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Photography is a fascinating art form that has undergone unparalleled evolution in the past few decades. Huge improvements in camera technologies have made hitherto inaccessible cameras available to the general consumer markets and with these advancements a massive increase in interest in the field has followed.
But can you really teach yourself photography or do you have to go to school to learn?
The good news is that you can teach yourself photography provided you are prepared to put in some hard work, learn from your mistakes, be open to positive criticism and stick with it no matter what!
How to teach yourself photography.
The first thing that you absolutely must do is to get hold of a fairly good all round camera. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars but you should be prepared to spend something in the region of $500 to get a camera that will last you several years and will have the functionality for you to get used to using shutter speeds, ISO and aperture settings. Remember your camera is the most important tool you will need to begin your adventure in the world of photography.
Read the Manual – it’s full of information that you need to know!
The number one this you can do to begin learning about photography once you have a camera is to thoroughly read the manual! It may seem a bit confusing at first and appear to be full of complicated jargon but if you work your way through it in a methodical manner you will quickly pick up a lot about the basics. Don’t forget you can also use the Google search tool to fill you in on any new words whose meaning you are struggling with!
Try to become comfortable with every aspect of your camera. Learn what the different modes are and how to use them in practical contexts.
Learn the Basic 3!
The three essential functions of a camera that you will need to master are the Shutter Speed, the Aperture and the ISO.
The Basics of Exposure.
- Shutter Speed. This determines the length of time that your camera’s lens will be open to take in light. A fast shutter speed, such as 1/500th of a second, will give you a super sharp photo while a slow shutter speed, such as a 10 second shutter speed, will give you movement and blurs in the image. The shutter speed determines the length of your exposure.
- Aperture. The aperture of your camera is responsible for the depth of field in your photos. The aperture sets the amount of the photo which will be in focus. Described as ‘f’ numbers, a large aperture will give you a shallow depth of field while a low number will give you a deeper depth of field.
- ISO settings. This will dictate how sensitive your camera is to the available lighting. In dimly lit situations you will need a higher ISO, such as ISO 800, and for very bright scenes you will need a lower ISO, such as ISO 100.
The best way to get used to these settings is to practise, practise, practise! While you are practicing it’s a good idea to keep a note of the settings you are using so that later when you look back at your work you can easily identify what was working and what wasn’t.
Every photograph is a composed image that the photographer has deliberately created for effect to portray the meaning that they intended. Learning about the basics of composition is an essential aspect of becoming a better photographer. At a certain point it will become second nature to you and you’ll be taking fantastically composed pictures without even thinking about it but at first you will hugely benefit from studying some of the main theories of composition.
The theories and study of composition go back to the ancient arts of Greece and Rome, continued to develop through the Renaissance era and continues to evolve to the present day.
Some of the main theories to look into include, the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio and the use of Leading Lines. When you are taking a photo always think about how you can frame the subject in a way that adds to the context, emotional content or feeling of the shot. Use any natural patterns and repeating textures to add depth to the photo and keep an eye out for interesting contrasts of shadows and light.
Top 10 Tips to Get You Started when Teaching Yourself Photography.
- Find a good subject and work with it for a while. Photography is an hugely diverse art form and there are hundreds of genres to choose from. When you are starting out though a good way to get used to using the different camera modes is to take some still life photography. This way you can experiment with lighting, exposures, apertures and shutter speeds.
- Learn to take your time with photography and really pick your moment. Try to plan what you are trying to do in the photograph and then work towards that in a methodical way and avoid the temptation of the ‘point and spray’ method where you just take hundreds of photos in a row and hope that one of them turns out well!
- Take advantage of the thriving online community of photographers. Join Facebook or other social media groups to chat about your projects, get inspiration from others and see a regular stream of great photography posts.
- Never stop experimenting and trying new things. Keep a note of the things that worked or surprised you in a notebook and then try using those techniques, settings and camera modes again in other situations.
- Buy some photography books. There are many excellent photography books that have been written to help you learn to master every aspect of photography. As you start to build up a small reference library you can always refer back to your books throughout your photography career as you learn new techniques and to brush up on the ones you have already learnt.
- Join a local photography meetup group or photography walking group. This is a great way to make new friends who are also learning about photography, pick up tips, tricks and hints and have fun while you practise photography together. You can also collaborate and work on group projects together which is a wonderful method of learning together as you strive to reach a common goal.
- Get online and watch YouTube tutorials which are free to access and full of incredible information! You can learn about everything from exposures, to composition and much much more from a huge range of tutorial videos that are made by professionals and amateurs alike.
- Start going to photography exhibitions to learn from what others are doing. This is especially true if you can find exhibitions by high profile professionals from which you can pick up massive amounts of information about composition and exposure techniques. But don’t worry if you can’t make it to a physical gallery because you can also study the portfolios of professional photographers on their websites and elsewhere online. Studying the work of highly qualified experts is an amazing tool that you can use to find new inspiration, ideas and supercharge your own journey in photography.
- As well as teaching yourself you can also consider attending workshops that focus on a certain subject, such as exposure, shutter speeds and other topics and genres in the field. Attending the occasional workshop can give you a new perspective on your photography and give you plenty to think about going forward.
- Create a bucket list for your photography! This will help to keep you driven and give you a set of goals to work towards. At the beginning your bucket list might include things like ‘Master Exposure’, ‘Put on a Local Exhibition’, ‘Start building an online portfolio’ and later, it might include bigger ambitions such as photographing the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower!
Once you have mastered the basics of photography you can really begin to release your inner creativity!
When you are comfortable with the basics it’s a good idea to create an online presence. Be prepared to receive some positive criticism but you will be able to find out what people are appreciating and when you may have missed the mark.
Post your photos on social media and if you are particularly happy with a series of photos consider entering a competition! The world is your oyster once you have understood and taught yourself the basics of photography and in time you can even begin to earn money from your art form which is a hugely satisfying experience!
When you are learning photography always follow your dreams, express yourself and start putting your work out there! Amazing things can happen when you take up photography and become part of the friendly, open and welcoming community of photographers around the world who are always willing to offer helpful advice, tips and a kind word.
Did you teach yourself photography or were you formally trained?