How to learn photography


Ever wondered how to learn photography and where to start? Read on for everything you need to know…

Can you learn photography on your own?

There are more options than ever when it comes to learning photography on your own and it is possible to teach yourself. However, learning in isolation is not the same as having help on hand to guide you through, answer questions, and impart experience and expertise.

When I’m asked “Can I teach myself photography?” the short answer is “Yes, of course!” but should you teach yourself and is it the best option for you? We’ll clear that up in this post.

I’m self-taught and now professional but I had my ups, downs, and many frustrations along the way! I’ve tried many options myself and have also included feedback from my students who have tried a variety of options.

How hard is it to learn photography?

With the right approach – almost anyone can become a competent photographer given enough commitment and perseverance. That doesn’t mean you’ll be at a professional level straight away but you’ll know which end of a camera is which, how it works, and how to use your camera creatively.

With more experience and understanding comes greater consistency and improved results. Your style will form and you’ll be confident in what you like, what you enjoy and what you’re saying in your photographs. The more you practice and take time to reflect on your photography the faster you’ll progress.

How to learn photography

This is the important bit of learning photography, so take note! Start with the basics and become confident and practice before trying to move on.

Everything rests on a small number of areas you need to know before progressing. Without a strong foundation, it all becomes confusing and disheartening.

Need to buy or upgrade a camera? Check out the ultimate camera buying guide.

Here’s what you’ll need to cover in bite-sized chunks…

The Basics:

How a camera takes a photo

Exposure:

Aperture & Aperture-Priority Mode
Shutter Speed & Shutter-Priority Mode
ISO
Metering Modes
Using the histogram
Exposure Compensation

Depth of Field:

What is Depth of Field
How does Aperture, distance to the focal point, and focal length alter the DoF
Hyperfocal distance

Other Technical:

RAW vs JPEG
White Balance
Shooting Modes – single shot, high-speed shooting, etc

Creative Theory & Composition

The same creative theories cover all forms of art but here are a few basic things to learn

Rule of Thirds
Symmetry
Leading Lines
Visual weight and balance

Hmmm, there’s more here than I first thought!


Self-taught Ways to Learn Photography

Trial and error

This one falls somewhere between reading the manual (crazy, right?!) and twiddling all the knobs and hoping it makes sense. The user guide is a technical manual (yawn) and will make for a very dry read. This approach could teach you the different automatic modes and even how to access the manual modes where creativity can truly happen. But without learning the theory it will be near impossible to use the manual modes.

I’ve seen this approach before and it never ends well! It’s like learning guitar with only the user manual showing you how to unbox, get it tuned and make some sound!

Pros

Urm, uh, hmmmm….

Cons

Slow
Difficult
Frustrating
Inconsistent Results


Read a book!

You can call this the old-school option! Books are a cheap and readily available route for learning photography on your own. Content and examples are shown alongside each other often in a well thought through learning plan that you can easily dip in and out of. Not just anyone can have their book published by a large publisher – so you’ll find the quality and accuracy of information very good.

Cameras change but the fundamentals remain the same – even an old book on digital photography will do the job. Check reviews where available or visit a bookshop (that’s the second crazy idea in this blog post!) and find one that is well presented and makes sense to you.

Photography magazines also publish content on learning photography from the beginning or specific skills and styles. This approach has similar pros and cons but will work out more expensive and will not give the cohesive learning to truly learn how to use your camera. I see magazines as more of a supplement for inspiration and way to take little steps forwards once you’re down with the basics of photography.

Pros

Economical
Readily available
Quality of information will be good

Cons

No help on hand to overcome issues
You might not be a fan of learning from written material
Won’t show how to use features on your specific camera


Youtube

There is so much free online content that you really can teach yourself photography for free. YouTube leads and is where you’ll find inspiration and content to take you beyond just learning photography basics. Find a channel that’s enjoyable, reliable, and easy to follow to start your learning but with so much content it can take a little digging around, trial and error.

Pros

Free
Huge choice of content
Video content may be preferable for some
YouTube recommends other content that might help

Cons

The choice of videos can be overwhelming
No guarantee content will be accurate and helpful
Won’t show how to use features on your specific camera
Having your questions answered is reliant on the author replying to comments


Guided ways to learn photography

Photography Workshop Group Photo

Photography Workshops

I’m often surprised how photography workshops are the preferred way to learn by many. There’s something about being around others with the same passion and the same goal of improving. Group workshops are available all across the UK and include trips abroad, too.

Workshops vary in content and duration; from a half-day all the way through to multiple days or sometimes weeks! Check the content is right for you and get in touch with the instructor first if you’re not sure.

Pros

An excellent way to quickly jump-start your learning
Expertise on hand – ask plenty of questions!
Dedicated learning time away from distractions
Practice and learning combined

Cons

More expensive than teaching yourself


Individual Photography Lessons

One-to-one lessons are the ideal way to learn at a pace that suits you at a time that suits you. Guided lessons not only cover the theory but also how to apply it to your specific camera. I’ve taught on a number of occasions where camera settings had been poorly adjusted leading to every photo being too dark, out of focus or blurry from camera shake! Correcting these issues is an added benefit of one-to-one lessons where you receive 100% of the help.

It helps to decide what you’d like to learn to get the most from your photography lessons or follow a structured plan. You can decide to start from the beginning or do you know a little but want to move away from auto mode? If you’re in Sussex or nearby feel free to see what I offer in my photography lessons.

Pros

Tailored to you
Work at your own pace
Specific to your camera
Help on hand every step of the way
Follow-up support after each lesson

Cons

More expensive than workshops
Reliant on having a tutor in your area


Photography Courses

Having time to digest and practice is beneficial. Learning lots in one go, e.g. a weekend workshop, is great but can be too intense for some.

A photography course is a great choice for taking a significant step forward whilst having time to practice and reflect in between lessons. As with other guided ways to learn you will have access to a tutor to help overcome challenges and help you on your way.

A course can be in a group or one-to-one format. One-to-one is more flexible with timings e.g. what happens if you’re not available for one week? But which of the two options is better? The same pros and cons apply as before for group learning vs a dedicated course of lessons for you.

Check out the lessons page for Photography Courses Brighton & Sussex.

Pros

Continued regular learning is the ideal
Time to reflect and practice between lessons
Help on hand every step of the way
Follow-up support after each lesson

Cons

Requires greater commitment!
Group Courses aren’t flexible on dates or times


Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this how-to-learn photography guide helpful. The choices available will depend on your preferences, affordability, and level of commitment. You can teach yourself photography especially if you’re committed and resilient to setbacks but please do not go the trial-and-error route. At the least find a good book or Youtube Channel.

Guided learning with a tutor is the ideal and you’ll find more structure, faster progress, and less frustration along the way. Or use a combination starting with a tutor for an excellent grounding in the basics giving a platform to build on. From there on use self-taught methods and practice with the fallback option of using a tutor for a health check or should you get stuck.

Whatever option you choose – please enjoy the journey and newly found creative expression!

Picture of Matt Goddard

Matt Goddard

Matt is a professional landscape photographer and the sole content author here. Based in Sussex, he centres his work around his home county and surrounding South East England landscape. Matt has taught photography to over 150 students on a one to one and group basis since 2016. Visit Full Biog
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