Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


5 Quick Bits of Advice for Beginning Photographers

I've got a lot of teaching experience under my belt. I've heard every question and I've taught students of every skill level. I've taught people with zero previous experience all the way up to professional photographers with years of prior training.

I thought I'd give 5 quick bits of advice for anyone setting out to learn photography.

Beware of Other Photographers

1. Beware of other photographers.

The photography community has the same problem as most technical, artistic fields: there are tons of people who have no idea what they are talking about, but are great at sounding like they do. Your fellow beginner photographers are the worst at this. They just learned something from a book, friend or instructor and they are just foaming at the mouth to pass that information on to someone else. To them it's fact, undeniable truth, because they heard it from...somewhere. They want to sound like a pro, so they will pass on information any chance they get. Problem is, a lot of the time this information has been altered somewhere in the translation...or it's just plain wrong.

The internet is the worst for this kind of stuff. Thousands of beginners congregate in forums to share advice and tips. But it's all beginners, so it's the blind leading the blind. Camera clubs are second only to the internet for the same reason. But it's not just beginners. I've heard "pros" give out horrible, wrong information. I've seen blatantly incorrect information in a major mainstream how-to photography book published by a big name "reputable" photographer! False information is everywhere.

So beware of other photographers. Don't automatically take what they say as fact - even if they are a pro. Especially if the advice or tip is unsolicited. Get your information from reputable sources with a good track record and a portfolio to prove it.

2. Look before you listen.

That brings us nicely into my second bit of advice: look before you listen. Meaning, look at a photographer's work before you listen to any advice or tips they have to offer. If they are shouting tips and advice from the rooftops, but their work is crap, then it's elementary - they must be wrong. If the photographer's work is top-notch and they are offering up a tutorial of how to do things, then pay attention. This goes for me, too. If you don't like my work, don't listen to what I have to say. But if you like my work and you like my philosophy of getting the image right in-camera and not relying on Photoshop, then you might want to hear what I have to say.

Open your eyes to the person's work before you open your ears. If you take their advice, you'll start shooting like them. So make sure you want to shoot like them.

Used Car Salesman3. Camera store salesmen are good for 2 things: checking prices and checking stock.

I have nothing against camera store salesman as people, but as purveyors of information, they are no good. Their business is selling cameras, not teaching photography. I can't tell you how many bits of false information and horrible advice I've heard from camera store salesmen via my students. I've actually gone into camera shops with a question I already know the answer to, just to test the guy behind the counter, only to get a wrong answer. Many of them need to wear the pants in the customer/salesman relationship, so they dish out advice - often times unsolicited - just to sound like a big shot. But think about this: Would you take driving advice from a salesman at the car dealership?

There's that old saying "those who can't do, teach." As a teacher, I can't help but disagree with that statement because even the greats like Galen Rowell and Frans Lanting did/do teach photography workshops. But a statement like "those who can't use cameras, sell cameras" might be more accurate.

Tricks are for kids4. Don't use "learning tricks."

A lot of photography instructors try to use "tricks" to help students learn some basic photography concepts. A real common one is the "the shutter, aperture, ISO triangle." They are supposed to make learning easier and help you remember some of the more foreign material.

I, personally, don't use any learning tricks. I find most of them are flawed in some way and can ultimately be misinterpreted depending on who's looking at it. And my logic is this: did you use any learning tricks to remember how to get home from work or to remember your address or to learn how to drive or to figure out how to operate a computer? No. You just learned how to do it. It was understanding it and then repeating the process until you learned it permanently. Photography is no different. You just need to learn the concepts, understand why things work they way they do, and then repeat.

I feel that instructors turn to "learning tricks" when they can't adequately explain something in terms the student understands. If you have a good instructor who can communicate a concept in such a way that you actually learn it, he/she won't need to use "learning tricks."

5. Don't seek approval from others. 

I get a lot of requests to critique photos. I understand that with my considerable experience and knowledge, you might think my opinion of your picture is important. But let me be frank: it doesn't. My opinion doesn't matter and neither does any instructor's. Your friends' and family's opinions don't matter either. You're the one taking the picture. If you are happy with it, then mission accomplished. Of course, this is different if you are trying to please a client. Then it's your responsibility to seek their approval. But if this is just your hobby, then don't try to please anyone but yourself.

As you get your work out there more, people will start to serve up their opinions without really being asked. You'll get a hundred positive opinions for every 1 negative opinion. The 100 positive responses will dissolve entirely in the acid of that one negative response. But just keep in mind that the negative feedback is worthless and is usually grown from a negative personality, not from truth. Most people are too polite to debase your work even if what they have to say is valid. The ones who voice their negativity are usually failed artists themselves and they just need to bring you down to their level. Don't let them.