Ten Years of Photography: What I Wish I Knew When....

I don't remember the exact day in 2007 when I decided I was going to re-kindle my love of photography in a more serious pursuit, but it was sometime in the fall. My mom bought me a basic Canon Rebel dSLR with 18-55mm kit lens to help me focus on my photography, and that moment started a chain reaction that has led me to where I am today.

To be fair, I don't know if my mom remembers buying me that camera. But I remember walking out of the Best Buy store full of anticipation for the things I could do with my new "professional" camera. It's like that feeling we got as kids when you got a new box of crayons. You touched the perfectly pointed wax tips of each crayon and dreamed about the wonderful drawings you could make with them.....


To mark the 10 year anniversary since that fateful day, I am going to share 10 things I wish I knew 10 years ago - 10 things that would have made the journey of the last 10 years a little less painful, expensive, and more fun!

  1. Take Ken Rockwell With a Grain of Salt. I have nothing against Ken personally - he's found a great following with his reviews, but he is not some kind of messiah. I am shocked how many people I see on the internet cite him as the definitive source on all things photography. But look at his work - he mostly takes pictures of his kids. Unless you are looking to also buy gear for kid photos, think about that as you read his reviews. You wouldn't listen to the advice of a skydiver when buying SCUBA gear, so why listen to the advice of a kid photographer when buying landscape photography equipment? Again, nothing against Ken, because he has some good information on his site, just recognize he's a talented marketer who has a niche, and if his niche isn't your niche, then take that into consideration.
  2. Lenses Matter More than Cameras. With all the camera reviews out there, it's easy to think that a camera is more important than the glass, but nothing is further from the truth. I did not appreciate this truth until I started buying nice lenses (and I'm not talking just about my Leica lenses here, there's a big difference between a good Nikon and a cheap Nikon lens). A camera will be out of date in technology in two years, but some of the best lenses I own are from 1985! Buy good glass.
  3. It is Better to Have Less Good Gear than More Gear. I think back to some of the crap I have purchased and it hurts my soul and wallet. You really only need a camera, a lens, and a memory card. You don't need a UV filter. You don't need that dongle that makes your camera connect to your iPhone. You don't need a magnifying screen for your back LCD screen. That's all just crap to help make someone rich, but won't make you a better photographer. You know what will? Practice. For every $10 you spend on gear, spend 1 hour practicing photography. Learn to understand light, how to see, and master your craft.
  4. Design a Good Storage System Now. Don't wait until you are a better photographer to figure out how to archive your photographs. I don't think I can find any photos I took 10 years ago, because I don't know how I saved them. It took about 4 years before I got serious about my archive system, and I regret that.
  5. For The Love of All Things, Shoot in RAW. Don't make me tell you again!
  6. Spend Time Studying Photographs You Like. Try and dissect how a photographer took an image you like. What aperture did they use (or at least was it a wide or narrow aperture)? Was it purposefully overexposed or underexposed? What were the hard parts of the image to get right? Is there something you don't know how they made it look that way (you would be surprised how many photographers will explain their technique if asked)? You will learn a lot by dissecting the work of others.
  7. Remove Dust Spots. This is the first thing I notice about a photograph- if it has dust spots. If you don't have Lightroom or another photo editing tool, buy one, and figure out how to remove dust spots. 
  8. Practice Photography. People often remark that I "must have a really nice camera" when they see my images. It's true, I do have a nice camera. But I could make a nice image with a crap camera. I'm not being arrogant - it's because I have practiced. My nice looking images are not the result of fancy cameras, it's the result of practice. You don't learn to fly a plane by buying a nice one. You don't learn to draw by purchasing nice pencils. So why do people think that nice cameras are the key to nice photographs? Go outside, take pictures in your back yard, and practice. Try something different. Bend the 'rules'. You do not have to go on some grand vacation to take nice photographs - challenge yourself with something very simple. What's the best photograph you can take of a single apple? Can you make that image ironic? Sad? Happy? Practice and find out.
  9. Try Shooting Film. I credit film photography as the greatest single source of improvement for my overall photography. I learned more shooting film than I did from years of digital photography....patience, light, composition, and metering. Film cameras can be had for cheap - give it a try.
  10. Buy A Good Tripod. It took me almost four years to invest in a proper tripod and the difference it made was huge. I don't like using a tripod to shoot and I avoid using one at all cost, but when you need one, you must have a good one. Cheap plastic junk is exactly that. A tripod is a major purchase and might cost as much as a good lens, but if you care for it, you will be rewarded with a long life of service from your pair of sticks.
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What advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginner photographer? Leave me a comment and let me know!