about when starting. Some of them are
- Histograms – This displays the exposure of a picture with a graph after it has been taken and can help you to understand how even the exposure was. By looking at the image itself, it will be incredibly difficult to see the exposure but with the histogram, you can see how much light was captured across the blacks, shadows, mid-tones, highlights and whites.
- Depth of field – The depth of field changes how much of your scene is in focus. It should be changed based on the type of picture you want to take. If you are taking a picture of a landscape, then ideally you would want the full area to be in focus whereas if you are taking a portrait of someone, you might want to have the subject in focus and the background a bit blurred.
- White balance – White balance affects how a color looks in your photograph. Changing it will help you to make a photo look cold and blue or more orange and warm. While most cameras allow you to set it automatically, it seldom works as well as you doing it manually.
- Focal length – This determines how much you can zoom in with the lens and the perspective overall too. This is why professional photographers always carry multiple lenses so they can switch between them as per their requirements. Typically, there are two types of lenses; namely the prime lenses with fixed focal length and zoom lenses with variable focal length. For low light environments, the former is more useful as they provide more sharpness and come with a wider aperture.
Is photography easy to learn?
Yes and no. It is easy to get started with photography but it is very difficult to master it. Is it doable? Of course, it is but you do need to put in a lot of time and effort to become a professional photographer. Fortunately today, there are a ton of amazing tutorials you can go through online to help you improve your photography skills. However, always remember to avoid shortcuts when it comes to photography.
Many people look for only short term gains so that they can put appealing pictures on Instagram and Facebook only to realize later that they have become stagnant when it comes to their skill. Put in the work at the beginning and be patient. Over time, you will be able to exceed your expectations and become a great photographer.
How can I teach myself photography?
The best way to learn photography is to buy a camera and take a lot of pictures. You can also make use of the vast amount of information online in the form of YouTube videos, online classes, workshops and communities (both online and offline).
Once you have learned something, always put it to practice to better understand it. Don’t be afraid to change the settings and experiments. You will end up taking lots of bad pictures but as long as you pay attention to what you are doing, over time you will know how to properly take a picture. Exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO may all seem very complicated in the beginning, especially if you only read about them. However, it becomes much easier to understand when you use it on the camera.
Can I become a photographer without a degree?
Absolutely! No art form requires a degree to excel in it. An overwhelming number of the masters of photography never took classes in their life and learned everything on their own. Do classes help? Of course, they do because you get to interact with others who may know more about photography and warn you about mistakes you can avoid in the learning process. However, it isn’t mandatory or even that impactful.
Ultimately how fast you progress will depend on how passionate, alert and dedicated you are. Some become exceptional photographers within a few years whereas others take a decade or so. If you want to explore everything the world of photography can offer you, a great way to do so would be to find a great mentor. The importance of a great mentorship cannot be overstated.
Header photo © Jakob Owens / Unsplash