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How to Learn Photography as a Beginner

From Jon, published on 20/02/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Photography > Beginners in Photography: Where to Start

“Photography is an art; though it is better than an art, it is a solar phenomenon where the artist collaborates with the sun.” – Alphonse de Lamartine

Photography has become such an important activity in our world today. Nevertheless, few people really master photo techniques in order to produce masterpieces. It is for this reason that many photo classes exist for beginners who wish to pick up a reflex camera or discover analog photography.

Superprof explains everything you need to know before setting off on your way to learn photography!

How Did Photography Begin?

An essential step for any young learner of photography is to learn the history of photography and understand how this art has developed over the centuries!

daguerre-real The daguerreotype, here illustrated by its inventor Louis Daguerre.

At the very start of the history photography, there was a machine which is little known today: the Camera Obscura. This photography machine can be compared to today’s darkroom. Budding photographers hid in a large cage to take a snapshot of their model, which were usually posing outside.

Nevertheless, this revolutionary machine was rather badly perceived by the beginners of photography, to such a point that its inventor, Giovanni Battista, was condemned for sorcery.

It was not until the 19th century that the art of photography became more democratic!

Nicéphore Nièpce, a French inventor, took a photograph in 1825 in Grasse, which remains today the oldest preserved photograph. Although the image is far from clear, this shot marks a before and after in the history of photography.

When he died, his colleague and friend Louis Daguerre resumed his work by developing the famous “daguerreotype,” a photo technique known to all students of photography in the world. By finally managing to fix the image on the glass, Louis Daguerre made photography available to the rest of the world.

It was during the 20th century that photography appeared as a real means of communication. Many famous photographers emerged during this time, immortalizing clichés during two world wars and giving birth to photojournalism.

Today, photography is within everyone’s reach thanks to our smartphones and other SLR cameras. Why not immerse yourself in the history of photography to better understand our modern techniques?

Who Are the Best Photographers in the World?

Even if you do not know the basics of photography, you will have heard of one or two of these illustrious photographers around the world!

famous-shot Steve McCurry’s “The Afghan Girl” is one of a most famous shots around the world!

Although the art of photography is relatively old, it is in the 20th century that professional photographers were revealed to the general public. Thanks to magazines, art books, and more recently to photo blogs and other photo websites, it has become much easier to sell your photos today!

Here is a small non-exhaustive list of the greatest photographers in history:

  • Annie Leibovitz,
  • Richard Avedon,
  • Ansel Adams,
  • Robert Capa,
  • Steve McCurry,
  • David LaChapelle,
  • Helmut Newton,
  • Irving Penn,
  • Diane Arbus, etc.

Immersing oneself in the biographies of the greatest photographers in the world can be a real driving force for young students looking for inspiration!

Most of the time, famous photographers around the world do not come from artistic families at all. The discovery of photography is therefore by chance, and the photographer’s admirable journey demonstrates that anyone can capture the beauty of the world, even without a strong artistic background.

The Top French Photographers

France is the leading country in the art of photography. It was the country that invented photography, to begin with!

It is really thanks to France that we have so many photo associations in the USA.

The first well known photographer was French (for those of you who paid attention his name is Nicephore Niepce). Cityscapes, portraits of women or portraits of men, fashion photography…French photographers have captured many things in their time!

Here are some of the best French photographers:

  • Brassaï
  • Louis Daguerre,
  • Yann Arthus Bertrand,
  • Robert Doisneau,
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson,
  • Willy Ronis,
  • Edouard Boubat,
  • Guy Bourdin,
  • Marc Riboud, etc.

If you live in New York or Chicago, you may have had the chance to admire the works of France’s most popular photographers. There are indeed many exhibitions devoted to photography in cities like New York, and it is a good place to meet other students passionate about photography!

In photo school, but also if you are teaching yourself, it’s a great idea to attend the exhibitions of famous photographers so that you can develop your artistic side and your critical eye in regards to photographic works.

There are also tips from PetaPixels that can help you to get on your way as a beginner photography student:

1. Get in close

It was the famous photojournalist Robert Capa who once said “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” He was talking about getting in amongst the action. If you feel like your images aren’t ‘popping’, take a step or two closer to your subject. Fill the frame with your subject and see how much better your photo will look without so much wasted space. The closer you are to the subject, the better you can see their facial expressions too. 



2. Shoot every day

The best way to hone your skills is to practice. A lot. Shoot as much as you can – it doesn’t really matter what. Spend hours and hours behind your camera. As your technical skills improve over time, your ability to harness them to tell stories and should too. 
Don’t worry too much about shooting a certain way to begin with. Experiment. Your style – your ‘voice’ – will emerge in time. And it will be more authentic when it does. — Leah Robertson

3. See the light

Before you raise your camera, see where the light is coming from, and use it to your advantage. Whether it is natural light coming from the sun, or an artificial source like a lamp; how can you use it to make your photos better? How is the light interacting with the scene and the subject? Is it highlighting an area or casting interesting shadows? These are all things you can utilise to make an ordinary photo extraordinary. 



4. Ask permission

When photographing people, especially while in countries with different cultures and languages, it can be hard to communicate. In certain countries if you photograph someone you are not ‘supposed’ to photograph, it can get ugly and rough very quickly if you are not careful. So out of respect you should always ask permission. 

I have started shooting a series of school children in Pakistan. These are all posed portraits and they are looking down the lens. My guide helps me with the language and I limit myself to smiling, shaking hands, giving ‘hi-five’ and showing them the image on the back of my camera once it is done. You would be amazed how quickly people open up. — Andrea Francolini 


Can One Take Photo Classes Online?

In the age of the internet, it is no longer mandatory to rent a photo studio to progress quickly in photography. Distance education is becoming more and more popular, and today you can take your first online photography lesson with a qualified photographer!

comfort-comp What if you took an introductory course on photography from the comfort of your computer?

No need to have high-tech equipment of high quality. As a general rule, a computer and a good internet connection are enough to take an online photo lesson.

In addition to being easy to organize, a distance photo course offers many benefits:

  • A friendly atmosphere and more relaxed atmosphere than at photo school,
  • Instant chatting with the tutor,
  • Prices that are often reduced,
  • Schedules more flexible,
  • Saving time (no need to take public transportation),
  • The possibility to hire a tutor from a different part of the US,
  • More photo specialties.

It’s easy to find a photographer giving photography tutoring lessons online!

On Superprof, our tutors indicate direcctly on their profiles whether or not they accept to give photo courses on the web. Once you have found your tutor,  you will be able to take advantage of various digital resources (instant messaging, online photo exercises, free photo applications…) and thus develop your autonomy as a professional photographer.

In short, you’ll have everything to become a pro photographer without ever leaving home!

The Solutions to Learning SLR Photography

Easy to use and adapted to all budgets, the digital SLR camera is the equipment to buy for any young learner of photography!

To learn SLR photo in all serenity, an amateur photographer should first acquire material adapted to his or her photo level. You do not have to buy a high quality camera at the beginning of your classes: the basic options (white balance, black and white photo, shutter spee …) are enough to learn the basics of SLR photography.

Once you have acquired your photo material, you can find where you will learn photography:

  • Art schools with a specialization in photography,
  • Associations in order to learn photography,
  • The classified ads of SLR photo teachers,
  • The online classifieds for an SLR photo course,
  • The books specialized in SLR photo,
  • The learning sites for SLR photo.

Our advice: before starting a class in SLR photography, think about studying your device!

There are hundreds of photo tutorials on the internet explaining the options for each brand and model in a downloadable PDF form or via online videos.

Knowing your device will allow you to save time on SLR photo courses and to progress faster in your specialty.

The Best Books to Learn Photography as a Beginner

What if you became an expert in photography by reading a simple book on photography?

basic-technique In a few hours of reading a photo textbook, you will already know the basic techniques of photography.

Every great photographer has a reference book that accompanied him or her through his photo adventure. Whether it’s a biography, one with illustrations, or a handbook…there are many criteria to take into account when choosing what book suits us.

Some illustrious photographers, world-renowned for their talents, have written textbooks for beginners in photography. This is a great way to discover their work while developing your artistic eye!

Here are some of the reference books for practicing photography:

  • “Dial, Set, Trigger” by Anne-Laure Jacquart,
  • “Digital Photography: the Best-of” by Scott Kelby,
  • “Photographing All Year” by Tom Ang,
  • Michael Freeman’s Guide to Lighting,
  • “Practical Photography Exhibition” by Bryan Peterson,
  • “Tips from Pros to Take Successful Photos” by Christian Sanger and Kyra Sanger.

Learning photography with a book is usually a great first step for a beginner in photography. The learning manual is indeed recommended to master the basic techniques of photography in just a few months.

On the other hand, improving in photographic art is not always possible with a simple manual. To become a true professional photographer, it is therefore essential to complete your autodidact learning with additional photo lessons.

So, why not develop your artistic personality through photo lessons for beginners?

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