How I started learning digital photography

So you want to learn digital photography but don’t know where to start? I recently went through this and will explain what worked for me. Classes at your local community college, online or camera store are the obvious choices when learning but sometimes you just either don’t have the money or time for them. I have not taken any classes so I can not recommend any. I basically have used three resources to learn everything I know: Books, Forums, and a mentor. Everyone is different and what helped me may not necessarily help you, but hopefully you can grab information from here that will be of use to you.

In order here are the most important books I found for leaning the basics.
1. Your camera manual – I kid not, this is the most important book. Without your camera manual you can not put to use all the other things you learn. I cant express enough how important it is to know your camera inside and out so you can use it to the best of its abilities. Camera manuals are also typically available for download on the manufactures website, this make very hand reference. Some like Nikon also have apps available with manuals for on the go viewing.
2. Digital Photography 1,2,3 and 4 by Scott Kelby – This set of four books are enjoyable to read and really explained in basic layman terms. They are set up more as text books so you can jump around in them to the area’s you are most interested in, though I do suggest reading through them completely end to end the first time. After that use them as reference books. Think of this series as the jack of all trades master of nothing for information. It will help you figure out what you need to learn more about.
3. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – Almost a requirement for those starting out this book explains just how exposure works and how to use it. Even if you think you understand exposure I still think you should pick this one up, it really is that detailed and good for learning. Exposure is the lifeblood of photography and the better you understand it the better off you will be.

Between reading these books and forums I was set on the technical basics but lacked in composition and creativity. I have always been a technical person and never had a creative outlet before, so this was my area of struggle.

Here are some books that helped me with composition and creativity, these ones are in no specific order:
1. Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson
2. The Moment It Clicks by Joe McNally
3. The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman
4. Why Photographs Work by George Barr

Other useful books if you end up using the tools they are written for:
1. The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book by Scott Kelby
2. The Adobe Photoshop CS6 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby

Reading these books will give you an excellent base to work off of and by this point you should know enough to find the answers to your own questions.

Books are great for general knowledge, but what happens if you need a little more explanation on something or need some constructive criticism on a photograph you just took? Well that’s where forums come in. There are some great communities out there and you will need to find the one that fits your personality. The one that I found more useful to me was which has some really talented and knowledgeable people on it. It has everyone from beginners to working pro’s so you will find a wide variety of experience and types of photographers. The best part is you don’t even have to make posts and ask your questions, almost everything has been asked before if you just search you will surely find the answers. This is great for people who don’t feel comfortable conversing with others over the internet.

I was fortunate enough to find someone who is a working as photographer to check out my work, give me help full tips, show me examples of his and give me constructive feedback in my work. I happened to find my mentor through thephotoforum but you also may want to check out local photography groups and events like photo walks in your area. Your local camera shop may also have information on where you can find people with similar interests. There is a lot to learn from people who have already been there and done that.

If all else fails Google:
Like the title of this section says, if all the books, forums and people you know cant give you the answer there is always Google search. I very rarely have exhausted my resources to get to the point. Most of the time its looking up hardware I am considering purchasing.

My tips to you:

  • Shoot in RAW not JPG: Most DSLR and some higher end Point & Shoot camera’s will have the ability to output picture is RAW format. RAW format pictures are as close to unedited as you can get, the camera doesn’t apply a lot of the special sharpening, color correction or compression that does happen when you shoot JPG. So why would you want this? Because you can do a lot more to edit a RAW file than a JPG. You can editing a RAW files with either the software that came with your camera or other popular software like Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. You can also edit normal JPG files too with these software titles but if you open up a RAW file with them you will you have a lot more options. Changing things like white balance, individual color channels, more sharpening option and much more without loosing details in the photo. You can do these things with JPG but you loose detail. There is much more to know about RAW and the above books will go over that.
  • Get a decent RAW editor: The software that came with your camera is decent and great for learning. Eventually though you will want more control and features when editing your RAW files. There are tons of programs on the internet that can do this but the more common ones at the time of writing this are Lightroom 4(MAC/PC). Aperture(MAC) and Corel PaintShop Pro X5(PC). I personally use Lightroom 4 and think it is wonderful. I did though purchase a book to get the most out of it, its listed above in the books section. Most of these programs have trials so download them and see what you think before you buy.
  • Don’t go crazy buying gear: This one was especially hard for me, I love hardware and technology. The instant I learned something was better than what I had I wanted to go out and get it. But you need to resist, if you do this, one you will be very poor and two you will be re-buying replacements constantly. New camera’s, lens’s and software come out monthly and most of the time you don’t NEED the upgrade. Until you absolutely need to upgrade because you are being hindered I suggest you don’t. I have seen some people take wonderful pictures from Point & Shoot or even cell phone camera’s. Most of the time what you need is some more knowledge and not hardware.
  • Get out and take pictures: This is probably the best advice you can get. Go out an use all that information you just read about, see how it works in reality. You wont know how much you have improved or where to improve until you see what you can produce. Practice makes perfect really rings true in photography and with digital it doesn’t cost you anything! So get out there and snap away.