So, you have been wanting to try photography for some time, and you finally took the plunge and got yourself a nice, DSLR camera!
...but, what now?
Well, I suppose your next step depends on what your end goal is with photography. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to assume that you'd like to make money in photography as either a full or part time photographer shooting live, moving subjects...sometimes called "people".
Well, here are my three tips for what every photographer who is going to eventually charge money for their services needs when they are first starting (and, arguably, these are tips for photographers of ALL levels of expertise! I know that the best of the best photographers still employ these 3 things regularly). I suggest these things because, looking back, they would have saved me a lot of wasted time had I made these into habits from day 1.
I cannot emphasize this enough.......but let me try. PRACTICE. No, wait....PRACTICE. No, wait...PRACTICE!!!! There, now it's emphasized enough.
Practice using your camera until you know what every single button does and can teach your little brother, little sister, or dog how to use each feature. "No, Spot, that's the dial for aperture, not shutter speed! Focus!"
I know this task may seem daunting, and, in truth, for 90% of shoots you will get paid for in real life for your first couple years, you do not need to know how to use more than maybe 10 functions on the camera. BUT when that day comes where you have a client breathing down your neck for the perfect shot, you want to confidently show them why exactly they are paying you and not their rich uncle who has an even nicer camera than you! The camera is just a tool. You are the artist, and the camera is your paintbrush. Practicing with your camera is your best tool as a beginner. Bring your camera with you everywhere. Take photos indoors, outdoors, during the day, at night, on a gloomy day, at noon on a clear day, take photos of plants, people, strangers, friends, buildings, cars, EVERYTHING and do this OFTEN. Eventually, everyone who knows you will know you as the guy or girl who takes photos. If you are publishing what you think are your best photos regularly, eventually, you will hear those golden words which establish you as an artist: "What do you charge for photos?" So, to recap, practice with your tool until you are very familiar with how it works and until you know how to manipulate it to capture what you want to capture at any time of day in almost any situation. Practice.
2) Be Thoughtful
When an artist paints a picture, they are trying to transmit something in their mind (abstract) onto a canvas (physical). In order to paint something meaningful, artists become masters at this transference of abstract-to-physical over and over until the physical canvas is indistinguishable to the abstract thoughts and pictures in their minds. As a photographer, you are an artist too (albeit in a different medium, but an artist nonetheless), and learning to be thoughtful before you take your shots will help you to develop the part of your brain that, when fully developed, will allow you to hear what a client wants from you, picture it in your mind, assess what angle, composition, color tones, lens(es), location, etc. you need in order to deliver to them your best possible work which they are paying you for. I sometimes see amateur (and experienced) photographers blasting away and shooting as many photos as they can, hoping that when they take those photos back to their computer to review them, that they got at least one good shot from each flurry of shutter releases! Although there is a time and place for this type of shooting (perhaps sports or action photography), for most of the photos you'll be getting gigs for at the beginning, building a repertoire with your subject/client such that they trust you and are comfortable with you is going to directly affect which images you get out of them. I believe that great photographs aren't made or taken; rather I believe that great photographs are accepted once they present themselves to us. Sometimes, I will have only one hour to photograph a client because they have a tight schedule, and I come home with maybe 150 photos. That is NOT a lot of photos for an hour of shooting, but because I plan my shots ahead of time and am patient with my shots, I have about 90-95% usable shots when I review them rather than the machine gun photographer who "sprays and prays" and has to sift through 1,000 images only to find 50 usable photos (this is hyperbole, but you get my point). Also, in the long run, you will be doing your equipment a huge service to not take as many photos if you don't need to. Each camera has a shelf life that is directly related to how many photos are taken with it. You will also find that when you are thoughtful with your shots before you take them, you will find your own unique, artistic style much quicker. To me, this is the difference between riding the horse and letting the horse ride you (that would hurt). When you plan your shots, you immediately set goals for yourself to capture that shot rather than acquiescing to every situation and getting tossed and turned, having to hope that after you've taken the photos, at least some are good.
The above photo took me a good half day to plan out, practice, and execute, and that is not including the time it took me to learn how to use my camera, external lighting, photoshop, etc. At the beginner level, this photo might take longer depending on what you currently know, but this should go to show you also that the more you learn, the easier the hard stuff gets because you're just using skills you already have in different ways!
3) Learn From Others
Have a photographer friend? Ask them to show you how their camera works. If someone is passionate about something, they love to talk about it and share it with others! Remember when you did your first skateboard trick and couldn't wait to show your parents or friends? Or maybe you made your first dish that tasted awesome and couldn't sit still until someone else tried it and said it was delicious? That's how photographers are too. Don't be afraid to ask them questions. There are also SO many blogs, vlogs, youtube tutorials, etc. available to everyone nowadays that NO ONE is without excuse for not mastering some aspect of photography that they are seriously lacking in. I have a personal goal to watch at least 2 youtube videos on some aspect of photography with which I am unfamiliar (could be some new side of tech, style, business, posing, etc.) just to stay in the know. You will never learn everything, and nothing can prepare you for every situation you could ever possibly encounter, BUT learning from others' mistakes, taking the advice of people who are better than you does a few beneficial things. First, it helps you to stay humble. Lots of young photographers are very talented and some get jobs (huge paying jobs) very early in their careers (Like Joey L., for example), and if you ever pay attention to truly successful people, they are humble. They know what their strengths and weaknesses are (hopefully). They become successful by playing to their strengths, which brings me to my second benefit of learning from others, you learn your own strengths and weaknesses. You will find that some things are incredibly easy for other people and not for you, and conversely that some things are very natural to you and not to others. If you play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses, you will succeed in whatever you do (in photography as well as life). Thirdly, learning from others gives you perspective and inspires you to do more. I have always been intrinsically motivated out of my own curiosity for how things work, but I would be lying if I said that seeing the work of other people who are flat out better than me didn't inspire me to get off my caboose and start taking photography seriously as a way to not only make a living, but to express myself artistically. Learn from others.
I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: these are my own opinions and by no means absolute and universal truths about photography. These are tips I've just wishes someone told me when I first started out back in 2007! My only hope is that this helped you in some way :) Please feel free to comment with your thoughts or questions!
So, with that, my friends, I bid you adieu!