Learning Photography

6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby

light on leaves and rock, Siem Reap Cambodia copyright Aloha Lavina

Everyone starts somewhere.

But how do you start? When do we start creating magic with the camera?

There no magic tricks that a photographer can weave into a spell for good photography. But there are some tips that might just get you started on the way to making some pretty good imagery.

1. Vary settings for various shooting situations.

It is so easy to let the camera do the work for you—set it on Program mode, and click away. But this is one way to make sure that you continue to be mystified by the way the camera captures an image. If you experimented with the basic modes of Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes, you can see some subtle differences in the way these modes work. This could be your chance to start controlling some of the aspects of each mode to get the shots you want. There are some tutorials on line that simplify Aperture Priority Mode and Shutter Priority Mode for you. Take advantage of these tutorials, and let them lead you onto a learning path to master these camera controls.

2. Learn to see the light.

No matter what your subject matter is, lighting is going to make a difference in how the photos ultimately look like. Learning how to see how light affects the overall image is a skill that you can develop, to start making stunning images.

Light has character, nuance, variations in color and intensity. Studying it closely, you will see how these traits of light change the way a photo looks just with a small change. If you studied how light behaves on objects, you can begin to see the way a photographer sees. And your photos will show it.

light on leaves and rock, Siem Reap Cambodia copyright Aloha Lavina
Light is a beautiful subject. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Every situation is a learning opportunity.

Taking a walk with your camera pretty much constitutes a great photography classroom. If there are people and things in motion, you’ve got a great subject for a study on capturing motion–either freezing it with a fast shutter speed, or making deliberate blur to suggest it.

If you’ve got a sociable nature, you can go out and talk to strangers, and convince them to have their photos taken. This sort of project can help you with making fast decisions about where the subject should stand in relation to light, and how to compose the shot so that you make a portrait that tells part of their stories.

Objects around you will interact with light. On your walk, you can watch out for instances when the light makes something so commonplace so beautiful.

4. Concentrate on composition.

There are a few ways you can hone your composition skills.

First, you can create still life situations in your own home. Placing some objects on a table beside a window, you have some ready subjects to photograph. You can create your own seasonal still life–flowers in the spring, a glass of lemonade glistening with condensation in the summer, pumpkin and berries in the fall, etc.

Second, you can try to vary composition when you’re photographing different scenes in your daily life. How would you shoot a birthday party or a community barbecue, and practice the compositions basics?

Practicing composition is a great place to begin to understand the creative ways you can include or exclude elements in a frame, to make an awesome photograph.

Thai monk hands copyright Aloha Lavina
Learn what to include or exclude from the frame. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Give yourself assignments.

The first spark of love you have for photography is a wonderful feeling. But when difficulty strikes, and your photos don’t come out as well as you wanted, you might feel heartbreak. Sustaining your love for photography is essential for you to get over the obstacles of failed photos. One way to sustain your interest is to give yourself assignments.

Assignments can vary to short, very specific ones like shoot a theme on a given day, to long term projects like my love affair with faceless portraits.

A great lesson I’ve learned which I suggest you take on, is to combine your photography with something else you’re interested in. Do you like sports? Go and shoot sports. If you like fashion, have a friend model the latest releases in clothing and accessories. Do you have a train collection? Make a series of landscapes with trains and railways as the main focus. If you combine your other interests with your photography, you’ll always stay in love with it while you’re learning.

6. Use the photos you see on Flickr and 500px as learning points.

It’s actually useful to drool over photos that other photographers have made. On sites like Flickr and 500px, photographers post daily. Using a subsection of the websites like the Explore page on Flickr or the Editor’s Choices on 500px gives you a great place to start learning experiences based on critical assessment. Critically assessing photos that you see online can help you with how a photographer thinks.

Ratchaburi Thailand weaver of Thai silk copyright Aloha Lavina
A silk weaver in Thailand. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

View a photograph and ask yourself some basic photography questions, like, how did the photographer choose this subject? What’s the vantage point? If the photographer had stood somewhere else, how would the composition change? How does the composition work? What about the composition is compelling, gorgeous, engaging? Where was the light coming from? What time of day was this photo taken? How much of the subject is in the frame? What did the photographer decide to exclude? How could I have shot it better?

I know the last question sounds arrogant, Boo! But asking this question of the pictures you see online and in magazines helps you to improve your own way of approaching subjects. Even though your technical skills may be less developed than those other photographers’ skills, you will gain an understanding of how the photography mind works while you’re critiquing other people’s photos. You don’t have to publish your critique, so why worry? But the focused, deliberate study of photos that work will help you get into the decision making that can change your photos from snapshots to art.

There are a ton of other photo opportunities you can use to guide your beginnings in photography. With these simple tips, you can put yourself on the path to making magic with your images.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

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You might also like:
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively


  1. This was an interesting article. I’ve been working on my photography hobby for about 6 months now (I started when we moved to Seoul), but these are some good tips. I especially like the “questions to ask yourself” about photos part. I spend (waste?) a lot of time looking at photographs and am never sure what I’m looking for! Thanks!

  2. Hi Chelsea, you’re in Seoul! What a photographable city. I think you’re doing great looking at photos–a wonderful and enjoyable way to learn, especially about light and composition. Thanks for stopping by, and Happy New Year!

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