3 Photography Tips Beginners Should Ignore

When I started my photography journey, I scoured the internet–looking for tips and tricks I could use to step up my game. I completed photography courses and attended seminars. I read books. I had visions of being the next Peter McKinnon–and convinced myself I’d be awesome if I just followed all the advice the “experts” spelled out.

I soon discovered some common themes–things the internet, books, and experts all agreed that photographers must do to be like the “pros”. All my online instructors, classroom instructors, and seminar coaches echoed and parroted many of these “pro tips”.

An overhead image of a laptop computer, camera, and electronic writing tablet with stylus on a desk.

But are these “tips” really things that beginners have to follow? In this post, I challenge some of these commonly held beliefs about using a DSLR that the internet echo chambers say we “must” follow. After all–perhaps not everyone wants to be the next Peter McKinnon–maybe they just want some beautiful shots of their kids’ birthday party to share on Facebook! Maybe they just want to feel the joy of capturing the world around them! Read on to discover the photography tips that I think 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 that the best way to learn is to jump into the deep end and see what happens! Rather than someone having fun–feeling the thrill of capturing beautiful shots of their family, pets, and the world around them, they’ll quickly become frustrated because they won’t understand all the technical intricacies of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, let alone which buttons, knobs, and switches to flip.

A close up image of a camera's mode dial, depicting Auto, Manual, 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” produce higher quality images than even the best smartphone cameras. Leaving the camera on Auto takes away the beginner’s stress of having to worry about menus, sub-menus, settings, knobs, switches, buttons, dials, and all the other technical aspects of exposure–and gives them the time to focus on other aspects of photography. Things like capturing the happy faces of their kids at Christmas, or the pride in their child’s face when they graduate high school. If they’re interested, they can get familiar with the feel of the equipment in their hands–how the shutter button feels, how their lenses work, and maybe even experiment with some of the creative modes–not to mention composition, interesting perspectives, and angles.

An image of a photographer outdoors taking a picture of a man playing a grand piano as people pass by near a fountain in a town square.

Photography can be really fun! It’s no wonder that so many hobbyists join clubs, Facebook groups, etc., where people come together to share the awesome photos they’ve created. Let beginners experience that fun without 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

How many people do you know who read the tech manual for their LCD televisions before they plug it in and turn it on? How many people read the manual for their refrigerator before they pop food into it? While there might be some folks who do stuff like that, I don’t imagine there are that many. Telling beginners that it’s important to read and understand the whole camera instruction manual before they start taking photos with their new camera is basically the same thing.

An image of a woman reading a book in a library.

I’ve been shooting for years, and I’ve never sat down and read the entire manual cover to cover! I don’t know any pro photographers who have either! If the camera came with one, I recommend beginners simply use their “Quick Start” guides to start with. Quick start guides provide the basic stuff we need to get up and running–like 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!

An image of an open book with its pages fanned out laying on a table with bookshelves full of books in the background.

Don’t get me wrong–a manual is seriously important. Beginners should keep the manual in a safe place, and reference it whenever they have a question about how to operate various functions of their camera. Some camera manufacturers offer online versions of their camera manuals–which is super handy, as they can be quickly searched if you’re trying to find specific information about your camera. But that’s my point–the manual is something we all use to reference specific information from time to time–NOT something we have to force ourselves to read cover to cover BEFORE we ever operate the camera!

Tip #3 to Ignore: You Must Shoot RAW

Beginners Googling to find the “best settings” for their cameras quickly stumble upon this question: “Should I shoot RAW or JPEG?” I get it. Do a YouTube search on the topic, and you’ll soon find content from pro photographer, Jared Polin–also known as “Fro”. 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.

Do beginners even know what RAW is? I suppose it’s easy enough for them to learn that their new DSLR is capable of either producing photos with gobs of data, or photos that don’t store quite as much info. To a beginner, RAW and JPEG photos might look the same. It might make more sense for beginners to create photos that are smaller in size, especially when they see how much more disk space RAW files hog up.

An image of two graphical icons, one labeled "RAW", the other labeled "JPEG".

To tell a beginner to shoot RAW, because that’s what the pros do, is silly. Do beginners have expensive applications like Photoshop, Lightroom, or DaVinci Resolve? If so, do they know how to use them? If beginners don’t intend to manually post process their image files, requiring every pixel of dynamic range that only RAW can deliver, then JPEG will work just fine! They’ll save space on their storage devices and maybe even save money (if they’re subscribed to a cloud storage service)!

An image of a woman sitting at a desk using a laptop computer connected to her camera via a cable, studying a photography proof sheet.

Are you new to photography? Just want to have fun with your camera, and capture the wonderful world around you? Then just have fun! Don’t get bogged down trying to figure out the dizzying amount of settings in your camera–because “experts” tell you that’s what you have to do! 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 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. Are you worried about all the hard drive space your photos will hog up if you shoot in RAW, and aren’t planning to do a bunch of pro-level photo editing? Then shoot JPEG! It’s OK!

An image of a smiling woman holding a camera to her face preparing to take a photo.

Photography is fun! Let’s help keep it that way by not stressing out beginners with information they may never need or want! When they outgrow Auto mode, they’ll confidently experiment with the other modes, and continue having fun!

2 thoughts on “3 Photography Tips Beginners Should 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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