How do I learn photography?

What do I need to know about photography? Photography 99.9: Before you start!

After you make the decision to learn photography it can be hard to know “What do I need to learn in photography?” The main thing you need before you start learning photography is a high level overview!

Learning photography is not a linear learning process. Having this in mind when you start can make all the difference in your experience and progress.  As the saying goes “you don’t know what you do not know” so how can you get a sense of how far you have progressed when your right at the beginning.  What do you learn next?

The video below shares my thoughts on this topic from the experience of hindsight. 

The summary is as follows: If you can create a photo that you like and are happy with then you know enough!  If you find a photo that you don’t know how to create then you have things to learn! If you read an article does all the photography jargon make sense? if not then maybe you need to learn more so it does. This mindset is a great places to start to get a sense of how much you know. Learning should be a fun and exciting process and for a lot of people its the best part of photography so keep experimenting! 

Talking about photography without the jargon is hard ! but that was the aim of the video I have included below. I go way more into depth on these topics but I considered it a good idea to write about it as well for those who are just starting out and a bit lost in all the sites / videos and articles that are out there.

I try not to use any photography jargon or talk about what camera or settings, so you can get an overview before getting caught in the details.

If you think you already know enough try my Photography Quiz, see how many answers you can get from the Easy Medium and Hard Sections.

Tools on the Tool-belt:

On of my goals moving into photography for work was a sense of making sure that no matter the situation I had enough skills and the right tools to get the job done. So for me making sure I had all the tools on the tool-belt meant learning and creating a wide variety of content under a wide variety of conditions, filling this tool belt is a life long pursuit so if you are already creating images you like then congratulations your on your way!

Manual Control? What settings? Do i need to know these things?

As i mentioned above you only have to learn more if your unhappy with what you are creating. The below analogy is an attempt to try and answer this question without talking about complex photography terminology. I can say one major thing from speaking to a lot of photographers. Its very common that we all look back on existing photos with a sense of embarrassment. They are never perfect and you always look back and are surprised on how much you have learnt over time so just know thats the case but don’t let it stop you creating now! You have to start the cycle of learning.

How do I know how far I Have progressed? Work backwards!

If you look at photo online can you figure out how it was created? Can you tell the lens/location/time of day? was it photo-shopped or real? this will give you a good sense of how far you have come and also might inspire you to go out and test that you can really do it. While copying photos isn’t the best way to build up your portfolio it can be the best way to learn as you have a reference point of quality and aesthetics that you can aim for and attempt to match.

 The video below is a longer version and has more in depth information that in this blog post, see below for the full Analogy I use in the video of what you need to know about photography before you start.
What I need to know about photography the House Analogy!

Why is photography not a linear skill to learn from start to end? I attempt to answer that with the below hoes analogy.

The house analogy:

When you build a house you start with the foundation, then you build the walls, and then put on the roof. Learning photography is like learning to build a house! once you have mastered the skills to create one house it should be easy to replicate the house!

But… what if.. you want a different door or window? then the wall needs to change, and then the roof might not fit! Hence the ‘inter-dependancy’ of learning to make one house, one way, isn’t enough. By learning to make small changes and fixing the problems you create you start to learn one new little thing at at time and slowely build the tools on the toolbelt.

Let me give you a real example then we can continue with the house analogy:

Long exposure photography is an amazing way to start learning photography you can get some really amazing results, smooth water, amazing waterfalls, so then you think great ! I am going to go and do the same for stars! Its the same pricipal right? point, focus and shoot!?

But…when you take a photo of the stars they look blurry!?!? what?! You realise that the sky moves so its no longer good enough to just take a 30 second photo and by learning that on a 16mm lens at full frame an exposure around 13-15 seconds is best, you learn ok sometimes long exposure is a bit more than just long exposure. Its a little tool but a another one on the toolbelt.

The video goes into this a bit more but here is the above example in picture form.

The basic principal of the house is that each part represent a different photography element. Notice here in this exmaple if you just took all the things you know and changed the location you can keep making amazing photos nothing will break.. but what happens if something does change.

Then if you change one element , the above example is the “window” and in our astro example its from the sunlight to the starlight.  We break something so elements need to change to compensate!

In the house example we have made some big changes to fix the gap, the foundations changed and so did the Window and Door! in our Astro example this would be , we changed the lighting, so we needed to modify the exposure and to minimise the movement over time we put on a wider lens.

Conclusion and whats next!?

So hopefully you can see why I created this example, its common to ask what do I need to learn in photography, so hopefully you can see by learning from foundation elements is a great start but in its hard to know how far you have progressed. I personally think that mastering one style of photography is a steep curve but after that it plateau’s out until you challenge yourself to try a new style and learn more.

I hope this example and analogy might help someone else starting out who is asking the question what do i need to know about photography? , and if you saw my Photography 99.9 Video or this helped put your photography journey into perspective please drop by my Instagram @robmulally and let me know!

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