How to Become a Photographer

Female photographer in field of flowers

Becoming a Photographer

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then learning to capture memories on film is priceless. Photography is a rewarding and creative career choice. You can also use your photography skills to capture important moments with your family and friends. Knowing what camera settings to use in different light and how to take the shot at the exact moment is a process that requires some specific steps on the path to becoming a photographer.

Woman reading book

Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On

One of the first steps to learning how to be a photographer is to read material written by experts in the field. Read articles on composition, lighting, focus and how to set up a photograph. You will also want to invest in a few good photography books, such as the top rated photography volumes on Amazon Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson, Mastering Composition by Stephen Hockman and Digital Photography by Scott Kelby.

You will also want to read magazines created for photographers, such as Popular Photography and Photographer. New materials are released online constantly as well, so don't forget to bookmark your favorite photography websites and visit often.

3 film strips

Photography Classes

Photography classes are available from community colleges, individual photographers, commercial studios looking for employees to take photographs, and online. A basic photography course should cover how to operate camera modes, setting shutter speed based on the amount of light available, taking photos when the subject is moving (sports photos, for example) and special features such as aperture settings and how to blur the background. In addition to learning the basics of photography from classes, you'll also listen to lectures by those who are experts in the field. Fellow students often critique one another's work and you'll get valuable feedback from your professors, who will help you improve your technique.

To find the best courses in your area, ask local photographers where they learned to do photography. You'll get a variety of answers but may discover sources for learning you otherwise would not have considered.

Photography apprentice

Be an Understudy

To become the best in any field, it is sometimes necessary to serve a short apprenticeship under an expert. A budding photographer should contact an experienced photographer in the specialty areas he plans to work in and ask to work as an understudy to learn the insider tools of the trade. Apprenticeship opportunities are also offered through many photography schools.

Once you find a photographer to study under, be sure to ask questions. How does she compose her photographs? What does she do if a photograph just isn't turning out the way she expected? Lighting can be a real challenge for new photographers, so ask for tips on how to take photos in unusual lighting conditions, such as during full sunlight outdoors or in very dark interiors where a flash is not allowed. It is also a good idea to keep a notebook with all the information you gather from the mentor photographer. You can refer back to your notes later when you are taking photographs of your own.

Photo gear

Explore Equipment

There are many kinds of cameras that yield different results. While SLR is the most popular choice amongst modern photographers, some specialize in taking photos with old-fashioned analog cameras. There is an entire community of photographers who enjoy this "lomography." Explore all of the options before you decide what equipment will suit your style.

You will need a minimum of an SLR camera with the ability to change out lenses, a standard lens, a wide angle lens, a flash and a tripod. Look for a camera with the option of adding additional lenses later. As you progress in your abilities, you may want to explore different types of photography.

Be open to trying different lenses under different conditions. You just may create a brand new genre of photography all your own!

camera lens

Choose the Lenses

Getting the basics down regarding how lenses relate to depth of field is one of the most important things learned in photography. It is difficult to learn how to become a photographer without lens savvy! A wide angle lens is vital for taking portraits of large groups of people, while higher magnification is important when taking photographs of nature.

You will want lenses with varying focal length. Most cameras come with a basic focus lens that is 18 to 55 mm. This is handy for taking photos of family and other up-close snapshots. A telephoto lens is usually 55 mm to 200 mm or 200 to 400 mm and is handy for taking shots from a distance, such as landscape shots. If you don't mind spending a little more, a super-flexible telephoto lens will cover you from 28 to 400 mm. However, this lens is bulky.

You will also want to pay attention to the F/stop or lens aperture rating. This is how much light is allowed into the lens. The larger the number, the greater the aperture. If you plan to take a lot of photographs in low light settings, you may want to invest in a higher F/stop than if most of your photographs will be outdoors.

35mm film roll

Know Your Film

While many think that film is outdated in this digital age, developing is an important step in learning how to become a photographer. Film is an essential medium, and you'll want to learn about the different types of film. Read books and ask other photographers and your instructors about film speed. The speed describes how sensitive the film is to light. The higher the speed, the lower light it is useful in. Experiment in both low light and full sunlight conditions with the different speeds and you'll discover that each has a specific grain and light effect on your subject.

Learn how to develop the film yourself. The darkroom arts are not lost, and in fact, dark room technicians are still in high demand in artistic circles. Learning how to develop images is still an essential skill. A good photography class will offer information on how to set up a darkroom and develop the film, but you'll also want to work under an experienced darkroom technician to learn this important skill.

Filtered light for photography

Learn Lighting

Exposure and lighting are a huge part of capturing the exact image you want. It is important to learn both natural and studio lighting to be prepared in all situations. Know the basics, but remember that light meters are your friend. Without one of these you'll have a tough time getting the correct exposure. Get one and learn how to use it well.

Adding light is sometimes essential. A wider source of light softens harsh lines and lessens shadows, while a direct, narrow source of light creates shadows and sharp lines. If you are taking a portrait and want to soften the look, place your subject near a large window that is not directly in the sunlight or create a softbox with filtered lights. On the other hand, if you want shadows or a very sharp contrast, place a bright light directly on the subject.

It is also important to know what settings to use in different light sources. Even though a light meter is helpful, there may be an occasion where you want a different effect. For dark rooms increase the ISO setting, but remember that this will impact how large you can blow the picture up and still have a sharp image. Also open the aperture as wide as possible to allow more light into the camera. Reverse the process for photos taken in bright light.

Woman taking photographs

Learn Composition

Composition is a tricky subject, but good choices in your focal point in a picture can make the difference between a mediocre photo and a fabulous one.

Start by learning about the Rule of Thirds. The rule of thirds is simply dividing the photo area into three sections down and three across. You will have nine equal-sized boxes. Each box should have interest. This means you may need to move your subject off-center or zoom in or out for the best photo.

Look for dynamic interest to add to your photo. If you're taking a landscape picture and there is a vivid pink flower at the edge of the water, how can you best include the flower while still getting an image of the lake in the background? The decision is yours, but thinking through how to set up the photo and how to position it in the frame will create more interesting images.

Photographer shooting photos of fashion model

Find a Specialty

A good photographer can photograph anything, but the best photographers choose a speciality area and perfect their technique. Some speciality areas include fashion, nature, weddings, portraits and sports. Fashion photographers must adapt to work both indoors and out and be prepared to work with props requested by the client, while sports photographers must perfect snapping a photo at the exact right moment and capturing athletes in motion. Portrait and wedding photographers work mainly with posed subjects, but sometimes will take candid shots as well.

A specialty area is where you can really let your creativity shine. Have you ever seen a family portrait and thought how cute or unique it was? A photographer was behind the composition and concept of the photo. How can you make yours unique and help reflect the personality of your subjects?

portfolio with camera on top

Build a Portfolio

A portfolio showcases the best photographs taken by an individual. Begin building a portfolio from the first photo taken. Choose only those photos that have stellar elements in lighting, focus and interest. The portfolio should present the photographer's very best work. Photographers who have chosen a specialty area should put only pictures of that style into the portfolio.

You can purchase albums for your photos at craft stores or photography stores. A photography portfolio is your best choice, because it lends a professional appearance to your collection. Take your portfolio on any business calls, such as when someone is booking you for photography or you are interviewing for a job at a company or portrait studio.

photographing flowers

Get Out There and Shoot!

Perhaps the most important thing when learning how to become a photographer is to remember to go out and shoot. Practicing as much as possible will help hone skills and cement knowledge.

Practice in different lights and under special circumstances, such as rain or wind. Practice with different film speeds, different lens lengths and different manual settings on your camera. The best way to learn is by doing. Over time, you'll develop your own personal photography style.

Don't forget to have fun!

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How to Become a Photographer