Why it’s Important to Know Photography (It’s Not Enough to Know Your Camera)

Ever since digital cameras came into the market, many people interested in photography have been concentrating only on learning more and more about how their camera works, and how they can use it so they can get photos the way they want. In my classes, many of my students do the same. They are fascinated with their camera and want to know how every item in the menu works to help them get better photos. My question to everyone who wants to know everything about their camera is, why?

New generations of photographers think that if they see videos or attend free seminars from groups on the Internet that they will become photographers. Since when did photography stop being a profession in which people went to school and graduated from a place like Columbia College, the Art Institute or other places where you need to go for at least 2 years, immersing yourself in classes about photography? Now, do you really need to get a degree to become a photographer? Of course not! But! But, there is a big but…if you are going to learn photography, you need to learn it the right way, and not only how your camera works and what you can change to get better photos. By learning photography, you will be able to use any camera in the world because they all do the same thing. The only difference is that the controls are in different places when using different name brands.

learn photography the right way

I know for a fact that, to become a photographer, you need to learn photography first and then maybe you can become one. The thing about most people who are interested in photography is that a lot of them have never been exposed to photography. Most of them don’t know anything about how to use an external flash, and they just concentrate on the menu of their camera. They need to know that the moment they change “things” on their camera, they have to start all over again. Some people don’t understand that if they know the basics so well that they can recite them forwards and backwards, they will be able to use any camera in the world with very little effort.

I recommend that anyone who wants to learn photography learn the basics first.

Why is that? It’s mainly because people are always looking for the next best camera, and there are programs that allow you to get better photos with your camera. Unfortunately, very few people actually want to learn photography. They want the camera to do everything for them. If you truly learn photography, you will be able to figure out the apertures, shutter speeds, light meter, white balance, and all the settings that you absolutely need to know so you can get an image the way you want to. When you use the programs in your camera, you are just allowing the camera to do everything for you, and you will never really learn photography that way. Photography has not changed that much in 200 years. What has changed are the tools that we, as photographers, use.

tips to actually learn photography

Okay, now for the real purpose of this article – to tell you what you need to learn about your camera extremely well, so you can be a photographer one day too. Start learning the following things first:

  1. How to use the camera in “M” mode. (“M” stands for Manual mode.)
  2. What are shutter speeds? How do you change them in your own camera? How do they affect a photograph?
  3. What are the apertures of the lens? How to change them in your own camera? How do they affect a photograph?
  4. What is the light meter? (All cameras have one), and how do you use it?
  5. Never use anything on the “auto” mode in your camera.
  6. What is the ISO? How does it affect a photograph? Learn to never use an ISO higher than 400. Think about this: in the past, when any photographer was using 200 ASA film in the camera, or any other film, and wanted to photograph a very specific subject, they did not change the ASA to a higher number. Photographers simply learned how to use the film they had in the camera without changing the film. That’s what photographers do.
  7. How to focus in a way that your photos are always sharp!
  8. Always record your images in RAW and not jpg. You need to know what raw files are and why they are the best format to use for all photographs. When you only record jpg files, the camera gets rid of approximately 50% of the data that forms the image so the files are smaller. And, the files aren’t safe. They keep deteriorating every time you open them or do anything with them.

Anyone that wants to become a photographer needs to know all these things about photography and be able to apply them to any camera. Of course, some of you have a thorough understanding of every single item in the menu of your camera, and know how and why to change something, so this doesn’t pertain to you. By all means, keep doing what you’ve been doing. But if you are reading this, and don’t know much about photography or your camera, this is all you need to change. Think about it, the camera is already preprogrammed for you so you can take very decent photos so, don’t start changing everything! Learn about what I’ve listed, and leave the camera alone.

Sometimes in my classes, I have to help my students to reset the camera to factory standards. Why? Because they have played with the settings on the menu, and after changing something, most people don’t put it back. Before too long the camera is not working properly. How this happens is simple. Some people will read an article about how changing something on the camera menu will get better photos, so they go ahead and try it. Later they read something else and they change it again, and by the time they actually go out and take a photo, they have no idea what they did. If by chance they get a better photo, they have no idea what worked, which change actually helped. If you ever change something on your camera, try it immediately and if you don’t see any change, or it changes way too much, simply put the setting back the way it was.

tips to really know photography

I don’t mean to be rude, or come across as a know-it-all, but you if you want to truly learn about photography, please let me tell you the best way to accomplish that. I, too, am always learning new things. But, what it comes down to making a choice between two options.

1. Concentrate on learning photography and forget about messing with the settings of your camera. Photography classes provide a lot of good information. Heck, if you live in Chicago, come and take my classes.


2. Keep doing what you have been doing so far. Continue to be frustrated because most things that you find on the internet are designed for people that want to improve without really learning photography. The Internet is designed to sell you the next gadget.

I know, I know – you think that I’m wrong. But, whether you prove me right or wrong, I will be helping you become a photographer, and that’s why I’m writing this article. I hope that if you truly want to become a professional photographer, you find this article helpful. I’m not very good at being gentle with people. I like to tell it like it is. So, start by reading Michael Langford’s excellent book for people that truly want to learn photography.

When I was a student I used to read many articles about photography. I would read one chapter and then go out and practice until I got it right, and this was all with film and not digital. I learned so much just by reading all the books by Ansel Adams. I’m including a link to a book by Ansel Adams, and you might think, “Why do I want to learn about film cameras?” Simple! These books are about photography, not just your digital wonder. Please read them, you’ll thank me later.

I’m including some of my own photos and hope you like them enough and to go out and practice. By the way, please don’t ask me what technique I used to capture these images. I only used my knowledge in photography, and for that, all you need is a camera, a decent lens, (for some of these photos) a tripod and patience. I know that some of you believe, from watching a YouTube video on how to capture landscapes, or people or any other photo, that you need use a special technique or special lens. Nothing is further from the truth. Some great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson never used any other lens than his 50 mm on his Leica camera. He became one of the founders of the agency Magnum and received many awards throughout his life. All that was without using anything other than his 50mm lens! To capture people, landscapes, or any other type of photography, you need to truly know photography and not just one technique.

the importance of learning real photography

Many of you capture hundreds of photos hoping that some of them are good. This is the wrong approach. What you need to do is to slow down and think very carefully about composition and not which program in your camera will give you the image you are trying to capture.

That said, if you want to improve your photos, use a polarizer filter on your camera lens. Why? Because by using one you will be able to control contrast, enhance color and eliminate glare or reflections in your photos. Just learn how to use it correctly. Using one at 90° degrees from the sun will give you the maximum effect provided by the filter. You can use it at any other angle from the sun at a lesser effect.

There’s one more thing you should know about filters. Are you one of these photographers that spends a lot of money on a very good lens and then purchases a filter kit for $10.00? What do you expect to get for $10.00 bucks, a prize-winning photo? The reality is that, in photography, you get what you pay for. You can get a Volkswagen, a Cadillac or a Rolls Royce of filters. And of course, the very good filters are pricy. Look for the Rolls Royce of filters, B&W. These filters are made in Germany from optical glass and not plastic. Another company that I like is Tiffen, a Cadillac of filters. Stay away from all the kits that have a bunch of filters as none of them are very good. Of course, you can always purchase Canon or Nikon filters. They are good but also very pricy.

Well, that’s it for now. If you’d like to leave me a comment, just visit my page here. Or you can leave a comment below. Thank you for your time.

why it's important to know photography not just camera tricks

Thank’s very much for reading this article. If you’re interested, you can read other articles I’ve written here:

Photographing the Moon


How to Expose Film Correctly at Night

Ignacio Alvarez
Photographer and Photography Teacher at Truman College in Chicago, IL

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5 responses to “Why it’s Important to Know Photography (It’s Not Enough to Know Your Camera)”

  1. Ignacio Pessoa says:

    Well argued. Never could understand why so many photography blogs focus 90% on gear, and scarcely on composition, developing your own vision, etc.

  2. John Gunkler says:

    I appreciate this article very much. Thanks. But I think you need to revisit your advice about ISO being no higher than 400. My Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark II, for example, provides incredible image quality at much higher ISO settings. Your advice almost seems to have come from the era of film.

  3. Glenn Smith says:

    Learn from the Masters. Study their photography and try to figure how they got their photos. Shoot photos and play around with apertures and shutter speeds. Experiment during the morning, afternoon and night and try to get photos you like and keep notes on what works. Take classes at a local college or join a photo club. Use a film camera in Manual and review your photos. Play around and see what works and does not. Have fun and keep shooting.

  4. Asher Pasha says:

    That was very helpful, Thank you very much

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