Scrolling through Amazon’s “Camera and Photo” section saddens me only slightly less than checking the balance in my bank account. And I know this sadness of mine is shared. My friends will often tell me that they are interested in getting into photography, either just for fun or to refine their artistic and technological skills. When I ask what is stopping them, their answer is one that graces the lips of college students far too often:
I don’t have the money.
To which I say, that’s baloney. I promise that getting started in photography does not require the latest, greatest, priciest DSLR in the world.
Here are a few tips of mine for jumping into the world of photography without spending every penny of your paycheck.
1. Use whatever camera(s) you already have access to.
Start with your phone camera, your family’s vacation point-and-shoot, borrowing your friends’ nicer cameras, or whatever else is immediately in your grasp. As long as it can take a photograph, you can begin learning about composition, lighting, and settings. If you’re borrowing from someone else, chances are they have some advice to give you about the specific camera or shooting in general, too.
This is an expensive hobby. When you’re first starting out, try not to be intimidated by more professional cameras or elaborate setups. You can eventually work your way up to that point with experience and dedication to the art. But you have to start somewhere!
Although the more accessible cameras may not have all the functions you might want in a camera, they do all you really need them to do: take photos. Which leads me to my next point...
2. Get to know basics.
Learn the craft! When you’re out shooting, explore the technological side by fiddling with camera settings and seeing what works or what types of exposure settings pique your interest. Get to know your tool inside and out. Shoot one thing a million different ways to delve into the world of composition.
At home, do some research. Watch YouTube tutorials (I love Mango Street and Negative Feedback) or start a Lynda course (free with your myUSC account!) to learn from the professionals. Combine this at-home research with your out-there experience; do not rely on one or the other for your photography education.
3. Critically look at other photos.
At an art gallery, you stared at one photograph for 2 minutes, while you only glanced at another. Why? What struck a chord with you in the first? Why were you so blasé towards the second?
Analyzing why you like — or do not like — photographs clues you into the type of style you are drawn towards or might try to emulate. Understanding your artistic eye will help you in the shooting or editing process. It may also inspire you to try shooting particular subjects, motivating you to...
Shoot anything, everything, all the time! No excuses.
Scared to bring out your camera in public? Shoot anyway. Be brave, polite, and patient, and go for it. People will understand that you’re just trying to shoot around. If they don’t, move somewhere else.
Think the background or lighting is not as pretty as you would have hoped? Shoot anyway. Work with the challenges that face you; they will help you grow as an artist.
Putting off shooting will only keep your talent stagnant. If you truly want to improve on your skills, you have to practice.
5. Don’t forget why you started.
If you become frustrated with your photos, feel stuck in a creative rut, or begin complaining about the lack of technology to which you have access, take a minute to breathe. Remind yourself of why you wanted to start photography in the first place. Tap into your reflective side, and you may come out feeling an ounce more inspired to create once again.
Shoot on, my friends.