3 Photography Tips Beginners Can Safely Ignore

When I started my photography journey, I scoured the internet–looking for tips and tricks to step up my game. I took photography courses, read books, and attended seminars, and devoured internet content. At one point, I convinced myself I’d be awesome if I just followed all the advice that “experts” spelled out. Mixed in with the good advice, I discovered 3 photography tips beginners can safely ignore:

  • Always shoot in “Manual Mode”
  • You have to read the ENTIRE manual
  • Always shoot RAW

Those tips were things “experts” all said photographers had to follow to be like the “pros”. Even my online, classroom, and seminar instructors echoed and parroted these “pro” tips.

Learning to shoot manual takes a lot of practice.  Don't tell a beginner they have to do it right away.

But are these “tips” really things that beginners have to follow? I challenge three commonly held beliefs about using a DSLR the internet echo chambers say we “must” follow. If you’re a beginner, maybe you just want some beautiful shots of your kid’s birthday party to share on Facebook! Maybe you just want to feel the joy of capturing the world around you! Read on to discover the 3 photography tips beginners can safely ignore.


Tip #1 to Ignore: Always Use Manual Mode

Want to discourage a beginner? Tell them they have to switch to manual mode. That’s like telling someone who doesn’t know how to swim to jump into the deep end and see what happens! Are you a photography novice? Then you should have fun with your camera! You should enjoy the thrill of capturing beautiful shots of your family, pets, and the world around you. If you switch to “Manual” mode because some snobby photographer said you “had to”, you’ll quickly become frustrated. You might not understand all the technicalities of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, let alone which buttons, knobs, and switches to flip.

Benefits of Auto Mode

A close up image of a camera's mode dial, depicting Auto Mode, Manual Mode, and other modes.

Today’s modern DSLR cameras are programmed to deliver bright, beautiful results in automatic mode. I would argue that a DSLR on “Auto” produces higher quality images than even the best smartphone cameras. In addition, auto mode reduces the stress of menus, settings, knobs, switches, buttons, dials, and all the technical aspects of exposure. Furthermore, auto mode gives you time to focus on other aspects of photography. For example, capturing the happy faces of your kids at Christmas. Or preserving that pride in your child’s face when they graduate high school. Staying in “Auto” lets you get familiar with the feel of the equipment in your hands. Finally, you can learn how the shutter button feels, how your lenses work, and even experiment with the camera’s creative modes. You can focus (pardon the pun), on composition, interesting perspectives, and angles.

Shooting in Auto Mode is legit.  It's an official setting in your camera, and a great place for beginners to start!

Don’t Worry About “Snobby Experts”

Photography can be really fun! It’s no wonder so many hobbyists join clubs, Facebook groups, etc., where people come together to share their awesome photos. Beginners need to experience that fun without some “pro” throwing shade just because someone is shooting in Auto. Those who “outgrow” auto mode will soon begin experimenting with some of the semi-automatic modes–and will eventually advance to manual. The rest will continue to happily use auto–and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!


Tip #2 to Ignore: Always Read the Entire Manual

Do you know anyone who read their entire LCD TV technical manual before plugging it in and turning it on??? Or read their whole microwave manual before they warmed up their food? Sounds silly, right?. Telling beginners they MUST read their whole camera instruction manual before taking photos is basically the same thing.

Try the Quick Start guide instead

A manual is a reference resource.  Not something you sit and read for fun.

I’ve been shooting for years, and I’ve never sat down and read my entire camera manual cover to cover! I don’t know any pro photographers who have either! If you’re a beginner, and your camera came with a “Quick Start” guide, I recommend you start there. Quick start guides provide the basic stuff we all need to get up and running. Such as, where to insert the memory card, how to charge and install the battery, how to correctly attach a lens, and how to switch on the camera and start having fun!

Use the Manual as a Reference

Some manuals have hundreds of pages, filled with info a beginner may not need.

Don’t get me wrong–a manual is very important. You should keep your camera’s manual safe, and reference it when you have questions about various camera functions. Some camera manufacturers offer online PDF versions of their camera manuals. PDF manuals are super handy, as they can be quickly searched when you’re looking for specific information about your camera. But that’s my point! The manual is something you use to reference specific information from time to time. It’s NOT something you have to force yourself to read cover to cover BEFORE you ever switch on your camera!


Tip #3 to Ignore: Always Shoot RAW

Beginners Googling to find the “best settings” for their cameras inevitably stumble upon this question: “Should I shoot RAW or JPEG?” I understand. Do a YouTube search on the topic, and you’ll soon find content from pro photographer, Jared Polin–also known as “Fro”. He’s an amazing photographer, and teacher of photography and videography. Check out his YouTube channel when you get a chance! He’s pretty cool. Anyway, a large part of Jared’s brand is centered around the concept of only ever shooting RAW. I personally only shoot RAW. Jared and I both know why we shoot RAW. The only difference is that my wardrobe is a little more varied than his.

An image of pro photographer Jared Polin holding a camera, and wearing one of his signature, "I Shoot RAW" t-shirts.

As a beginner, do you even know what RAW is? You may have learned that your new DSLR is capable of producing photos formatted as either RAW or JPEG. But unless you have have fancy photo editing software, it might not make much sense to shoot RAW. To a beginner the RAW vs JPEG debate might just come down to this:

RAW:

Large image files with gobs of extra data that hog up lots of space on your computer

JPEG:

Smaller image files that don’t contain as much info, and take up far less space on your computer

Also, RAW and JPEG photos pretty much look the same, straight out of camera. So it might make more sense to create smaller photos, especially if hard drive space is important to you.

The age old argument:  RAW vs. JPEG.

JPEG works just fine if you don’t post process your images with software like Photoshop, Lightroom, or DaVinci Resolve–squeezing every pixel of dynamic range out of each shot. (Fancy post processing is why we shoot RAW). You’ll save valuable space on your hard drive, and maybe even money (if you’re subscribed to a cloud storage service)!


Side Note: If you’ve ever wanted to learn to shoot video with your DSLR, Jared Polin created a 6-hour long video training guide you might want to see. For more info on Jared’s DSLR video instruction, click this link.


Photo editors like this lady shoot RAW, but most beginners don't do heavy duty photo editing, so they can safely ignore the "always shoot RAW" tip.

Are you new to photography? Just want to have fun with your camera, and capture the wonderful world around you? Then just have fun!

Worried about Manual Mode?

Don’t get bogged down trying to figure out the dizzying amount of settings in your camera because some “expert” told you to! Set your camera to Auto! It’s not something to be ashamed of! It’s a legit setting on your camera–one that we all started out using!

Stressed Over the Manual?

Stressed out about the idea of having to read a bunch of gobbledygook in a manual? Then don’t! Just read it when you need it–then put it back in a safe place until you need it again.

JPEG vs RAW?

Are you worried you’ll lose hard drive space if you shoot RAW, and don’t plan to do pro-level photo editing? Then shoot JPEG! It’s OK! These truly are 3 photography tips beginners can safely ignore!

Photography should be fun!!!

Photography is fun! Let’s help keep it that way by not stressing out about complex technical information you may never need or want! When you outgrow Auto mode, you’ll confidently experiment with the other modes, and continue having fun! Cameras are really cool pieces of tech. Cool Tech. KewlTek! (See what I did there?)

Now get out there and shoot!  And remember to have fun!!!


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2 thoughts on “3 Photography Tips Beginners Can Safely Ignore

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  1. I read this when it was 1st posted….just read it again. Thank you for taking the pressure off of newbies! I have been a newbie for years…….hoping to start expanding as my budget allows. Thank you, Russ 🙂

    1. You bet! I’m happy it helped! Photography is fun! Wherever we are in our learning journey, we shouldn’t be made to feel like we have to do things a certain way or risk being looked down on by someone. We all learn and grow at our own speed–and that’s totally fine.

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