The mistake beginner photographers make that sets them up to fail

Mar 23, 2022
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Creative Photo Folk
The mistake beginner photographers make that sets them up to fail

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Interested in learning photography? If you’ve only just picked up a camera it’s likely you’re contemplating taking a photography class but do yourself a favour, and don’t make that mistake yet!

Recently I’ve had a few friends pick up cameras for the first time and being the one who teaches photography naturally someone always suggests they join my creative photography membership. Now, while I do have a course that teaches photographers how to use manual mode, I always turn new photographers away. Why? Because it’s a huge mistake for a beginning photographer to take the leap into manual right away.

Let’s not sugar coat it. Manual mode is really hard to grasp. Photography terminology is a bit backwards in a way that feels unnatural, and trying to balance the three variables, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, is pretty challenging until you’ve had some practice and begun to understand what settings work best in different situations. When our brains are confronted with difficult concepts its natural tendency is to throw up a stop sign. And a lot of new photographers don’t actually realise just how hard photography is to learn which can come as a shock because from the outside it looks so easy.

So if you’ve only just picked up a camera and someone starts trying to explain these difficult concepts to you. Guess what you’re going to do? You’re going to throw down that camera and likely never pick it up again.

And I know, because I’ve done this experiment. A little while back my neighbour decided it was finally time to learn to use her nine year old camera, so I added her to my camera confidence course to see what would happen. And sure enough she decided it was all too hard, without putting in any real practice, and has not mentioned photography since.

So what went wrong in this situation? Well, a hugely important step in learning photography is to practice with your camera on auto first. Your camera is designed to take reasonably good photos straight out of the box. And because you’re not yet having to think about the confusing technical stuff, you can concentrate on seeking out subjects, refining your composition and learning to love the practice of photography. Because you absolutely need to love photography before taking the big overwhelming step of learning your camera on manual. Otherwise, when it gets really hard, you’re not going to see the point of struggling through it if you can’t see the reward on the other side. You’re going to throw up your hands in defeat and reach for your phone camera instead.

It’s natural to want to learn everything you can about your new, expensive camera but because it’s so easy to use straight out of the box there aren’t really courses that teach you how to use your camera on auto. You literally take off the lens cap, point it at a subject, half press to focus and then full press to shoot. And while the results may not be perfect, they’re probably good enough for someone who’s brand new. But if you really are keen to learn photography at this beginner stage devote your attention to studying composition. There are lots of books and articles about that. And let the technical stuff come later.

The time to seek out a photography course is when you’ve had a bit of practice and feel like you’re taking great photos with your camera on auto but the camera is starting to let you down. You’ll know because you’ll become really frustrated with blurry subjects and missed focus and feel like what should have been a great photo has been ruined by your camera’s limitations on auto.

Now over my years I’ve seen a lot of amateur photographers reach this point of frustration, take a course to learn manual and STILL give photography up because it suddenly became too hard.

Rarely do we acknowledge the difficulty of this stage. But learning manual mode does stretch our brains and it does feel unnatural and once we’ve been introduced to the theory the only way to truly learn is to practice and take lots of terrible photos, which feels like it defeats the purpose. But each terrible photo teaches us something that makes the next one better. This stage is perfectly normal and if you can bring yourself to persevere through a little frustration and a little failure, then this difficult stage isn’t especially long. But it’s really important to make time for it and factor it into your learning journey if you ever want to succeed as a photographer. No one is naturally gifted at this.

When I was learning I actually took several photography courses and did lots of self-study because I needed to hear the same concepts over and over again. And then, just when you think you’ll never succeed, something in your brain just clicks and it’s the most wonderful moment because finally everything makes sense. And then you are free to spend your time perfecting rather than struggling. And there will be times when you still don’t get things right. That happens to even the very best photographers. But that’s part of the fun. If it wasn’t at all challenging then it wouldn’t be worth doing.

So pick up your camera and get out there and practice. Practice in lots of different lighting situations. Practice with lots of different subjects. And know that you’ll take some good photos but you’ll also take a lot of terrible ones. No one expects you to be taking award winning photos at this stage, and nor should you. And persevere. Make dedicated time every week for practicing photography and your journey will move so much faster. I personally know way more failed or half-hearted photographers than I do successful ones and I don’t want you to be one of them. The industry needs more photographers capturing beautiful things to break through all the average phone photos. And the world needs more people expressing themselves creatively and finding the joy in the act of creation.

Take a photography course only with fire for photography in your heart and not merely a passing interest and you’ll reach the success you long for.

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