6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Doing Photography

dad by fire in jt

There’s a lot to learn about being a photographer that you can’t find in a manual.

If you guys haven’t seen it yet, I just made a new portfolio of all my favorite work. Going back through all my photos made me realize how much evolved and improved over the past 5 years. It’s so crazy and cool to see. Looking at how far I’ve come inspired me write this post, 6 things I wish I knew when I was just starting out.

1. You don’t need all the fancy equipment.

When I was first starting out, I thought I needed to buy all the latest and greatest tripods, lenses, bodies… you name it. I’m lucky that I was young and broke, or else I would’ve definitely bought all this stuff. And regreted it.

You 100% do NOT need to buy a bunch of expensive fancy equipment. All you need is a reliable camera body, one or two good lenses, and if you really think you’ll need it, a cheap tripod. This is with the exception of astrophotography (you need a tripod if you are doing astro / low-light / anything with long exposure), telephotography, macro photography, etc of course. But this article is mainly about travel, lifestyle, and portrait because that’s my field and the subject matter that I have the ability to speak on.

I can fit everything I use to shoot in a camera bag. I use a Nikon D3300, two good lenses (one for portrait photography specifically, and one for everything else), a collapsing travel-tripod, extra SD cards/batteries, and a remote trigger. (I am looking to add a wide-angle lens to my collection though. So if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments please!)

You’re the one taking the photo, not the camera. The way your photos come out is going to depend on your vision and skill, not the equipment.

Sidenote: The Nikon vs. Canon debate is dumb.

When I was first starting out, I thought I had to be a die-hard Nikon fanatic and fight everyone who shot Canon. In reality, I couldn’t tell you a single solid reason why Nikon was superior. Don’t be like me. Nikon and Canon are basically the same; I only shoot Nikon because that’s just what I started out with, and most equipment (like lenses) are not compatible between brands. They do the same things in basically the same ways.


2. You’re not going to like everything you shoot.

Prepare to be frustrated.

Sometimes, I have a really good idea for a shoot and I get it all set up and I’m super excited about it. And theeeen… I don’t get any stellar photos. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Sometimes you’ll do a whole shoot and not like any of them. Or, you’ll think you got some good ones at the time, and then once you get it home and uploaded, it’s just not working. You’ll spend hours in Lightroom trying to make it look like you envisioned. Sometimes it just isn’t going to happen. It’s just part of the process. Be happy that you got the experience, even if no gems came out of it. But I know, I know. Easier said than done.


3. Being a photographer makes you see the world differently.

You’ll start to think about framing everything you see, where the light should fall, what kind of model would look good here. It’s almost as if I’m constantly looking through a view-finder.

It’s really cool to see how the way you think starts to evolve. That being said, there’s a downside. I’ve personally had trouble with my “photo-fixed mindset” interfering with just enjoying adventuring and exploring. If you’re constantly thinking about how a moment will look on your camera, how can you be truly present? As someone who believes being present and mindful is a key component of authentic living, I’ve had to learn how to combat this.

You have to retrain yourself to see the camera as a supplement to the moment, not the moment itself. Don’t look back through your photos until you get home. Take some adventures that are purely dedicated to exploring, no cameras allowed. I’ve found that time away from photography every now and then actually helps me improve.

Story time.

One of my most freeing and most favorite trips ever was to Hawaii a couple years ago. I was wading in the waters of the Big Island, getting some shots at Papakolea, one of only 4 green sand beaches in the entire world, when a huge wave came and knocked my wriststrap off. My GoPro was swept out to sea.

I was devastated. I’m a lot better with it now, but at the time, I was going through a period where my mindset was completely focused on getting the perfect shot. I lost a lot of amazing underwater footage of swimming with sea turtles and exploring lava tubes. But in hindsight, it was definitely a blessing in disguise. I ended up have the best time of my life with the people I love. In the end, it didn’t matter that I lost a few days of content (even if they were an epic few days). And who knows, maybe one day, someone somewhere around the world will find the coolest time capsule ever washed up on the beach.

Not a picture of Hawaii, for obvious reasons.


4. Shoot RAW.

When I first started taking photos, I didn’t even know what RAW was. RAW is a file format that captures all the visual data recorded when you take a photo. Shooting in JPEG (like I used to), compresses the image, losing some of the information.

Shooting in RAW will ensure you get the highest quality images. It will also make a lot more possible in post-shoot editing. I find that I bring back a lot more shadows with RAW images than with JPEG. The level of detail is also a lot better. Sometimes, shooting in JPEG is alright, but if you think there’s even a possibility that you’ll ever want to enlarge and make a print of your photo, shoot RAW.

A lot of times, if I have the available memory, I’ll shoot in JPEG and RAW (you can set your camera to do this in the settings menu). Shooting on this setting will capture two copies of the same image, one in each format. This makes it easier to share the images with my friends who just want to look at the photos on their computer or share them to Facebook. But I also have a RAW copy which I can access and use.


5. Get trigger-happy.

Don’t miss the perfect shot. There’s nothing worse than going through your photos from the day and thinking, “If only I’d hit the trigger a millisecond earlier!” This is especially important when shooting people. The way their hair flows in the wind or how they look laughing will never be exactly the same twice.

columbia portrait


6. The best photos aren’t the ones that just look pretty, but the ones that tell a story.

Yeah, sunsets are nice to look at. But does the photo tell a story? When you look at it, can you understand what type of day it was? How the photographer felt about the subject? Is the picture honest?

I think a common misconception about photography is that photos should always make you feel happy. I’d like to challenge that and say that “good” photos are ones that stir up any powerful emotion, whether that feeling be bittersweet or longing or, yes, happy.

The photos of mine that I end up loving the most aren’t always perfectly in focus. Sometimes, they’re grainy or have light leaks coming in the side. I love them though because they are authentic and true to the story I was trying to tell.

dad by fire

When I first started shooting, I got really caught up in making sure the light was perfect and that the photo was “conventionally beautiful.” And yeah, I got some good shots, but nothing memorable.

This is probably the most important thing that I’ve learned as a photographer. In order to create powerful photos, you have to put a piece of yourself into your work. Open up, be honest. Photos are meant to tell stories; let them!


Published by emilyboelee

Emily Boe Lee is a documentary and travel photographer specializing in visual storytelling.

3 thoughts on “6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Doing Photography

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