What I Wish I Knew When Starting Out | FAQ for Beginners

When I first got interested in photography at the very beginning of high school, I had so many questions! I found myself constantly wondering the same things over and over again while looking at any photos that inspired me and finding my favorite photographers. I became pretty obsessed with searching for the answers to my questions and was grabbing onto any and all photography education I could get my hands on online. This is how I completely taught myself! You absolutely do not need any formal photography education, like art schools, college, or professional workshops, as long as you are totally committed to teaching yourself and learning as much as you possibly can. So, I’ve answered all the questions below that are the same exact ones that I wanted to know when I first started out. The answers to these questions, given by all the photographers that influenced my work, are what really shaped my self-taught journey and still shape my work today.

1.     What equipment do you shoot with?

Right now I shoot with the Nikon D750 and I absolutely love it! It’s amazing in low light, and let’s me shoot underexposed to avoid blowing out the highlights without having to worry about too much grain when bringing the shadows up. For lenses, I use the Nikkor 50mm 1.4 and 35mm 1.4. I use the 50mm for all of my senior sessions because the compression is super flattering. I use the 35mm for my couples and equestrian sessions because it’s wider angle lets me get closer but have more in the frame. I love the little bit of distortion the 35mm gives when you get up close to the subject because it makes the photos seem more real/personal.

2.     How do you find/choose your locations?

I honestly find my locations just by driving around. When you’re looking closely, Carroll County has tons of little spots that look amazing in photos, but you have to know what kind of spot you’re looking for. I use different locations for every single session, so when I go out looking I usually have a specific “look” in mind. Usually I’m looking for a tall overgrown field, a quiet backroad, or a wooded area. The most important factor when I’m location scouting is the light! I always try to go out scouting in the same type of light and time of day I’ll be shooting, which is golden hour. I’m SO picky about what the light needs to look like at locations it sometimes makes it super hard to find spots, but locations can be anywhere really. Photographers have the power to transform a not so great location into something really beautiful in images.

3.     What settings do you usually shoot at?

I shoot in manual, so my settings will be different for every situation. But, in general, my aperture is almost always between 1.4 and 2.8. 1.4 is my favorite aperture to shoot at because I love the creamy depth of field look it gives. When I need a little wider depth of field, like when I’m shooting couples or equestrians with their horses, I’ll be closer to 2.8 to keep everything in focus. Aperture is most important to me, so I set that first, then set the shutter speed and ISO accordingly. My shutter speed is never under 1/200 to make sure all the motion is stopped, and the ISO is the lowest possible number that lets me keep the aperture and shutter where I want it.

4.     What do you edit your images with?

For every session, I start by opening up the RAW images in Adobe Camera Raw where I do all the exposure and color corrections with my custom presets I’ve created. Then I open them in Photoshop where I retouch skin, remove anything I don’t want in the background, sharpen, and export.

5.     Do I need to specialize in a certain type of portrait photography?

When you’re just starting out, it’s good to shoot as many different types of sessions/subjects as possible to get a feel for what you like. Overtime most people naturally specialize, and I think its best for most photographers to. With so much competition these days, you’re more likely to be profitable with a strong brand that focuses on a specific type of photography. Instead of being a photographer that people think of as someone who is okay at everything from weddings to seniors to newborns, you’ll stand out more if you are THE photographer people think of when they think of senior portraits, or another specific type of photography. For me, the decision to specialize in seniors, equestrians, and couples was super easy because these sessions are the ones that inspire me the most and the ones I really excel at.

6.     How do you get such good lighting in your images? Do you use a reflector?

I get my images to look the way they do by shooting backlit! I place my subject’s back to the sun which gives soft, even lighting on their face and I can control the light coming into the frame by where I position myself and my client in relation to the sun.  I don’t use reflectors. When shooting I either expose for my subject’s face or slightly underexpose them, so while editing I bring up the shadows on their faces and drop the highlights of the background to get the balanced exposure I want.

7.     What’s the one thing you learned that drastically improved your photography?

How to control light! Once I learned how to shoot in and control different types of light, my work improved dramatically. Learning how to do this is SO SO SO important if you want to become a pro. Photography is literally defined as “painting with light” so to say it’s important is a big understatement!

8.     What’s your biggest piece of advice for someone just starting out?

To anyone just starting out with photography, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! Ask your friends to model for you, follow your pets around the house, experiment and shoot as much as you possibly can. That’s the easiest and fastest way to improve. The learning never stops for photographers, and if you’re willing to put the practice in and learn, you’ll start creating work you’re truly proud of.