Blog Home Contributor Your Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Photographer in 2022

Want to become a photographer but don’t know where to start? Check out this syllabus, packed with resources from Shutterstock Academy.

Almost everyone has access to a camera and simple editing software these days, paving the way for a new generation of amateur photographers. But, how does one exit the rookie realm and take their photography skills to the next level? 

Whether you’re a hobbyist or want to make photography a full-time career, we’ve broken down some of the most important steps, including pointers from professional photographers and contributors, to help get your budding photography journey underway.

Feel free to dip in and out of different sections, each of which includes links to Shutterstock Academy resources. They’re broken down as follows:

I. Buying a Camera

II. Understanding the Basics

III. Finding Educational Resources

IV. Practicing Every Day

V. Learning to Edit

VI. Showcasing Your Talents


I. Buying a Camera

No brainer, right? But, in case you need a nudge: Buying a camera should be your first order of business.

Lifestyle and portrait photographer Alpana Aras-King says you don’t need a fancy camera to become a student of photography, but suggests purchasing a second-hand manual camera—or a camera with manual mode—as soon as possible.

“Manual cameras force you to make decisions about the technical details of your photos rather than having the camera do it for you,” Alpana says. 

Let’s say you want to capture a silhouette against a beautiful sunset. If you rely on auto mode, chances are your camera is going to assume you want your subject to be well-exposed, so the camera will compensate by blowing out the beautiful sunset

Switching your camera to manual mode gives you complete control over your camera settings and, thus, the outcome of your shot.

When it comes to choosing the right camera, it’s important to consider your needs. What will you be shooting? What is your budget? Do you want more control over your images?

These are the types of questions you need to be asking yourself when determining which camera is right for you. Once you’ve identified your needs, finding a camera to suit those needs will become a whole lot easier. 

Before researching all the different camera brands and models on the market, it’s essential to have a base knowledge of the types of cameras you can choose from—specifically manual or manual mode cameras that will enhance your learning as a newly enthused shutterbug. 

Film Cameras

Photography as we know it started on film. The 35mm film cameras are what made photography accessible to the general public. Enter the digital age, and the usage of film cameras saw a sharp decline.

But, lately, there’s been an uptick in demand as newer generations strive for more vintage aesthetics—a step away from the sought-after perfection of the latest digital cameras.

Four Chickens in the Foreground of a Field at Sunset
Shooting with a film camera presents an opportunity to master your camera’s settings without resorting to auto mode. Image via Moonborne

There are several challenges to consider when using a film camera:

  • There is no autofocus—so, no pressing a button to have your camera automatically focus on the subject. Instead, you’re required to manually turn the lens to get your subject correctly in focus.
  • There’s no auto metering, meaning you’ll need to change the shutter speed and aperture for each shot.
  • You’re limited to one ISO speed (a measure of a photographic film’s sensitivity to light), as this is determined by the roll of film in your camera at the time (i.e. you can only change the ISO once you switch camera rolls).
  • Perhaps the biggest challenge of them all is there’s no image review when using a film camera, meaning you can’t see your image immediately after you take it. You can’t just delete the photo and retake the shot. Each frame will cost you, so more time and precision are required when selecting and framing the scene. 
Sunset Framed Between Trees in a Snowy Wood
Master your camera settings manually. Image via OlegRi.

Depending on how you look at it, these challenges can present a unique opportunity to master your camera’s settings manually since there’s no option to set your film camera to auto mode. 

DSLR Cameras 

A DLSR—or digital single-lens reflex camera—is a digital camera (operates with a fixed, digital sensor) that allows light to enter via a single lens before hitting a mirror that reflects the light into an optical viewfinder. This is how you can see what you’re shooting and is where the term “reflex” comes from (referring to the mirror’s reflection). 

DSLR cameras are widely favored due to their versatility and ability to produce professional photographs with high image quality. Unlike many other digital options, DSLR cameras allow photographers to seamlessly change their lenses depending on the requirement of the shoot. 

Graceful Ballet Dancer with Bright Pink Fabric Captured in Mid-Leap
A DSLR is the most popular camera among photographers—and for a good reason. Image via Master1305.

The advantage of a DSLR—compared to that of a point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera—is that you can see the exact scene you’re shooting via the optical viewfinder in real-time. There’s no lag, which can be the case with mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras since the sensor has to transfer the image to the digital display screen.

Mirrorless Cameras

To put it simply, mirrorless cameras are essentially more compact, lightweight versions of DSLRs. What makes a mirrorless camera different is—as the name would suggest—it’s mirrorless. Without a mirror, these cameras can be designed to be much smaller in size without compromising the camera settings, image quality, and ability to change lenses seamlessly. 

Unlike DSLRs, mirrorless cameras allow light to pass through the lens right onto the image sensor. The sensor then captures a preview of the image and projects that image to the display on the rear screen—just as a smartphone camera would. 

Grandmother and Granddaughter Tickling Each Other on Grass
Mirrorless cameras take up less space, are more lightweight, and are best suited to photographers on the move. Image via Monkey Business Images.

Sure, mirrorless and DSLR cameras have both pros and cons, but these differences mostly boil down to personal preference, not just technical differences.

Some of the technical limitations of mirrorless cameras include shorter battery life, slower autofocus, and fewer lenses and accessories. On the flip side, mirrorless cameras are now capable of capturing incredible, high-resolution images with even faster shutter speeds and can record ultra HD videos that only the most expensive, higher-end DSLRs can produce.

Cameras for Beginners 

There are countless cameras on the market that are best suited for those starting out—and they won’t necessarily break the bank.

For example, the A6000 mirrorless digital camera is still one of Sony’s best entry-level cameras. It gives you the flexibility to use manual mode with access to auto intelligent settings to accommodate your needs as you learn the camera’s capabilities and develop your own skills.

Closeup of Traditional Lasagna on a White Plate
There are plenty of budget-friendly camera options on the market for those of you just starting out. Image via stockcreations.

First-time DSLR owners can’t go wrong with the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 thanks to the ease of use and built-in guidance. So, users can learn the fundamentals such as shutter speed, aperture, and depth of field using the onboard help system, or use it as a point-and-shoot camera.


II. Understanding the Basics

To get the most out of your camera, it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of photography. This starts with unpacking the jargon—which can be intimidating to those new to the field—before putting photography fundamentals to practice.

Let’s start with the three most important settings in photography: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

ISO

In digital photography, ISO refers to the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light your camera’s sensor will be. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera’s sensor will be.

Portrait of Multi-Cultural Children Hanging Out and Smiling into the Camera
The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light your camera’s sensor will be. Image via Monkey Business Images.

You might be thinking more light is always better in photography, but in the case of ISO, it’s actually quite the opposite. A photo taken at too high of an ISO will show a lot of grain and noise. It’s therefore best to keep your ISO as low as possible.

ISO is one of the reasons why the price of camera bodies vary so much. A cheaper camera might be able to reach 800 or 1600 ISO before the shot becomes grainy and noisy. A more expensive camera might be able to reach 3200, 6400, 10,000, and beyond.

Aperture 

Aperture is the size of the opening in your lens. This is self-explanatory, as you can see the aperture opening and closing with a twist of a dial. What isn’t so self-explanatory is the scale on which aperture is measured.

The numbers, written in f/stops, are the inverse of what you’d expect. A smaller aperture number actually results in a bigger hole, so more light comes in. A bigger aperture number results in a smaller hole, so less light comes in.

Dad and Son Flying a Rainbow Kite in a Park
Aperture is the size of the opening in your lens. Image via 4 PM production.

Aperture mainly controls the depth of field—which refers to how much is in focus in front and behind the subject. The lower the f/stop number, the smaller the depth of field. The higher the f/stop number, the greater the depth of field. 

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the amount of time (measured in seconds) that your shutter is open. A fast shutter speed creates a shorter exposure—the amount of light the camera takes in—and a slow shutter speed gives the photographer a longer exposure.

You’ll see numbers like 1/50 (of a second), 1/100 (of a second), and 1/250 (of a second) to indicate how quickly your shutter opens and closes. You can also slow your shutter speed down to 1″ (second), 2″ (seconds), or 5″ (seconds), or as long as 30″ (seconds).

Motion-Blurred Image of a Cheetah Running through the Savannah
Shutter speed refers to the amount of time your shutter is open. Image via slowmotiongli.

What does a fast or slow shutter speed actually achieve? It controls motion blur—from creating a lot of motion blur to freezing moving objects in place.

Slow shutter speeds are often accompanied by a tripod to shoot still subjects like landscapes, or things in motion if you want to achieve a motion blur effect. 

Fast shutter speeds are used when you want to freeze motion, capturing fast-moving subjects, such as sports or animals. 

Busy Crowd of Anonymous Motion-Blurred Shoppers on a London Street
Create elements of movement. Image via Willy Barton.

To shoot crisp portraits, it’s best to use a shutter speed between 1/250 and 1/500. For sports, you’ll want to increase the shutter speed to 1/800 or 1/1000. Why? Because the faster your subject is moving, the faster your shutter speed must be to capture the subject in focus.

To recap, a slower shutter speed means more motion blur. A faster shutter speed means less motion blur. 


III. Finding Educational Resources 

Having a solid photography education tends to separate hobbyists from professionals, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a degree. In fact, photography is a field where structured training is not a prerequisite—you can self-learn and improve your skills without a formal education.

According to stock and advertising photographer Jacob Lund, some of your biggest educators and mentors in photography are available at your fingertips—on the internet. 

“The internet is your oyster—everything can be self-taught today,” Jacob says. “The biggest problem is probably that the abundance of knowledge available out there can make it hard to manage where to put your focus,” he continues. 

His advice? Look for mentors—online or in real life—who can help you navigate the overwhelming resources available online and off.  

“Instagram and YouTube have created a generation of content creators which has made professional content creation a very competitive market,” he says. “Finding someone who has ‘made it’ can definitely guide you to steer away from the many pitfalls and hidden distractions in this industry.”

If you want to go the more traditional educational route, consider a Certificate Photography program that teaches you the basics of photography in just a few months. Or, look into an Associate Degree in Photography which prepares graduates for entry-level photography-related digital art positions.

There are also countless online photography courses and in-person workshops to choose from, which can serve as a launching pad for your photography endeavors.


IV. Practicing Every Day

While learning is obviously extremely useful, reading about how to take photos is no replacement for taking photos. Practice involves doing—which means getting behind your camera’s lens, taking photos, developing them, editing them, and engaging with every step of the photographic process. 

Sometimes, you don’t need to travel far to find a suitable subject for your photos. “I started my photography journey with a film camera, photographing family members who would be willing (or need to be coaxed) to have their pictures taken,” photographer Alpana Aras-King says.

“I branched out into photographing strangers as I explored walking around the city with my 35mm film camera, at which time I became interested in street photography inspired by the work of Magnum photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson,” she continues. 

Father supporting toddler girl as she walks through a Christmas tree farm
Practice your photography by capturing loved ones, scenes, things, and people around you. Offset image by Alpana Aras-King

Finding Your Niche While Remaining Flexible

There’s a widely misguided assumption that photographers can—and must—do it all when it comes to photography. In reality, photographers don’t have to be masters of all genres.

Finding your niche starts with shooting in several genres. Giving different genres of photography a try in low-stakes environments allows you to experiment, learn your strengths and weaknesses, and discover a field of photography you really love.

Are you interested in commercial or editorial photography? Do you prefer to shoot portraits or landscapes? Is wedding photography calling your name?

That said, if more than one genre drives you creatively, pursue it. Don’t feel the need to pigeonhole your talent into one field of photography.

While there’s a strong case for focusing your talents and honing your skills in one particular field of photography, editorial and commercial photographer Laura Thomspon encourages aspiring photographers to adopt an open but pragmatic approach.

“When I was starting out, I tried to do a little bit of everything until I figured out what I enjoyed shooting the most and what would make me the most money,” Laura says.

Dabbling in several genres also forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and learn something new. For instance, landscape photography will perhaps require you to shoot with a smaller aperture, utilize different compositional techniques, and review your techniques of metering.

So, while your strengths might lie in portrait photography, landscape photography might challenge you in ways portrait photography doesn’t. 


V. Learning to Edit

Even the best photos can benefit from some light editing. Post-processing is just as important as the work you do with the camera.

Professional Hiking and Climbing Team on a Snowy Slope with Blue Mountains and Sky in the Background
Pro tip: Learn to edit. Image via emerald_media.

Photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom can take your photo from good to exceptional. Photoshop even offers a 7-day free trial, so you can try it before you buy.

Also, take advantage of the free Lightroom and Photoshop tutorials to get started.


VI. Showcasing Your Talents

Your skills and talent in photography will be judged based on the quality of your portfolio, which is essential to have if a professional photography career is in the cards.

Selecting only your best photos that showcase your full range of work can be the deciding factor in winning over new clients. 

Cheerful Senior Couple Enjoying a Ferris Wheel Ride and Snuggling Under a Plaid Blanket
Build a portfolio that represents your best work. Image via Rawpixel.com.

Even if you don’t plan to go professional, maintaining a portfolio is one of the best ways to track your own progress and can serve as a creative mood board that can help stir more creative ideas. 

Are you ready to take the first steps in becoming a photographer? Refer back to this guide whenever you need a refresher. And remember, to become a photographer, time and patience are key.

Also, have fun with it!  


Cover image via Take Photo.