Let me preface this article by saying that I am in no way a professional photographer; however, I am someone who loves seeing God’s beauty in creation and I enjoy capturing that with my camera. I have taken many pictures – some good and some bad – but every picture represents a moment of time where God’s blessing was so great I felt it warranted a pause.
I started taking photography more seriously a few years ago. When I first began, I had little to no knowledge of what I was doing; I just knew that I liked taking pictures. Little did I know that this was exactly what I needed to be doing! In today’s world, photography can be intimidating. It’s true that there are a lot of elegant photographers out there, but you don’t need to be a professional to take great photos. All you need is an interest and a desire to learn (and I guess a camera might help) and YOU can be a photographer!
I put together this list to offer guidance and encouragement to new/amateur photographers out there who may have started out like me. So, if you love taking pictures, have an interest in photography, or are contemplating ways that you can grow in your photography skills, enjoy this pre-worn advice, from one aspiring lensman to another. These are things that I found helpful in my own journey and I hope that you will too!
- Decide what you are going to use to take pictures – your phone or a camera
My love affair with photography began with me taking pictures on my phone. I was snapping images of my daily life to share on Instagram and Facebook, but I quickly realized that my pictures were lacking the quality that I desired. As I developed a more serious interest in photography, it became apparent that my little phone camera was not going to cut it, so I invested in a digital camera.
Although I rarely take pictures on my phone anymore, I think that using it in the beginning was helpful for me to develop my interest in photography. This ensured that my investment in a camera would not be wasted as I knew it was something that I truly enjoyed and wanted to learn more about. Likewise, for those of you who are unsure if photography is a passion or more of a hobby, you might want to try using your phone camera for a few weeks to determine whether or not it would be worth investing in a digital camera.
If you are sure of your interest and are ready to take the plunge, there are a few things to consider before purchasing your first camera. It’s possible that it would be beneficial for you to find your photography niche before deciding which camera to buy. This is because certain cameras are designed to better capture certain photos. One camera might be better suited to portrait photography while another camera is better suited to sports photography. Cameras can be expensive, so it would be helpful to know that you are investing in something that will suit your needs as you develop your skill. However, thanks to modern technology, there are a number of versatile cameras on the market that enable you to capture a variety of images while discovering your niche.
Either way, I recommend doing a fair amount of research before investing. One of my favorite things to do is to ask other people who have cameras what they love (and don’t love) about their equipment. You will likely receive a much more honest and authentic review by asking someone who has owned and used a specific camera for several years, as opposed to the Amazon reviewer who rated it 5 stars after merely opening the packaging.
My current camera model is the Sony a6000 which I use most often with a Sigma 30mm lens and a Rokinon 12 mm lens. I have the kit lens (16-50) and a zoom lens, but I have found that using prime lenses (lenses with a fixed focal length) has forced me to try new angles and adjust the settings on my camera more. This has made me a better, more well-rounded photographer. The Sony a6000 is a versatile camera, great for beginners starting out who want to learn more about photography! It is a mirrorless camera which means that it is significantly smaller than a DSLR so it’s great for traveling and carrying around. I would highly recommend this camera to someone looking to venture into photography and grow in their skill.
- Do some online photography learning
Thanks to the internet, there is a plethora of information available to aspiring photographers wanting to learn more. While there are some excellent online classes available, there are also free resources, cheat sheets, and videos that will help get you started in understanding the basics and fundamentals of photography.
One of the pieces of advice that seemed to echo continually when I first began my photography journey was that I needed to learn how to shoot in manual mode. When I first got my camera, I just wanted to take pictures! I was perfectly happy to leave it on the AUTO setting and snap away! But, after a while, I realized that the only way I was going to get the kind of images that I wanted was if I used the manual mode. I found photography blogs and videos that talked about Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed, and White Balance which helped me kick-start my journey into using the manual setting.
While it’s fun to point and snap some photos, if you want to know how to get the creamy bokeh background in a portrait, or pause the moment a horse reaches the apex of a jump, you need to know how to manually adjust the settings on your camera. Additionally, there are tutorials intentionally designed for specific cameras that can help you learn the ins and outs of how to use your particular model.
- Take pictures of EVERYTHING!
This one may sound extreme, but I assure you, there is no better way to learn photography than to simply take pictures! Experience is the greatest teacher, and the fun thing about photography is that you can capture pictures of just about anything, anywhere! Family, friends, and pets are great subjects to help you develop your eye while learning how to adjust the different settings on your camera. You can also photograph landscapes, cityscapes, and sporting events to gain more exposure (pun intended) as a photographer.
I found photography challenges to be very helpful for me in developing my eye when I was first starting out. Photography challenges provide you with a list of ideas or inspirations for taking photos. Some challenges are specific while others allow you to be more creative with your images. They can be daily, weekly, or monthly – whatever works for you to get you out and about with your camera! You can find photography challenges online or you can make one up yourself. The one that I used was a yearlong challenge with every week focusing on a different subject matter or approach to photography. I adjusted the timeline to accommodate my schedule so that it was more flexible which made it easier to keep up with.
Having a specific topic that I was looking to capture each week forced me to look for and find interesting subject matters and methods of approach that I wouldn’t have considered before. I was obligated to take my camera everywhere because I never knew when I was going to find myself in the middle of a perfect photo opportunity! Using these challenges taught me to look at people, places and things in different ways, and it made me a better photographer. They are also fun to do with friends so that you can share your photos and unique perspectives. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, try a “30 Days of Thankfulness” challenge to get you into the spirit of the holiday!
- Photography is spiritual and humility is key
If there is one thing I have learned through photography, it is humility. Some of you may identify with my type A perfectionist personality and understand where I am coming from. Pride is a photographer’s worst enemy; in your best photos, it makes you think highly of yourself, omitting the work of God, and in your worst photos, it makes you feel like giving up.
I mentioned that I used to post pictures to social media, however, I stopped doing that about two years ago. The reason for this is that I was convicted; convicted of how I was using photography to selfishly bolster my self-esteem, rather than resting in my God-given identity, glorifying the Lord. This may sound extreme, but let me explain: I found that when I was taking pictures, I was stressed; my primary focus was on how many likes my image was going to get. I became obsessed with getting just the right shot, and was no longer appreciating the moments for what they were. I was making photography all about me and in doing so, I took all of the glory away from God.
When I stopped posting my images, I was able to slow down and grow as a photographer. I found myself enjoying photography again, basking in the goodness of God as I enjoyed the beautiful moment before me. Since I didn’t need to post an image anywhere, I could try the different manual settings on my camera to see which ones worked and which ones didn’t, and if none of them turned out, that was okay too, because there was no pressure; I was simply happy to be witnessing God’s creation. I was able to see and appreciate the awesomeness of the world before me, turning my heart towards Him and away from the voices of the world. In humility, I acknowledged that it is not me creating the image on my camera, but our great and sovereign King. I am merely a spectator, blessed to capture such divine beauty.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with posting pictures to social media! In fact, it is a great way to get feedback and to build relationships with other photographers in your area. And it is an excellent tool to share your faith and let others know how God inspires your photography!
- Be patient and don’t give up
Ralph Waldo Emerson is famous for saying, “It’s not [about] the Destination, It’s [about] the journey.” I have a feeling he wasn’t talking about photography when he said this, but it’s true, all the same. Photography is something that takes time and patience. It takes grace. But the best part about it is that there is no destination in photography; there is only the journey.
Regardless of how many pictures you take, you can take more tomorrow. No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. Photography is endless because a good photographer never stops improving and they certainly don’t stop taking pictures. The skills that you will need to develop to become a great photographer take time, but capturing special moments along the way is time well spent. Having grace and patience for yourself as you learn ensures that you stay motivated and encouraged, and it equips you to encourage others in their journey as well.
My relationship with photography has ebbed and flowed over the past few years. There have been times where I have taken pictures every day and times where I haven’t touched my camera in weeks. But having patience and grace for myself as I was learning made it so that I always felt that I could come back to it. And as a result, I have come farther than I ever thought I would.
Although I don’t believe that I will ever be a professional photographer, I do believe that I will take pictures all of my life. Why? Because I love it and because I love how it draws me closer to God. In the pause of taking a picture, I can’t help but appreciate God’s goodness as I dwell on all of His blessings. I pray that this list will be an encouragement for you all as you grow deeper in your love of photography and your love of God!