How to Get Into Photography

Looking to get into photography but not sure where to start? Should you jump straight into buying a fancy camera or practice first?

In this article, I’d like to talk about how I personally got into photography and the advice I have for new beginners.

Let’s dive into it.

How I Started

For those interested in pursuing the creative path of photography, I’d suggest not buying a camera right away.

For me, video games actually got me interested originally. It may sound weird, but I was obsessed with taking beautiful screenshots in various games such as Skyrim and WoW.

After “shooting” in the virtual world of Skyrim for a few months, I realized that it would be cool to try in real life as well.

A composite of images from a video game.
Some of the “photos” that I took in the video game Skyrim.

Start with your Phone

Thus, I grabbed my trusty (and 2nd-hand) Samsung Galaxy S3 (released 2012) and drove out to my local park. The pictures I took were absolutely horrible. They were crooked, shot directly into the sun, and I didn’t understand anything about composition besides just the rule of thirds.

However, I kept practicing. In the early days, my parent’s cat and my old rusty 1999 Honda Civic were my main subjects. I wasn’t going to win any sort of art competitions, but I was learning slowly but surely.

Despite my phone having a shutter lag of over a second and absolutely terrible dynamic range, I was having the time of my life, realizing that this was absolutely something I wanted to pursue further.

Try A Cheap Camera

My mom, having noticed my budding interest in photography, offered to let me use her old point-and-shoot, a cheap Olympus SP-800UZthat’s only redeeming factor was its 30x zoom.

At that point, it was probably around $100 on the used market, and it showed. Low light performance was non-existent and autofocus was even slower than my awful Samsung phone camera.

However, the pictures it took were… decent, and the 30x zoom allowed me to greatly expand my creativity and try new things. I don’t recall there being any sort of manual controls, but carrying a “real” camera in my hand gave me the confidence and drive to keep learning.

A composite of poorly shot pictures.
Some of the (rather poor) photos I took with my first point-and-shoot.

Use the Kit Lens to Learn

Eventually, I graduated high school. Upon graduation, my grandparents bought me a Canon T5 bundle (my suggestion for a first camera would be the wonderful Sony a6000).

I was elated. Armed with the standard Canon 18-55mm kit lens, I rushed over to my friend’s house to photograph his graduation party.

I was blown away by the pictures I captured now that I had a DSLR. Looking back, they were awful, but as a beginner I thought they were the best photos ever. After that, I continued to use my kit lens for everything.

Eventually, I had saved enough money to pick up another lens, and I decided on the iconic 50mm F1.8, also known as a nifty fifty. As I was using my kit lens over time, I started to get a feel for different focal lengths, thus I knew roughly what focal length I wanted to buy when it came time to pick up another lens.

Practice, Practice, Practice

For a while, I simply practiced. No new upgrades, just practice. For months I would go out to shoot nearly every day, primarily using my 50mm lens over the kit lens even if it meant losing the versatility of a zoom.

At the same time, I’d still “practice” composition in video games a lot. Again, it may sound odd, but video games, especially those with cohesive screenshot systems, are a great way to practice basic composition.

A composite of photos.
The 50mm F1.8 opened up new avenues of photography for me.

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Shoot Stuff for Free

This may be controversial advice, but I’m a big advocate for doing free shoots early on. I’d always go out with my friends and take their photos, and I even dabbled in a senior portrait shoot.

At family gatherings, I’d always volunteer to be “the photographer”, taking hundreds of pictures. Most were crap, but some turned out nice and family members appreciated the fact that I was able to capture the memories.

Again, shooting for free is a controversial subject, but it helps you get comfortable not only with your camera but with human subjects as well. I had no idea how to pose anybody, but shooting consistently with friends helped me develop both the eye for portraits along with the social skills necessary.

Try a Paid Shoot

After shooting for free, you should have a bit of a portfolio built up. Use this to try and get some paid shoots, no matter how small. My first paid shoot was literally for five dollars, and it was just some casual senior photos.

Eventually, I used my fledgling portfolio to get hired on with the biggest school photography company in my city. For a few months, I was working 60 hours a week shooting ID photos at various schools across the state. It was awesome, but exhausting and eventually the work ran out.

Either way, I stuck with the company and transitioned to events instead. I purchased a lovely 17-55mm F2.8 lens and ran with the company for a while, photographing sports games and sports portraits.

You never know where opportunities will come from, all you have to do is be brave and put yourself (and your work) out there.

A composite of photos.
As I practiced, both my skills and my confidence with models improved.

Never Stop Improving

At a point, I decided to leave the photography company as I decided I didn’t want me passion to turn into work. I had stopped going out to shoot independently because I was just so burned out from work.

Regardless, I got back into the flow a few weeks after I quit, and I was out and about with my camera again. Over the years since then, I’ve continually practiced and, to put it simply, just went out and took pictures.

I’ve been steadily improving constantly since then, and it’s really satisfying to look back at my old pictures and see just how far I’ve come.

If you put in the work and are constantly experimenting and trying new things, your photography will always be improving.

A composite of photos.
Some of more recent work.

What’s your Goal?

Finally, to round out this article, I want to ask the most important question: what is your end goal from photography?

For quite a long time, I thought I wanted to shoot professionally (weddings and whatnot), but after working for the photography company I realized I’m much happier if I just pursue it as a hobby.

Now, I own this website where, while I am still in the photography field, I’m not out there actively working with clients and whatnot. I’m just writing about what I love, and trying out cool new gear to share with all my readers.

So, reader, what do you want from photography? Is it an artistic passion that you aim to improve, or do you hope to shoot professionally, pulling in over a thousand dollars a weekend doing wedding photography?

Only you can answer that, and, for a beginner, it may not be clear what exactly you want for a long time.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

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