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5 Things a Photographer Wishes He Had Learned Earlier in His Career

Photography is about growth, and there are many times I wish that I could tell my younger self a few things about photography. While I'd start out by saying "You're not as good as you think you are," there are a few more practical tips in this video from Gear Focus.

Dan with Gear Focus shares a key tip to start that often gets misinterpreted: Shoot in manual mode. While I'm an advocate for manual mode insofar as it applies to the triangle of exposure (that's ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for those keeping score) I've often seen beginners apply the manual mode mantra to something that should, especially in 2021, not be manual, which is focusing. Manual mode exposure is a great way to get creative control of an image, and manually choosing a focus point is a further degree of control, but full manual focus is A) Incredibly hard to do on the junk viewfinders of modern DSLRs that weren't really designed for it and B) wastes a perfectly good autofocus system that's probably on your camera already. Even an entry-level Canon EOS Rebel T8i boasts a more robust and accurate autosystem than the first professional camera I used for news photography, a far more expensive Nikon D2H in the mid-2000s. That's not to speak of the even better sensor and low-light capabilities of the camera. So use manual mode, but stick to autofocus.

One of the things I wouldn't have thought of, but that makes perfect sense, is enabling the gridlines on your camera. The grids are usually buried deep in the menus of a camera, and while on DSLRs I would often turn these on, I find that mirrorless cameras already have busy enough views that I've often kept this off on the latest models, but it's something that's probably a good practice to get back to. A 3x3 grid helps quite a bit in framing up with the rule of thirds in mind.

A common refrain that's repeated here is investing in glass instead of camera bodies. I've lost count of the number of camera bodies I've owned over the years. They come and they go. But there has been glass that I've held on to for more than a decade that still sees regular use. While a body can get you more megapixels, or better low light performance, or faster autofocus, the glass is what gives your image the look you're after. There's nothing like a high-quality portrait lens, such as the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM that creates fantastic images no matter what body it's hooked up to, for instance.

That said, a new body can sometimes also breathe life into older lenses. Lenses that required constant micro-adjustment on a DSLR are much more accurate when adapted to newer mirrorless cameras. My EF glass on my Canon EOS R does much better with that camera's focusing that's accomplished entirely on the sensor vs. a separate system. Canon probably wouldn't like me saying it, but I haven't felt a burning need to upgrade to RF glass because of how good the adapted EF lenses are.

One More Tip

To the tips in the video, I'd add one from my own experience. Beginning photographers should invest in a solid tripod. I've had a lot of photos ruined by cheap, unsteady tripods as well as a camera or two tumble from the same. A good tripod is worth the price of admission and after spending on several cheap tripods, my first Manfrotto from more than a decade ago is still going strong, along with the other Manfrottos I've picked up along the way.

Do you have any tips to share with beginning photographers? Leave them in the comments below.

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2 Comments

Brian McGuinness's picture

Agree on the solid tripod. I also have an older solid Manfrotto that has served me well when needed. The rage is the lightweight carbon fiber travel tripods but shop around wisely for these. Also agree on autofocus systems-why shoot manual focus especially in low light!

barry cash's picture

Manual BUT Auto ISO it has saved so many shots (with digital the additional captures are free), Cameras that have long lasting batteries many shots lost due to changing batteries, learn light, shoot the light, bend the light and subtract the light, use a flash (but use it right). Know your camera!

shoot the same image many ways horizontal-vertical-at an angle-square, never use the exposure slider to brighten the image until you have exhausted all other possibilities.

Get down LOW always make some shots low (especially when shooting children) expose for the highlights, use a faster shutter speed than you think, be aware of your surroundings when looking thru the viewfinder.

Gear doesn't matter