Buy a camera
People often tell me “my phone makes great photos”, but I think a phone is not a great camera for multiple reasons. I suggest you buy at least a decent compact camera, but better a system camera or SLR. For 500 EUR you have a great camera that may last 5-10 years. If you buy an older model 300 EUR is also possible.
Full frame cameras have a great dynamic range, but also a great price. In my opinion crop cameras are great nowadays. At this moment I prefer a system camera: SLR quality in a compact body. The menu may be a hassle, but you will get used to that after a while.
Take time get to know your camera
Know where to find the most important settings. In my opinion, you should only worry about aperture, shutter, iso and focus point.
Don’t waste time on settings like themes. Editing is best done later on the computer.
Don’t use auto (shutter, aperture, iso)
Use manual (M). Or, if you are lazy or don’t have time to check/change settings, use aperture priority (A) or shutter priority (T or S).
If you don’t use manual, check your light measuring mode, mostly center will work fine.
If you use manual, check your settings if the conditions changed significantly (e.g. sun, shadow).
Don’t use auto #2 (white balance)
I use daylight, because this is how we see things. For example:
– In shadow, white becomes blueish.
– Under a lantern, white becomes yellow.
– At a concert the artists become purple, blue, red etc.
There are various ways to correct this, but I think you should not: The light is what it is, it brings atmosphere to the photo. And, if you shoot in raw in stead of jpg, you can always change it later.
Don’t use auto #3 (focus point)
The camera does not know what your subject is, so why let it decide what to focus on? You should decide that. So use always 1 focus point and select it yourself.
If you have a rectangle in stead of a point, change the size if needed.
Use a good lens
I suggest you buy the cheapest good one. For 300-500 EUR you have a great light sensitive lens for allround usage.
Don’t mind names like “portrait lens”, “sports lens” etc. A lens is a lens, you can always use it in any situation. Just mind how much light you need and how close you need to get to the action.
Mostly I don’t like wide angle distortion, so I would prefer 50 or 100 mm. But of course sometimes you can’t keep the distance, so then I use my 16-50 mm kit lens.
For close-up work I use a macro lens, this is usually 30 or 60 mm.
Take time to take a photo
Some people say “if you take many photos, there will always be some good ones”, but I don’t think this is true. Wait for the right moment. Check various points of view.
If you don’t have time for this I can understand that you are happy with some lucky shots. Also, memory is not expensive so it seems not to matter if you take 100 photos or 1000. But you will have to check all photos so I prefer to take less photos, it saves a lot of time.
Don’t try to fit everything in the frame
It is normal that you try to fit everything in your photo, e.g. a tall building. But do you really need to? In my opinion it is more interesting to focus (literally) on details, like windows, doors etc.
I like taking photos but I don’t like editing. I prefer to take some time while shooting, on framing and checking settings, which saves me time on editing.
When editing I only do basic editing like cropping, lighting shadows, color correction. I also like to play with black and conversion, preferably in raw.
A famous photographer once said: “It’s okay if you are not interested in photo editing, but you should know how to do it.”
Talk to other photographers
It is great to learn stuff on your own. But it might save you a lot of time when you talk to somebody who already experienced issues you might or will have. And besides that, talking to people with the same interests can be very fun and motivating.
Don’t visit photography websites
This sounds strange, right? Of course I did visit (a lot of) photography websites when I was starting. But it did cost me a lot of time and it brought me a lot of headache: So many bad advises, even from professionals: “You need Lightroom”, “You need a gray card”, “You need spot measuring”, “You need studio light” etc. For most people this is simply not true.
Of course these tips may be useful in certain situations, but it is nonsense to say that you are only a good photographer if you use certain hardware or software. It simply depends on the way you work. You can achieve (very) good results with (relative) cheap equipment.