Brand New Camera? Take a hike

Photo by Loic Dupasquier

Thousands of people around the world are beginning to understand that getting a new camera does nothing to make their pictures any better. Many are being struck with the realization that even with a brand new camera they’re still stuck with the same old bad pictures.

It’s really not all that hard to understand. The number of features and selection options on new cameras is bewildering. Over the holidays my mom asked me to help get her Canon point-and-shoot menu settings back to normal and it took me 10 minutes of fiddling with the controls and scrolling the menus to figure it out.

Reading the cameras manual, which I highly recommend, will tell you where the menu options can be located and what they do, but that won’t help you take better pictures because it doesn’t tell you when to apply the settings. It won’t help you figure out when it’s okay to shoot with the camera on auto and when to seize control and how much control to exercise in a given shooting situation.

A monkey takes self-portraits

Anyone can point a camera and push the button, even a monkey can get decent photos. Owning a camera doesn’t make you a photographer any more than owning car makes you Mario Andretti. It take practice and a lot of bad photos in order to learn the ropes. The late French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is considered to be the father of modern photojournalism once said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”.

Step one toward being a better photographer will be learning the basics about composition and framing. Then brush up on exposure and color.

One of the best thing you’ll be able to do to improve your photography is as simple as taking a walk. Find a local photowalk in your area and sign up. Photowalks are sponsored by photo clubs, local professionals, professional photography associations, art schools, nature clubs and photography institutes. Most of them are free, a few charge a small fee depending on the venue. There are also guided photowalks where you pay a local photographer to take you around.

Photo taken during a recent photo walk by Snapsort employee Phil Davis

Don’t scoff at shelling out a few bucks to take you on a guided photowalk.  If you’re in an unfamiliar area, they can be a great resource for finding the most photogenic spots.

It’s really not anything fancy, just a group of photographers getting together and walking around taking pictures. Really, that’s it. Most are fairly loosely organized. You might start out as a big group, but most end up with photographers filtering back in small groups or on their own. Some walks have models that volunteer in return for portfolio images, most are just wandering around taking pictures on a lazy afternoon.

Photo by Brian Yap from flickr

And yet you’ll find many local professionals go on photowalks themselves. I use them to network with local pros and advanced hobbyists on a regular basis. The last one I went on had about 20 shooters, maybe half of them pros, I came back with cards full of shots and a handful of business cards. I’ve worked with some of the pros I met there on other projects.

So when it comes to learning how to get the most from your new camera, if someone tells you to take a hike, that’s probably good advice.