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by garik

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I love photos and every thing related to them. I want to begin in this field as a hobby, then become a professional in time. Some people have advised me that the best way to learn photography is to "buy a camera and try to take photos and learn from your errors".

Is this good advice, and if so, what is the camera suited my case?

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12 Answers 12

up vote 14 down vote accepted

It depends on your discipline and self-criticism. If you can truly see the fault in your own work, then yes that is a great way to start.

What goes hand-in-hand with this is going to look at photos that you find awesome (books, galleries, museums, even online gallery of famous photographers). This gives you a baseline to know what is possible and lets you work out why you prefer their photographs to yours.

Then, shoot a lot and criticize and compare your work to your own previous and that of those you admire. Repeat until you are no longer advancing. After that you will need something else to break your learning plateau: photography books, courses, seminars, etc. Depending on the style of photography you seek, photo tours are an excellent way to learn.

As for the camera. You can start with anything with full manual controls but it helps greatly if you get a more advanced model so that those controls are more efficient. You can always upgrade later but if you buy into a system right away, it gets harder to switch. On the compact side you can do a lot with a Canon Powershot S95 for about $350.

Honestly, most people who come to my photography classes having a bought a camera already quickly learn they do not have what is best one for them once they learn about photography and what each type of camera and lens is ideal for. So, I personally recommend to learn as much as possible before jumping into a big investment. Technology will improve in the meantime.

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4  
+1, but a caution: don't spend too much time learning in theory only and agonizing about technology. Even if the first camera turns out to not be the best one for you, it's better to have a camera. –  mattdm Oct 11 '11 at 17:52
    
The S95 is now $300. I expect the price to fall further in the next few weeks when the S100 comes out. –  William C Oct 11 '11 at 18:53

My learning process was: buy camera, shoot a lot, work out why I wasn't happy with my photos, go read up on the specific things I thought were wrong, go back and shoot a lot more photos, have more happiness but still some faults, go back and learn a bit more. It got me comfortable with the camera and the process.

Then when I was getting a reasonably decent success rate I hit the books and dug into the whole technical concerns surrounding exposure, how the lenses work (surprisingly useful!), what things can help the composition of an image etc and got my knowledge up to a decent order, then went a shot a lot more photos and continued and still continue.

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Learning from you mistakes is good advice, you need to get your hands on the best camera you can afford as a beginner and start taking photographs. There is no substitute to getting out there and taking pictures.

As a beginner who is serious about photography you need to get something like an entry or better still a mid level DSLR which will give you the ability to learn how manual settings work which will allow your abilities to grow without needing to buy more advanced cameras.

As a total beginner there are loads of tutorials on the internet explaining how cameras work and how to start, as your confidence grows you can start to learn more and more advanced techniques but its all there if you do a little searching. YouTube is a good place to start, there are a lot of easy to follow tutorial videos for beginners.

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In a word "Yes". However you need some knowledge to get you going and prevent frustration. And to be sure you can fix the things that you don't like. For that I recommend "Photography for the Joy of It" by Freemon Patterson. I have the original version but the updated version can be found here: Photography for the Joy of It, 2007

Once you have the basics down then I would recommend: Photography and the Art of Seeing, 2011

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There is much that can be said about this process - covered to some extent already. But in my view, it comes down to learning by doing, just like anything else.

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Each person has her own ideal way of learning. I can tell you, "yes, that's good advice", because some people do learn best that way. But until I know you better, I cannot tell you what is the best or a good way for YOU to learn.

You would know from yourself whether this learning technique worked for you before. For example, did you learn multiplication by trying several examples and learning from your errors? Or did you learn by watching, by memorizing, by reading, etc?

what is the camera suited my case

There are two schools of thought here:

  • Any camera will do, that is, having the best gadget is useless until you develop a keen eye for good photos. For this, I love the Canon A3100 ($100)!
  • Any camera with manual controls will give you settings to play with. For this, I'm torn between the Canon SX220 and the Canon S95 (both $300)!
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  1. Talk to photographers
  2. Look into taking a class at your local community college.
  3. Read books on the subject.
  4. Buy the best camera and accessories that you can afford, keeping in mind what kind of photography you are primarily interested in. (10 frames per second is basically useless if you are interested in astro or macro photography)
  5. Lastly (and most important in my opinion) DON'T USE THE AUTO MODES STARTING OUT. Learn the camera and what happens IN THE MANUAL MODE!!! When you shoot in manual, you soon learn "if I do THIS, then THIS will be the result.
  6. Lastly-Lastly Shoot thousands of pictures, and like was said earlier, learn from your mistakes.
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I want to begin in this field as a hobby, then become a professional in time.

This statement makes it clear you are serious about what you want to be. In this case I would suggest you study the history of photography, different genres, etc. Possibly take few classes at local universities where they offer film, black/white photography, and any fine art/cinema classes really will help. Once you get a feel of what you like that will dictate your gear selection.

And just because you are a novice at photography doesn't mean you have to start at the bottom, as far as gear is concerned. Research some current models of cameras that are targeted towards your genre of photography. Then purchase a model that's 2 generations old, dirt cheap.

One thing to remember is to never purchase camera body without actually going to a local store and handling the camera. The feel, button configurations, and comfort are all important parts of gear selection.

/end gear rant

Next thing is to get out there and shoot. Experiment. Find someone to second shoot for. Get some actual real world experience. Attend workshops, seminars, talks... Then call you're self a pro. :)

Hope that helps, -Alen

EDITED TO ADD: RESOURCES.

Some of the things you might find interesting to get you started exploring photography.

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1  
+1, but I think trying equipment in a store is overrated. You can't really get a sense of what it's like to to really live with a camera that way. It may turn out that an initially-annoying or unintuitive-seeming control is actually no big deal — or is great, after all, in daily use. Or you may discover that something you'd overlooked initially is either a deal breaker or something more vital than you'd initially imagined. I'd suggest buying something that seems to fit your needs and style in theory, without getting too invested in the system, and then switch if you aren't happy. –  mattdm Feb 25 '12 at 4:47
    
@mattdm totally agree. Great points. Also, to add, OP don't take on dept buying equipment. As a started you might want to consider renting or borrowing equipment (mostly from friends) as you learn. –  Alen Feb 25 '12 at 5:32

I have enjoyed photography for years but was always taking snapshots not pictures or photos. At first I thought it was the limit of the camera I had. I had a point and shoot, so I used it as a point and shoot (P&S). I saw something, snap take a picture. I realized I wanted to learn more and get better.

I started to "talk" with people on the Internet about photography and they started providing pointers and critique on my shots. After a little while I became able to see the items in my shots that they were talking about - not have a branch coming out of someone's ear. My pictures were getting better by me as a photographer getting better at seeing the image I wanted to capture. It was simple things adjusting my process, using a tripod, rotating the image so that there was space around the image, waiting for better light ... etc.

When I wore out (over 15,000 actuations) my P&S camera I purchased an entry level DSLR, after looking at it in the store and trying it and seeing how the controls worked for me, did it fit my hands ... etc. I was using the kit lens and was taking pictures with it. I also got another P&S for easier portability.

After having the DSLR for four years, I am comfortable enough with it to be able to shoot in manual mode setting everything myself. However I had to spend a lot of time working and learning what all the controls meant. I spent a lot of time looking at the EXIF info for images to see how the same shot could look so different just by changing one variable. It was a little frustrating at times, but for me the process worked. I also found a community I could ask questions and learn through and from.

I am now at a point where my skills are going beyond what my equipment could support. That point took me four years. Now you may learn faster than I did and find local resources.

As my photography skills improved my pictures were noticed at worked and I started to document projects for trade magazines. Sometimes I would have the DSLR other times the P&S. Shots from both cameras have been used for magazine covers and advertisements.

Proving what I feel you already know, it is the person behind the camera that makes the image and makes it good or bad - not the camera. So learning the process and being able to evaluate yourself requires you to take lots of pictures. I would say go buy a camera and start composing pictures. But don't think you need to buy a top of the line DSLR, you can learn as much with a P&S about the basic items without having to worry about all the settings on a DSLR. So get out there and start shooting, I also recommend shooting with someone else with experience to see what you can glean.

The other most important accessory I used while learning, a notepad. I would write down things so I could remember more when I was looking at the images.

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I don't think you can really "know" photography without trying things yourself.

On the other hand, there's something to be said from learning from the experience of others. You can save a lot of time from trial-and-error that way, and get perspectives and ideas that you may never otherwise have from other people.

Two of my favourites: Strobist and Zack Arias, but there's tons of people to choose from.

I'd recommend doing a bunch of reading (or attending workshops if that's more your style) before plunking down money on a camera; the knowledge you gain might help you decide what camera, lenses, and lighting to get.

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Thanks a lot for your great answer especially the blogs. –  just_name Oct 19 '11 at 7:32

It is, when you are referring to learning about composition, etc.

But you should also do a fair bit of research to understand the numbers on the camera you're buying.

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Three years ago I asked myself a similar question whether I should learn myself (but I had no idea where to start) or should I do a photography cource online. After a bit of research I chose the second option, paid money and got only half satisfied. Here is explanation why in my article on Hubpages:

Online Photography Courses and Their Worth

There is only one thing that is standing in the way for every beginner in photography, it's the knowlege about where to look for that useful information on internet. It might sound obvios, you type a few words and get your answers, but some beginners (at least it was like this with me because it was my first DSLR and I knew nothing about it) don't actually know what exactly to look for.
So here are a few essential topics to look at:

  1. Understanding of aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

  2. How to hold camera properly.

  3. Rules of composition.

  4. Understanding the Depth of Field.

  5. Difference in lens focal length.

I personally found lots of useful tips and tricks at the site of Digital Photograpy School and suggest every beginner to look at that site.

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