Familiarize yourself with your camera, learn the exposure triangle, learn composition rules, and then learn everything else (visual story telling, color theory, etc.)… This has been the order of things since the beginning of photography, it’s a sort of rite of passage for photographers. It’s backwards. Before you light your torches and arm yourself with a pitch fork, please hear me out. Like you, I started this very same way. Everything I read told me I should be focused on my camera, the settings, and how to expose a scene properly… So I did. For years I was focused on creating technically perfect photographs instead of creating photographs people cared about, photographs I cared about. Now, I know the truth.
Visual StorytellingCommunication using visual elements
Disclaimer: This article is not an excuse to forgo learning the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. There is no substitute for the creative freedom that manually controlling your camera allows. I’m simply proposing that the order you learn these things is backwards.
Our approach to learning photography is out of date. The reason it made so much sense to first learn the relationship between shutter speed, ISO, and aperture 20 years ago was because cameras were manual and required you to adjust these things to create an image that was adequately exposed. Fast-forward 20 years and we have cell phones that can expose an image almost perfectly, with little to no manual adjustments… A CELL PHONE! Almost every camera sold today comes with some sort of auto mode… In fact, I would bet that 99.9% of the cameras that beginner photographers purchase have a completely automatic mode. Embrace it! Yeah, you heard me right (keep reading to find out why).
Trust me, you’ll visit a blog or forum someplace where somebody is bragging about shooting in completely manual mode as if it makes them a better photographer (it doesn’t) and you’ll feel like you need to do the same in order to be any good. Bull. There are smart phone photographers out there that shoot in automatic mode, using the native camera app that came with their phone, that are better than you and me. I don’t care who you are. I would bet my website on this. So what is the right order?
I would challenge you to start your journey by familiarizing yourself with good visual story telling, then composition, and then focus on the exposure triangle. The technical aspects of your camera and the exposure triangle are immensely important once you learn the basics of good composition and story telling. Yeah, you read that right… I’m proposing that you flip what you know about learning photography right on its head. Why?
The Benefits Of Approaching Photography “Backwards”
Learning photography in this order will better keep photographers interest, help us progress more quickly, and save precious hard-drive space.
When we start our photography journey by focusing on the technical aspects of exposing a photograph many photographers simply don’t progress beyond this entry point. You see, not many people start photography because they have a passion for an intimate knowledge of the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. No, many of us pick up a camera because of our desire to create beautiful art, capture intimate moments, or document important things. So why would we start our journey doing something that has a tendency to eventually dis-incentivize many of us?
By starting with the “fun stuff” there is a good chance that one would progress more quickly and stay inspired as they learn the ropes. Think back to when you were in school and you’d have some classes you seemed to just get and others you struggled through. Typically, if you are interested in a subject you tend to be able to learn it more quickly and retain the information longer because you pay closer attention to it. If you take a class that bores the crap out of you, lets just call it Algebra, you’ll likely have to study much harder and may not retain the information long after you study it because of your lack of interest/attention.
Before you start lobbing bricks through my virtual window I feel like it is worth noting that this article is meant for beginner photographers. I’m certainly not proposing that you forget what you know about manually controlling your camera and shoot in auto mode.
The speed at which you progress as a photographer will be much faster if you start with the fundamentals of visual storytelling and composition, then learn the exposure triangle and the intricacies of your camera. There are plenty of veteran professional photographers who will own up to only knowing about 10% of what their camera can do… And yet they are better known than you and I may ever be. They are well-known because they know how to create images that people care about.
When was the last time you saw an amazing image and cared what the photographers settings were (unless you wanted to try to replicate it) or if they shot in auto or manual mode? I promise you that the general public doesn’t give a deer fart whether you shot in auto or manual mode when they look at your photographs. Instagram doesn’t care. Facebook doesn’t care. All anyone cares about is whether the photograph moves them or not.
Let me speak to the veterans out there for a moment… How many of you remember having thousands of crappy photos clogging up your hard-drive from when you were learning the relationship between your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO? I can’t tell you how many under and over exposed images I had… Or perfectly composed, sharp images of boring crap that nobody cares about. Many.
Photography is art. Learn the art of it before you dive into the technical aspects. You’ll find that as you progress as a photographer you’ll need to pick up the technical aspects along the way. Once you start hitting the ceiling of what your camera can do in one of its many auto modes you can start to focus on manually controlling it to squeeze more potential out of it. You’d be surprised at how many photographers spend years learning how to use their camera while creating images that never needed more than the auto mode. Now imagine if they’d spend those years learning about the actual art of photography…
Stay tuned to PhotolisticLife for upcoming articles on Visual Storytelling and other techniques to improve your photography beyond the basics. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.