Recently I read an article by Thorin Klosowski where he described that he had “tried and failed to get into photography several times in his life. He liked the idea of taking beautiful photos, but all the rules, settings, and tricks seemed impenetrable. Within the last year, some of those basics finally clicked in his head, and he finaly “got” it. Here’s what did it for him, so you don’t have to search for them yourself”.

Let’s just run through his photography failures, just for some context. In high school and early college, he wanted to be a concert photographer. Having spent spent tons of money developing poorly-shot 35mm film from a cheap SLR camera. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t get the hang of it. The combination of shooting crappy punk rock shows and waiting to get the film developed made it hard to learn how to use his camera properly. Later he tried again in college with a bulky mid-2000s compact, but the awkward size combined with my own lack of direction meant the camera spent most of its life on a shelf. Photography is hard, and nothing about it clicked, as it were.

Eventually, smartphones came along. They reinvigorated his desire to learn how to use a camera properly, and he recently found a camera that both suits my needs and that found he would actually carry around with him, the Sony RX100. As a bonus, he also learned how to use the damn thing. A lot of different factors fell into place for this whole thing to stick, and he is now able to enjoy it as a hobby. If you’re interested in photography too, don’t be me—start with these suggestions.

Quit Obsessing Over the Camera and Just Pick One You’ll Actually Use

The Photo Tips That Finally Clicked and Made Me a Better Photographer

He was certainly not a gearhead, but that doesn’t mean he did not do my due diligence when it comes to big purchases. This is problematic with photography, because he felt that a lot of professional photographers love saying things like, “sure, you can get that point-and-shoot but you should learn how to shoot with an SLR.” Sure, I want to take great photos. I want to have professional grade equipment, because if it’s good enough for them, it’ll be great investment for me as a beginner and hopefully as a budding pro too, right? For whatever reason, people like to make any camera that’s not a DSLR sound inadequate, sometimes even useless.

After some research, he discovered Sony’s RX100 line of point and shoot cameras. They take great photos, have lots of manual settings, and fit in a shirt pocket. In the last few months  Thorin took more pictures with this camera than he had with any other camera he had previously owned (except maybe a smartphone.) Why? Because it’s the type of camera that suited his needs, and the best tool is the one you’ll actually use. You may not like the idea of looking like an amateur when you’re surrounded by people with fancy cameras, but it doesn’t matter. Think about whether you need that high end gear, or if you just think you do because that’s what review sites and enthusiasts recommend.

Watch YouTube Guides for Your Camera, They’re Incredibly Helpful

Once you do find the camera that suits your needs, you have to learn how to use it. Here’s the bad news: your camera’s manual sucks. Good news though: YouTube exists, and it’s helpful.

Provided you don’t own the most obscure camera possible, there’s a good chance you’ll find dozens of tutorials, reviews, and tips for using your camera on YouTube. Watch them all. You’ll not only learn how to use your camera and what every button, dial, and feature actually does, you’ll also learn some of its quirks and problems. You’ll even see how to work through those problems, and how to tweak your camera settings to work better for you and the pictures you want to take, whether it’s low-light club photos or macro-lensed nature photography.

Tips and tutorials have obvious advantages, but reviews are more useful than you’d think too, even after you’ve purchased your camera. Reviews will usually point to a camera’s flaws, which can help you figure out which features work best, and which are pretty useless. A few of my favorite review sites are DPreview, PCmag,  Cnet, Kenrockwell,  Gizmodo on Youtube They also tend to work as a quick demonstration of your camera’s basic functions, which cuts down on the learning curve. This was especially handy for me, since Sony’s user interface is awful.

Find the Right Photography Guide for You

Read any photography tutorial and you’ll get blasted with numbers, bizarre acronyms, and industry buzzwords that make no sense. This is one of the main reasons that photography is such a dense hobby to get into. F-stops. Megapixels. Sensor size. Photography nerds love to throw terminology in your face from the get-go. Most of this is completely useless for beginners.

Perhaps most of us are visual learners, but nothing I’d read about the various settings on a camera really stuck in my brain. I came across two guides that finally helped. Our friends over at Gizmodo made a video that demonstrates what each setting on a camera’s dial does, and that was one of the first to really sink in. After watching it, I finally understood how each setting worked and why (or when) I’d actually use it. It also showed me that manual mode was not always necessary. Shutter priority and aperture priority do the trick most of the time, while program auto does the rest. For some reason, some people assumed it was shameful to use anything except manual, and that’s not the case, no matter what a self-enshrined photo pro will tell you.

Speaking of shutter and aperture, this graphic explaining ISO, aperture, and shutter speed also helped me a lot. I used to obsess over the specifics of a number—say, when exactly I’d use f/5.6 over f/8—but I’ve learned it’s not the specifics that matter, it’s understanding each setting conceptually. The higher the f-stop number, the more in focus the entire scene is. That’s all I (and you) need to remember.

There are hundreds of guides, tutorials, and graphics are out there (including our own extensive guide). What worked for him won’t necessarily work for you, but spend some time looking to find the one that does, and don’t force yourself to suffer through a guide that doesn’t. Eventually it’ll all sink in and you’ll be on your way to better photos.
This Chart Shows How Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Affect Your Photos

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The Photo Tips That Finally Clicked and Made Me a Better Photographer

10 Reasons Why Professional Photographer Jason Lanier Left Nikon and started shooting with Sony

Some people are satisfied with being able to use their cameras well, take some vacation pictures, toss in some family portraits, and call it a day.  It’s cool that people can take technically great photos. But, learning to take technically great photos of everyday things is like trying to learn some blazing fast Yngwie Malmsteen guitar solo. It doesn’t serve any purpose to me and doesn’t hold my interest. For me, it’s about finding a niche I’m comfortable in and emulating that.

Once you have a style that inspires you, you need people who inspire you. There are all kinds of ways to find other photographers, practice your skills, and experiment with your camera. For a challenge seek out Facebook groups and web sites have daily or weekly photo challenges to give you new ideas. Social networks like 500px, Flickr, and Instagram make it easy to discover photographers that inspire you. Find a photo you like, try to reverse engineer its composition and technical details, and then try to snap a similar picture. You’ll learn a ton about your camera and all about composition in one shot.

Like many things, photography is only as intimidating as you allow it to be.