Before I delve into the topic, I would like to share with you my story. Back in the year of 2010, I was trying out different things in search for new hobby. I tried Aikido, paintball, even blogging, but none of these activities strikes me as the one thing I want to do. And just as I was about to give up, a friend of mine invited me to go on a treasure hunt in the local camera store.

At first, I was somewhat skeptical about going. I have always thought photography is only for those who are artistically talented and financially well-off, and neither criteria really applies to me at the time. I was surprised to find out that there are alternatives I can pursue if I want to give photography a try – by purchasing an older, film-based SLR. The old cameras are, of course, not as sophisticated as the newer digital models, but they are a lot more affordable if you have a limited budget. The camera package I ended purchasing, an Olympus OM-1 with a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, was roughly one-tenth of the price of a low-tier consumer-grade digital SLR package. Another drawback-turned-benefit of the manual-operated film cameras is that, due to the lack of automatic exposure modes, the camera users are forced to adjust aperture and shutter speed manually, and this actually helps beginners to become more proficient with the three elements in the exposure triangle.

The first few months after getting my first camera were a real struggle. Although I had friends who taught me how to work my camera to get great results, I was often frustrated at the lack of progress in my skills and my understanding of photography. It wasn’t until I began subscribing to blogs of influential photographers and joined a few online photographer communities did I began to make noticeable progress. Eventually, I upgraded my camera to Nikon D7000, purchased a few lenses of different focal length, a external flash and some other accessories. Every piece of my gears fills a specific role in my photography, and depending on the settings and the subjects, the gears I bring change as well. To the right you’ll see some samples of different subjects I shoot.

If you are interested in photography but don’t know where to start, or if you are just began shooting photos and would like to know where to go next, here is a checklist you may reference to and assess where you are in becoming a photographer:

  1. Know if you have a passion for photography – A lot of people buy SLRs or DSLRs because they think they want to do photography, and within a month or two, when the enthusiasm begin to fade, their cameras begin to see less and less actions and eventually are sold or given away. If you are just looking into photography and are not sure if this is for you, try to borrow a SLR or DSLR from a friend and go on a few photo walks to see if you like it. You may also purchase a cheaper and older SLR like I did if you do not wish to trouble your friends.
  2. Get the right gears – Do some research before purchasing any equipment. At the very least, you should know the difference between different DSLR models, which lens is the most suitable for what subject, and which brand offers superior quality over other brands. When selecting a SLR or DSLR, always go for the best one you can afford within your budget. If you are buying online, buy from a reputable seller that has a history of good customer service. When buying from private party, make sure the camera or lens is in working condition and has no scratch or internal mold in it.
  3. Meet other photographers – You already know you want to be a photographer, but what should you do to improve your skills and find inspiration? For starter, you may join some online groups where you may exchange ideas with and learn from other photographers. These online communities are also great sources for the latest development in photography and the related fields. You may also follow the blogs of prominent photographers and observe how they approach different subjects and environments. They also write, from time to time, about their thoughts on photography, and many of them regularly make tutorial videos where they demonstrate different techniques.
  4. Practice, practice, practice – Bring you camera wherever you go if possible and use every opportunity to practice. Apply what you learned either from observing others’ works or by watching tutorials, assess if you have done them correctly, and keep on practicing until you have a good grasp of that knowledge or technique. You may also participate in photo walks where you get to interact with others face-to-face and share perspectives.
  5. Set goals – Do you want to shoot professionally? Are you here just for the fun? Decide what you want to do, make plans and work your way towards your goal.

Do you have any tips you would like to share? Is there anything you find particularly difficult? Please share your thoughts by leaving comments below.