Showing results for 
Show  only  | Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

If you are just starting out in photography, what overwhelms you?



Screenshot 2023-11-29 at 3.34.10 PM.pngWhen I was first starting out in photography I had so many questions. There were so many different numbers and  people didn't explain it in a way that I understood it. After learning the camera, the next step was figuring out how to shoot with people and where to just start.

I have met so many people that love photography, want to start shooting photography and then just don't do it.  I would love to help share how to breakthrough those overwhelming thoughts so you can move forward doing your passion.

I am curious- to the people just picking up the camera. What is the most overwhelming/intimidating part for you?



It's an interesting question, and I hope that despite being long in the tooth, photography-wise (well, actually in all respects), I can harken back to the days when I first aspired to take images on a serious basis.  I will also reflect on my impressions from those attending my courses today as to what challenges them.

So, first... I started back in 1980, when there were no calculators, computers or digital devices and no Word Wide Web (actually, the Internet did existed since the 1960's but was for military and academic use only).  I wanted to learn photography but there were no courses where I lived, and I could not afford the camera gear I wanted - back then, in NZ there was crippling duty and tax on camera equipment. 

For me, the answer was to get books and read them - which I did for over a year, without a camera.  My main reference was The 35mm Photographers' Handbook by John Hedgecoe.  It was much like modern ones, containing information on the principles of light, optics, exposure and composition.  It also had a large collection of images taken under different scenarios, and conditions for different purposes.  Each set of images came with the camera settings, reasons for composition and suggestions for alternatives (often with examples).  It was my bible and I devoured it until I bought my camera gear, duty and tax free, as I embarked on my big tour around the world (in isolated NZ it's a right of passage for young Kiwis, called 'the Big OE': Overseas Experience). 

When I got my gear (Nikon 2x F3's 2x Canon A1's and several Tamron Adaptall SP lenses that would work on either mount) I immediately began to practise what I had learnt in theory.  It was, of course a learning curve all over again. 

Among the challenges at the time were - the ISO was fixed for a film of 36 images, hence the need to have at least two bodies for fast and slow film, and I often had a B+W roll as well.   Then one could not immediately check the images as they were shot (i.e. Chimping) so that might not happen for some time later.  Then, there was the cost of buying film, developing and printing, which was not insignificant.  One could do both processing and printing, at least for B+W film, but I shot mainly transparencies (that's what was expected for the market then) and so all that was done elsewhere.

Many of these things are not valid today - one can change the ISO for every shot, check an image as shot, and shoot as much as one wants because there is essentially no cost. Modern cameras have autofocus, image stabilization, eye and face tracking, and a host of other features that one did not even dream about back in the day.

My experience with feedback from students is that many of them are coming to dedicated cameras from cell phones that are great for social photography, but don't really require one to understand the exposure triangle, and the subtleties of using the controls to manage exposure.  On top of that, I think many people do not (as was more common back then) actually read reference material such as manuals or books on technique. I also find it amazing how many people think that simply getting a more expensive camera will somehow solve their learning curve issues. 

On top of that, there is now the presence and pressure of social media and the desire to get likes by posting images, along with what can be pretty brutal criticism from viewers.  As well, there is the whole area of still vs video...

I am also struck by the number of students, totally new to photography, who have aspirations of going pro in short order. I guess they see people on You Tube apparently raking it in and want that for themselves.  When I began, there were relatively few of us working in the business, and one could sell images through Image Banks (i.e. stock photography in the modern idiom), and there were more opportunities for picking up assignments for businesses, social events etc.   

These days there are whole sites where people post fantastic images, royalty free, in the hope of getting a gig.  Now, if I was in sales or marketing, with a limited budget, I would go there and, if at all possible, use those images for free rather than go to the time and trouble of hiring a professional.  Sure, there are those people who make it as pro's, but IMHO the competition has become a lot, lot more demanding.

As a result it is a big learning curve and a dose of cold water on their aspirations to just pick up a dedicated camera and create brilliant images or make a living.  Some are put off, and some stay in full auto mode, at least for a while, while the most successful ones embark on the long, long journey to conquering their cameras.

cheers, TREVOR

"The Amount of Misery expands to fill the space available"
"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris

Wow, thank you so much for all of this! I cannot imagine learning all about the camera through reading. What an amazing story. It's amazing that is the path you had to take given the experience but it is incredible you stuck to it. It sounds like it was definitely your calling. I would have never stuck to it like that. 

You really are an OG. Original. There is so much to learn from you! I can't image the amount of patience you had to have to LEARN photography. I am that middle generation that got exposed to both-but I primarily learned on digital. To me, it is cool that more people have access to expressing themselves through iphone cameras but yeah- it makes it a whole lot easier than what it truly is. 

Visual communication is something people are now getting more exposure to and I think just merely from a creative stand point- it has opened people up to "be creative" even if they never considered themselves a "creative". I love that because everyone has it in them. Photography goes really well for the analytical brains!

Thank you! 

Previous generations have their brains wired differently from those who grew up as digital natives.  For me reading was natural because it was so much of my intellectual input, and I got exposed to imagery, particularly video past my formative years.  My sister, who is 5 years older, grew up without the influence of a TV at all, while I had some of that, so we each approach intellectual input differently.  She loves books exclusively, while like both, but have been drawn to the visual arts more.   That said, I can read for extended periods without undue stress, but I find that the current generations in their teens and up to early 30's are not wired that way.   The technical stuff I am comfortable with because of my engineering and IT backgrounds.

I see it in the changes in teaching that have adapted to their needs - shorter lectures, lots of visual stimulation that is shorter, and more dynamic.   I find both in the general world (and here in particular) that instead of looking for information many will ask others if they know the answer.   Academically, that is not a viable method - one has to have valid and verifiable references, and asking the world through social media will doubtless be faster, but because it is unmediated or edited, one can get a lot of invalid or misinformation  The ultimate example of this is the AI based search engines that are now showing that their results are often peppered with invalid references that the software just made up - called in the business Hallucination...  That is a challenge the developers are grappling with but is of serious concern.  If you are interested, the following 60 Minutes episode is rather educational.
Artificial Intelligence | 60 Minutes Full Episodes (

I was unusual for my generation.  I had essentially 9 distinct careers, some simultaneously - photography was a constant from my mid 20's while I did other things too.  Most of my contemporaries will have had a lot less change, but for your generation that will likely be the norm.   With changes in technology, particularly the rise of AI (which I keep up with), a lot of careers that were considered secure will be eroded by systems that can search for, assimilate and process information to offer conclusions far faster than a human.  We already see that in medicine, law and computers are now writing their own code.  So, the big question is going to be what do the mass of people who are no longer employable in those careers going to do?  It's a huge and looming question that I am glad I don't have to answer...

cheers, TREVOR

"The Amount of Misery expands to fill the space available"
"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris


I ponder the fact that the camera is much smarter than me. More capable than I can imagine. Learning a fraction of the manual is a challenge. A sort-of New Year's Resolution is to, once again, have the camera in hand and start with page one of the manual. For now, there will be some parts that I'll read later.

Canon EOS T7; EF-S 18-55mm IS; EF 28-135mm IS; EF 75-300mm; Sigma 150-600mm DG

I completely agree. When I first was starting out the manual settings were such a THING. I will say this, you have to just keep continuing to play and shoot shoot shoot.

I am not a "reading the manual" person either.... I was more of a hands on learner rather than a comprehensive reader.  I have learned there are people who are way more "technical" then me and know more about the camera-and I am okay with that. There is always SO much to learn and once you learn one camera and upgrade to another- there's another round of learning the new camera BUT once you get the basics down it will be easier.

Are you trying to learn all the manuals at once? One of the things I did that really helped me with the technical trio was I would put 1 on auto (such as the iso) and only play with 2.  So I started to learn how those 2 interacted together, then I would switch it up. Once I learned how they worked together, I then set a constant iso and play with the other 2. It really just takes you DOING it. I promise you the more you do it- it will just be second nature. 

I guess the thing that I would say, don't let technicality hold you back from communicating in a language your soul is wanting you to communicate. Just do it and your inner voice will start develop and so will your skills with technicality.

I hope this helps simplify it down a little for you.

That's very astute, if I may say so Addison.
There is a lot of snob value about using M mode, it's just one more way of controlling the exposure of the image.
The challenge, and for some the joy of photography is that it uses both the left and right brain - i.e. there is both a technical and artistic aspect to it: certainly that is a big benefit for me. 

One can function with less technical knowledge, but without doubt, the more one can master the principles of exposure and the controls of that, the more one has mastery over the image creation process.

As one of my colleagues put it, the more one uses automation, the more one loses control to the camera.  One example of that is exposure settings.  The default for most cameras is to expose for an average over the area of the photo - for Canon that is called Evaluative metering.  For many instances it will work well enough, but not for subjects with major contrast, or for backlit ones.  Then one has to override the automation of the camera's metering system and correct it for the result one wants.  That is where the learning curve starts to climb.

For example, in these two shots, I wanted the effect of subtly lighting just the critical elements of these people on the street. If I had used the default evaluative the whole thing would be overexposed. the drama would be gone and the shot would be ruined.
DSCF1609 copy.jpg  DSCF1633 copy.jpg

Another concept that can be challenging is that photography is a subtractive art.  If one considers a painter: they begin with a blank canvas and can choose to add whatever elements they want in whatever location on the canvas they choose.  Photographers begin with a scene that includes both objects and light. For them the issue is to concentrate the viewer to the subject by eliminating or reducing other elements - either by the distribution of light, what is in focus, the placement of the elements, or the use of colour.  That is, in its own way the creative challenge that demands the technical knowledge to control those elements. 

I spend a bit of my time teaching (I was a trained educator and spent most of my life doing that) and I love to see the flash of understanding come into a student's eyes when they get the concepts that will help them understand and control their endeavours.  Photography is a wonderful endeavour, but like all things to reach the higher levels requires us to gain and master more and more knowledge, through study, experience and practice.

cheers, TREVOR

"The Amount of Misery expands to fill the space available"
"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris


For many beginners, the sheer array of technicalities in photography can feel overwhelming. Understanding camera settings, exposure, and the jargon often seems like deciphering a foreign language. Additionally, the prospect of photographing people, directing them, and finding the right locations can be daunting. It's this mix of technical intricacies and the creative process that often poses a barrier for newcomers.





I agree with you Amelia - and welcome to the forum!   
I think a lot of people embark on the use of a dedicated camera thinking it's not that much different from a cell phone, or that it's very automated, and it's a rude awakening when they discover that it's more complicated by far.  Very much it's a journey rather than a destination and that journey will have different paths and endings for each of us...

Tell me you know all about your camera and can use it well, and I will call you a photographer.
Tell me that you understand and can apply advanced concepts, and I will call you an enthusiast.
Tell me that you've mastered capture and processing techniques, and I will call you a craftsman.
Tell me you can do it with excellence, consistently, under any condition, and earn a significant portion of your living from it, and I will call you a professional.
Show me images that reach the heart, touch the soul, and capture the imagination, and I will call you an artist. 
Charles Osgood (?)

As the renowned photographer Henri Cartier Bresson said - 'your first 10,000 images are your worst' - and that was in the days of film when 10,000 images was a lot more significant.
I would encourage you to check out the work of Sean Tucker, an English photographer who I admire as much for his philosophy as he photographic skill.  To quote one of his pearls of wisdom:
"The journey to mastery is a long one - It SHOULD be a long one"  Sean Tucker
He has a You Tube channel and his own site well.

cheers, TREVOR

"The Amount of Misery expands to fill the space available"
"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
"Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase" Percy W. Harris


Both when starting out, and to this day, the art side of things.

For the technical side of things, no issues whatsoever.  In fact, I'll typically gravitate towards very technical projects.


Camera: EOS 5D IV, EF 50mm f/1.2L, EF 135mm f/2L
Lighting: Profoto Lights & Modifiers
click here to view the gallery