It took me a while to come up with this title. I wanted to encapsulate this entire subject in one line.
Alternative titles were
20 things I wish I had known when I started my journey in photography
20 pieces of advice for new photographers
20 tips for photographers – things I wish I knew
20 things I have learned which will help you grow as a photographer
I went with the title at the top, which I hope explains what I am going to write about in this post.
I wanted to write about 20 things that I wish I had known when I started taking my photography seriously, with a view to be it being my primary source of income at some point in the future. For me this was in the year 2007.
These are 20 things that I have learned along the way, which I hope will help you in your journey in photography.
These are all my own opinions, based on my experiences in the last 11 years.
I hope you find them helpful.
A lot of these points are interrelated, and things will get a mention more than once, but at the end I will summarise with 10 key points what I have written about in this blog post.
They are in no particular order, just the way things came out of my head.
These are the 20 things
Don’t worry about the gear
Second hand gear is fine
Learn about composition
Get off the computer and get out there
Take less photos
Take more photos in interesting places.
Forget layers in Photoshop
Start with Lightroom
Learn Lightroom properly (before trying anything else)
Get honest critiques of your work
Join a professional body
Don’t research a location too much before going there
Practice, practice, practice. And fail. Fail lots.
Choose the people whose advice you trust and stick with them
Listen to podcasts
Start a blog
Buy a tripod
Don’t worry about social media
Follow your own mind, dreams and ambitions
1 – Don’t worry about the gear
Get the best gear you can, but don’t break the bank. That is the first general point I want to get across to everyone getting started in photography.
And to be honest this applies to all of us at all stages of our journeys. In my humble opinion there is too much talk about photography gear. Much too much.
I have been using my Canon 6D for well over 4 years now, and it still produces great images. I have images in my portfolio that were taken with my 12 mega pixel Canon 5D. And do you know what – you cannot tell that they were taken with a 10-year-old camera.
My clients are not interested in my gear – all they care about is the images that I produce for them. I have never been asked (other than in passing interest) about the cameras and lenses I use. The only time has been when I was with a client who had an interest in photography.
Don’t worry about the gear – get the best you can and use it.
And another point – don’t take all your gear with you wherever you go.
I have my base gear in my Peak Design Everyday Backpack. This is a small 20 litre bag.
It looks like this.
In it I carry the following
A few other bits – memory cards, spare batteries, a Platypod and ball head, a couple of key filters, grey card, colour card, cloths and wipes.
Not forgetting my Neewer Loupe Viewer.
And that is the base gear I use 95% of the time.
I have just written an article about this which you can read on the Improve Photography website titled Full frame DSLR photography without breaking the bank – this is how I do it
2 – Second hand gear is fine
The first full frame DSLR I bought was a Canon 5D. I bought it from a photographer who had not had it long but had a change of heart and decided to stay with medium format.
That camera worked faultlessly for my formative years as a photographer, and I used this great camera on many commercial jobs.
I have lenses that I bought new, and lenses that I bought second hand. And can I tell them apart? Not really no. Of course, I know which are which, but in practical terms they all produce great results.
And a slight aside here but an important point all the same – lenses hold their value incredibly well.
Again, the last article I wrote on the Improve Photography website talks about this as well, and the gear that I use. I have linked to it above.
3 – Learn about composition
This is the number 1 mistake I made for years and years. I was too busy looking at what gear to buy next and taking photos without really thinking about composition.
I got bored with producing average photos. I bored myself to be honest. And this was when I started to think about my images, what I didn’t like about them, and how I might make them better.
I stopped obsessing about my gear, and instead concentrated on the pictures themselves.
I looked at the work of the best photographers, read books and took the time to critique my work. It was at this time that I submitted my first portfolio submission to the BIPP – that is the British Institute of Professional Photography.
My first submission was a complete revelation – a Hasselblad master called Bryn Griffiths very kindly and patiently critiqued the images I sent him. I had to rethink my submission, and quite a few of the images were removed from my portfolio and replaced with images that worked better.
This was the beginning really of my realisation of what really matters in photography.
Composition is king.
Get the composition right and you have a great photo., be it on the best DLSR, a lovely Hasselblad, an iPhone, a point and shoot – any camera.
But a rubbish composition is a rubbish composition, and probably a rubbish photo, whatever the camera.
If you take two things from this I will be happy.
Forget the gear.
Work on composition.
If you are happy to read on, then thank you.
To continue with the portfolio thing and the BIPP, last month I had my second portfolio assessment at the BIPP – this time for my Associateship.
And Associateship is defined by the BIPP as
“A high standard of craftsmanship and creative ability”
And all those years on from the initial critique, all I was asked to change by Bryn was the white balance to some of my interior images – that was it.
I have worked very hard on improving the quality of my images, and this is the result.
And I got my Associateship – I am now an ABIPP. And one of the points of feedback was the observation that I did not appear to crop many, if any, of the 40 images submitted. I had not thought about this, but it turns out this is the case.
I rarely crop an image. Like I say this is not a deliberate ploy, some attempt at a certain style, trying to be different.
No – this was pointed out to me and is the logical conclusion of the work I have done to date on my composition, and also taking the time and care when capturing images.
I will talk about my professional qualifications later on in this post.
4 – Get off the computer and get out there
Another mistake I made. Rather than getting out there taking photos I spent too much time working on photos in Lightroom and then every worse doing nothing with them.
Now I know we all need to practice to learn Lightroom but please give this some thought – apply some structure to your learning and you will progress in leaps and bounds. Do not do what I did, which basically was keep on doing the same things to more and more images, or you will stagnate.
And whilst learning Lightroom don’t but any plug-ins.
Being out with a camera is a joy that we should all embrace more than we do. I spend more time writing these days than I do taking photos – an occupational hazard – but when I get the opportunity there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting waiting for the sun to rise, or setting up my tripod to take a considered photo of a stunning building.
Even more of a joy when you have a lightweight backpack and are not burdened with 50kgs of back-breaking stuff!
5 – Take less photos
Get out more, take the shots you want, work the scene by all means. And then move on.
It took me a while to realise that I was taking the same scene more than once. On architectural shoots I would work in a logical order around a building, and then at the end if I had time photograph as many things again from the beginning.
I think it was a lack of confidence at the time. And I never used any of the images I took again – the ones I took on the first place were without exception better.
These days when I am working on an architectural shoot I aim to capture as few images as possible. I photographed a very famous persons house the other week, and on the internals I took one or two shots per room.
I took the time to get my composition bang on for the views needed and that was that.
This of course relates back to the point about composition – take the time to get the composition right and you don’t need to move three feet to the left to take the same scene from a very marginally different viewpoint.
And you will thank me when you are going through your photos in Lightroom, or whatever software you might be using.
I love going through an architectural shoot and picking consecutive images as picks to edit. This tells me that I was working at my optimum.
6 – Take more photos in interesting places. I will qualify this at the end somewhat.
I am not saying get out and photograph the most often photographed locations. For me that would be Durdle Door, which I have photographed twice.
No - get out to interesting places, not necessarily those that would feature in a “Top 10 locations to photograph in Dorset” kind of thing.
Take this shot, which was taken one New Year’s Eve afternoon at my local woods, which to my shame I had never been to before. In that one afternoon I get some really great stuff, and no-one knows or indeed cares where I took the photos. All people care about is the photos themselves.
But do not restrict yourself to the headline locations. I hear tales of lines of photographers at the headline locations standing shoulder to shoulder all taking the same image!
Go to places others don’t go, find things to photograph. Be original.
7 – Forget layers in Photoshop
Seriously. I don’t use layers. I have a couple of times for sky replacements, which I try to avoid doing, but apart from that I don’t get layers.
I process all my images in Lightroom. I only go into Photoshop to remove things that I can’t remove in Lightroom. I have spent hours and hours trying to learn Photoshop – the problem was that I did not have a need for Photoshop, so I was trying to learn something I did not actually need.
All I use in Photoshop is the following
Clone stamp tool
And I resize images if I need them printing at specific sizes
Here is why I can get away with only doing these things in Photoshop, and why I don’t need layers.
I do as much work as possible in Lightroom – when I need to go into Photoshop I select Edit in Photoshop, and Lightroom sends the image to Photoshop. Once I am done I hit save and the image appears next to the original image sent to Lightroom.
The new file is a brand new Tif file, the original Lightroom file is exactly as it was before being sent to Photoshop.
I therefore do not need to worry about undoing the work I have done in Photoshop, as it is so minimal I can just do it again and produce another new Tif file.
This is why I don’t need layers, and why it doesn’t bother me either.
8 – Start with Lightroom – just Lightroom
Start with Lightroom. Don’t try anything else. Use Lightroom to organise your photos – the Library Module is incredibly powerful, and as far as I am concerned is the best software to use to catalogue your photos. I have been using Lightroom for over 10 years now and can honestly say that the latest version of Lightroom Classic is the best.
And once you have done this why edit your photos anywhere else?
I do as much of my editing as I possibly can in Lightroom – if I can edit an image in Lightroom and not go anywhere else to do more work I am a happy person.
A point of digression here – I have just upgraded the RAM in my Dell PC to 16GB from 8GB and it has made a massive difference to Lightroom. In the Lightroom Classic 7.3 upgrade performance improvements were added, but you needed 12GB or more to benefit from these improvements.
9 – Learn Lightroom properly before trying anything else
I started using Lightroom, and at the same time discovered the wonderful world of plug-ins. I bought the following
On One Perfect Suite
There are probably some others I bought which I can’t even remember.
And I played around with them, without ever mastering any of them.
And this was at the same time as trying to learn how to use Lightroom.
And when I got an iPad Pro I got even more stuff
Now I am working as a professional photographer what software do I use?
And when needed Photoshop
And Lightroom Mobile
Lightroom Mobile is an essential tool, which syncs with Lightroom Classic on my desktop.
10 – Get honest critiques of your work
I mean people who know what they are looking at. I don’t think that family members are the best people to critique your work – they love you after all (well I hope that do) and will not give you an honest critique.
Social media is a minefield, and not to be relied on for feedback on images. You have to remember that people scrolling through endless photos are probably liking your photo in the hope that you will see this and like one of theirs. And they have liked many other photos, giving each one equal time, care and attention – a second if you are lucky.
Find someone who you can trust to critique your work. I use the BIPP for this, and I write about this elsewhere in this post.
And when you have had a critique from someone who knows what they are talking about it is very very important to act on that critique.
This is another important point – learn something, then make sure you act on it. If you don’t act on something you learn you might as well have not bothered learning it in the first place!
11 – Join a professional body
I am a firm believer in professional bodies and professional qualifications. I have been a Chartered Member of the CIOB, the Chartered Institute of Building - MCIOB. This is the benchmark professional qualification for construction management professionals.
I was a member of the SWPP for some time – this is the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers. Not an obvious choice for me, but this was in the early days of my journey into professional photography.
Now I am sure there is nothing wrong with the SWPP, but I left having not got a lot out of my membership.
I came across the BIPP – the British Institute of Professional Photography. I applied to join the BIPP, and to do this I had to submit a portfolio which was critiqued, rejected and worked on quite a lot before it was of a standard for entry level membership, LBIPP – Licentiate of the British Institute of Professional Photography.
This qualification is described by the BIPP on the qualifications page as
“Entry level qualification, showing an established professional level of skill and competence”
It took me a while to get a set of images to this standard and was the first professional critique I had experienced.
Last month I managed to gain my Associateship, ABIPP. This is defined by the BIPP as
“A high standard of craftsmanship and creative ability”
It was much easier to select the images for this submission. I tried to do this a couple of years ago, but I was not happy with the standard of my work.
Not only do I get qualifications and recognition of the level of my work, the BIPP provide great information and the magazine they produce I read cover to cover every month. And I don’t read much else thinking about it.
Join a professional body – one that is relevant to you and the photography work that you want to do or are doing. Embrace that professional body and gain the qualifications available – it pushed me to a higher level of work and can do the same for anyone.
12 – Don’t research a location too much before going there
Another controversial point of view. There are many Apps you can get that will show you all the great images from a location, so you know exactly what you are going to get when you arrive at that very spot.
And if you pick a really famous spot when you get there you might be shoulder to shoulder with lots of other photographers.
This sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. So bad I have mentioned this twice in this blog post.
What is the point of going to a location and taking the same photos everyone else already has? And more to the point are doing at the same time as you?
And even worse, do you want to go to a location with photos others have already taken in the back of your mind?
I do not research a location other than the headline research that tells me that there is interesting stuff there to photograph.
I will give you an example here.
I was treated (by the wonderful Mrs. M) to a 5-day photographic trip to the wonderful Greek Island of Santorini. I had wanted to go there for years. I did no research at all.
The only thing I did work out was where the sun rose and set each day, and where that fitted in with the geography of the island. And what time of course.
Apart from that my research was all done out on location. I basically walked around potential locations on arrival and chose my spot for the first sunrise.I didn’t come across another photographer anywhere. Apart from one coach party that arrived too late for the pre-sunrise wonders that I witnessed.
The first sunset was basically us sitting on the terrace at our hotel – it was that easy. But sunrises were about getting out and about early.
OK it was not by luck that this was the view from our room!
13 – Practice, practice, practice. And fail.
This is an easy one. The more you practice the better you get. This is just a fact. There is the 10,000-hour thing – that is the amount of time it takes to become proficient at something.
I have probably spent 10,000 hours in Lightroom – I don’t suggest you do that by the way.
I am taking about getting out and taking photos.
And don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is one of the best ways of learning.
Practice any type of photography that you find interesting. Don’t restrict yourself to landscapes. Try other things. If you don’t like them fine.
Here are 14 quotes about failure from the inspirational James Dyson, which I have extracted from the website Logo Maker
“I could buy companies, tart up their products and put my name on them, but I don’t want to do that. That’s what our competitors do.”
“I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”
“The key to success is failure… Success is made of 99 percent failure.”
“We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven’t, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that’s very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It’s exciting, actually. To me, solving problems is a bit like a drug. You’re on it, and you can’t get off.”
“Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success.”
“Anyone can become an expert at anything in six months, whether it is hydrodynamics for boats or cyclonic systems for vacuum cleaners.”
“You are just as likely to solve a problem by being unconventional and determined as by being brilliant.”
“I learned that the moment you want to slow down is the moment you should accelerate.”
“Everyone gets knocked back, no one rises smoothly to the top without hindrance. The ones who succeed are those who say, right, let’s give it another go.”
“It is said that to be an overnight success takes years of effort. So it has proved with me.”
“We always want to create something new out of nothing, and without research, and without long hard hours of effort. But there is no such things as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence—and in the end you make it look like a quantum leap.”
“In business you will be wrong, by and large, 50 percent of the time. The trick is to recognise when you have gone wrong and correct the damage—not to worry, at the moment of making the decision, whether it is the right one.”
“In order to fix [something], you need a passionate anger about something that doesn’t work well.”
“Risk aversion is a hapless approach for a company that’s hoping to develop new technology. It’s tempting in a downturn. But long-term research and development, expensive and often filled with failure as it is, is the only route to discovering it. By taking the cautious path, companies risk a drought of ideas.”
And look what happened to him…..
14 – Choose the people whose advice you trust and stick with them
There are lots of people with lots of opinions and lots of advice. And they are all valid in their own ways.
Problem is that they all say slightly different things. As I said none of them are wrong necessarily, just different.
This piece of advice will hopefully help.
Listen to everyone and anyone you want to, and then choose the people who resonate with you.
I found myself jumping all over the place, picking up bits of advice here and there and trying to apply them.
And achieving nothing.
I have now narrowed down to a small number of people whose opinions have proved sound and relevant to me over the years.
And as I said somewhere else, if you pick up a piece of advice that is useful to you please use it. That was another mistake I made over and over.
These days I act on things I learn whenever I can.
To digress slightly, I have Post It pads in my car, and always have a notebook with me. Anything that I want to remember I write down, and later add to my iPhone in an App called Wunderlist.
Later I sort all these notes and add them to Evernote.
Check out the book How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott
15 – Listen to podcasts
I recommend these. My favourites shift over time, but these are my favourites at the moment
This Week in Photo
The No Name Photo Show
Six Figure Photography
Creative Marketing Show
He Shoots He Draws
The Sprouting Photographer
None photography podcasts that I enjoy
The Solopreneur Hour
Smart Passive Income
BBC Friday Night Comedy
The Danny Baker Show
Flintoff, Savage and the Ping Pong Guy
Test Match Special
Tailenders (I am a massive cricket fan)
I do a lot of driving, and rather than this being dead time I use the time to learn lots and lots and lots.
Some of these I listen to all of, some I listen to part of, some the subject is of no interest. It just depends. But if a podcast is not of interest to me I just delete it straight away and move on.
And my favourites have shifted over time – I now am listening more to podcasts on entrepreneurship, business development – that kind of thing.
Don’t necessarily restrict yourself to podcasts about what you are interested in – you can learn things from any good photography podcast. The example here is the Sprouting Photographer. This is mainly about wedding and portrait photography, not my bag at all. Some episodes I don’t listen to at all, but I give them a try first as there are often little gems within them that I have found incredibly useful.
If you are new to podcasts try the ones listed above, and anything else that you find, and give them a go. You will soon find the ones that are relevant to you.
And I watch blind photo critiques on The Grid when I make it onto the cross trainer
Talk about efficiency!
16 – Start a blog
Write about your experiences. Writing is a great way of capturing your journey, recording the good and bad, and allowing you to share your experiences not on social media but on your own part of the internet.
Be it a blog on your own website, or on a WordPress blog – just start publishing stuff on a weekly basis and you will be amazed where this takes you. I have been producing a daily blog now for nearly 2 ½ years, and many doors have opened up as a result.
I get asked regularly to add links from old blog posts to other articles written by other people which are relevant to what my core business is – photography of the built environment in all its shapes and sizes.
If you are going to start a blog, choose a niche and stick with that – it will pay dividends in future years.
If you have any aspirations to make money from photography start a blog right now. Go on – stop reading this and do it.
17 – Buy a tripod
When I started off taking my photography seriously I bought a tripod, a big heavy thing with a big heavy head.
And it was heavy.
And guess what?
I left it in my car. I had so much gear in a large backpack. So much gear that the tripod was just too much.
And as a result, I only used my tripod at night.
I have mentioned elsewhere in this post about my gear – I travel light and with my hands free.
I use my tripod for every architectural image I take. The only exception to this is when I need to use a painter’s pole to get high, or my Platypod to take a photo from the floor, or where there is just no room for my tripod, normally squeezed into a corner of a room.
The geared head is essential for composing architectural images.
And I use exactly the same set up for landscape and travel photography. I use exactly the same gear, set up and camera settings. The only exception is when I am walking around a location grabbing shots, which is not that often.
I have found that my composition has improved significantly when I started using my tripod more. It slowed me down and made me think about each and every shot much more.
The result of this was less images, and the ones that I took were much better than before I used the tripod.
This ties back to what I said earlier about composition and taking less photos.
18 – Don’t worry about social media
I don’t really get social media. It has not brought me any photography work that I am aware of. And I find it quite boring.
But everyone says we all have to be on it, we all have to be seen on all the social media platforms.
Someone please tell me why?
This is what I have done to satisfy the perceived need with minimal effort.
I have automated as much of my social media output as I can. I have a daily photography blog, and I share this content automatically from Squarespace to some social media channels and do manual shares to other channels.
Instagram output is shared to other channels using the great iPhone App IFTT – If This Then That.
And I don’t respond to every comment, thumbs up, like. I just post some stuff and that is pretty much it.
I do worry about my website, the content on it, and how people find my website when putting search terms into Google. This is where I put 95% of my effort – social media platforms come and go, and we do not control them.
Don’t worry about social media too much, instead focus on your own part of the internet.
19 – Follow your own mind, dreams and ambitions
Listen to the advice of the people whose opinions you value but choose your own path. And stick with your chosen path. I have too many times deviated from a chosen course of action.
I have started doing something, and then heard or read something and found something new to do.
Now I am following a planned course of actions, based on everything I have learned to date. And I am sticking to that plan, just tweaking it when I find better ways of doing things.
I set some targets for my photography business for 2018, which you can read here. And since I set them things have changed, and one of the targets I am not doing at all – I have a different way of achieving what I want to but my own way.
Of course, things change over time – I was going to go all in with stock photography in January but am now going in a completely different direction with that particular thing.
But the general principle of what I am trying to do, which to be fair has taken 10 years to produce, is the plan that I am working to.
And on that point, you have to give yourself time to figure out where you want to go with your photography.
20 – Enjoy it
Enjoy your photography. Work hard at it but enjoy it.
Even if you want to be your full time paid gig it is still something to be enjoyed. I don’t take photographs anywhere near as often as I used to. I seem to spend more time writing and responding to emails than I do taking photos.
But guess what?
When I manage to get out somewhere new at sunrise it is an absolute joy. I work on my photography business all the time, but there is nothing like being out on location at sunrise.
Last month I witnessed this sunrise from the beach in Altea in Spain. And also saw this stunning church at sunrise on another morning.
For both of these occasions there was no one else there – it was just me and the most natural thing of all, the breaking of a new day.
An event that will never happen again, and it was just me there at that time in that location.
No matter how much work I spend on my photography business that feeling never goes away – the sheer joy of watching and photographing something that will never happen again.
Enjoy your photography – it is a wonderful gift and a privilege to be a part of.
And these are those 10 bullet points I promised right at the beginning.
Get the best gear you can afford.
Only get the gear you need.
Don’t get any more gear.
Have one bag you can carry comfortably.
Get and use a tripod.
Get out and shoot.
I hope you have enjoyed this post – if you have any comments or questions you can either comment on this blog post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a photographer based in Dorset specialising in
That’s it. No weddings. No people. No animals.
And also on being a photography blogger and all-round internet marketeer.