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Time Out With Tanya

Tanya’s Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid as a New Photographer, Part 1

By Tanya Goodall Smith on June 13th 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.


Photo by Whitney Baldwin

Even though I’ve been studying photography since I was 14, rolling film for the high school yearbook back in 1990-something, in many ways I still feel like a “new” photographer. But, there are certain things I learned along the way as a beginner, through mistakes of my own or the advice of others, that have helped me move past Newbie to Confident Shooter. Here are my top 10 mistakes to avoid as a new photographer…

1. Don’t Spend a Ton of Money on Gear


The temptation to buy the latest gadget, newest camera and everything in between, seems to affect every photographer. We all want cool new gear, right? But, the sooner you realize it’s not gear that will make you an amazing photographer, the better. Sure, having a full frame camera, like the Canon 5D Mark III, will make shooting in low light easier, but if shelling out $3k for a camera isn’t in your fledgling budget, don’t sweat it!

I would suggest renting before you make a big investment, or buying used gear to start out. Or, just use what you have and use it well. My first digital camera was a Canon Rebel DSLR with a Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens from Costco and I wore that thing out. Then I learned how to use off-camera flash with one Canon 430EX Speedlite. Maybe throw in a 5-in-1 reflector and that’s all you need to get started. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to have that upgraded camera model just because your photographer friend upgraded. Wait until you’ve saved enough or can justify spending for a specific purpose, like expanding your business.

2. Don’t Get Stuck in Auto


The number one thing I tell friends who ask about how they can improve their photography is to start shooting in Manual mode! Just do it. Jump right in with both feet. I shot in Auto mode for a long time with my little point and shoot, but the minute I got my first DSLR, I committed to shooting in Manual mode 100% of the time. I didn’t even bother with any of the other “semi-manual” modes, like Aperture Priority, because I wanted full control and I wanted to master it. Knowing the basics of exposure like the back of your hand is the number one thing you can do to improve your photography.

Not sure where to start with the basics of exposure? Try reading our article THE BASICS OF SHOOTING A DSLR: EXPLAINING EXPOSURE

3. Don’t Shoot in JPG


Even though I was well on my way to mastering shooting in Manual mode back in the day, I was still shooting my images with JPG compression. When I switched to RAW at the suggestion of one of my mentor friends, it was a major ‘A-ha’ moment for me. Buying Adobe Lightroom and using the highly customizable Lightroom Preset System from SLR Lounge has helped me create a consistent editing style that is easy and fast to implement.

For more information about the benefits of shooting in RAW, check out this article: RAW VS JPEG (JPG) – THE ULTIMATE VISUAL GUIDE

4. Don’t Call Yourself a Professional


I see sooooo many photographers make this mistake. Truth be told, after a few family members started asking me to take their Senior Portraits, I whipped up a Facebook page and started calling myself a photographer. This came back to bite me in the behind later and I highly suggest you resist this urge. Take some time to build a portfolio. Don’t show every image you create. In fact, only show the best of the best of the kinds of images you want to be hired to take, if your goal is indeed to become a professional. Find a niche and write a business plan before you call yourself a pro. This doesn’t mean you can’t charge for your time after you’ve acquired some skills, but make sure you know what you’re getting into before you dive into business.

5. Don’t Forego an Education


There are so many education resources available for photographers and artists in general these days. Some of the best investments I have made for advancing in photography were workshops and classes. There are a lot of free educational videos on YouTube, but how do you know who to trust when it comes to your education? If attending an accredited program through a university or art institute isn’t an option for you, at least take the time and invest the money to learn from experienced pros in this industry. There are so many wonderful options. Of course, SLR Lounge is a great resource (no bias here…right?) and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of our latest Photography 101 Workshop DVD (Update: Photography 101 is now available Click here to view more details). I also recommend Phlearn for Photoshop training and CreativeLive, which has amazing workshops on every aspect of Photography.

I’ll also offer a word of caution regarding online workshops. Don’t get so caught up in sitting at your computer learning from others that you don’t take the time to actually get out there and shoot, which leads me to my next point…

…which you’ll have to wait until next week to read because this post is turning into a novel and I’m breaking it up into two parts. Haha! Read Part 1 by clicking here.

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aaron Cheney

    Such a great article!

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  2. Ipek Amdahl

    #1 is so incredibly tempting. It’s easy to blame gear for your shortcomings until you actually improve yourself.

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  3. Mark Iuzzolino

    #4 caught my attention. I actually call myself a serious hobby photographer. It’s less in your face and by putting in the word serious, it gives people the sense that you are not just messing around.

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  4. Rafael Steffen

    This article stands out to explain people that photography is an evolving art and a craft that you have to develop over time!

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  5. Daniel Gibson

    Some good points here, it is funny though how so many people are using S4s and iPhones to take photos. Although there are many great shots you are kind of limited, enjoy my digital though, am learning slowly.

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  6. Peter-Jon Harding

    Great tips! I’m a fairly new photographer and it’s always good to see tips that are aimed at new photographers.

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  7. Judy Griffith

    Definitely guilty of #1. And I don’t call myself a pro, but I do finally call myself a photographer and artist as well. I have also made it my ministry in life…..I have fun giving the joy of great photos to some families at a price they can afford or free. For me it’s all about the experience and joy it brings.

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  8. Kurk Rouse

    Extremely guilty of number one, I have not even broke even yet in terms of jobs and making back money, sadly where I live most people don’t see photography as a real job and don’t take you or your craft seriously.

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  9. Tyler Friesen

    guilty of #1 and #4 when starting out.

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  10. Matt Walsh

    Nice reference article.

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  11. Anil

    I just read and saw the images on ‘Does gear really matter? 30 mind blowing images taken with entry level gear’ (Fstoppers). I guess people who underrate their gear should peek at these images; it’ll surely change their perception. Very well put Tanya – great for beginners like me.

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  12. Tanya Smith

    Thanks for all the comments! Stay tuned for part two next week…

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  13. rabih

    i love people who chare there knowledge to improove ther skill in photography !

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  14. Robert Hall

    #4 Is HUGE, all too often the progression of a photographer is:

    1)Realize interest in photography
    2) Invest a big (that later seems tiny) amount in starter gear
    3) Create facebook fan page/ wix website about your “business” where you shoot weddings, engagements, products, portraits, commercial, corporate, architecture, editorial, families, live music, fashion, infants, toddlers, children, pets, food, bands, landscapes, while only displaying photos of flowers.
    4) whine about oversaturated market
    5) actually learn photography

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  15. Peter

    Great Read! It is comforting to hear that many of your starting trials are parallel to my own experiences and helps me know that I am on the right track, Great Article.

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  16. Stephen

    Great tips, I enjoyed the article.

    I call myself a photographer but don’t call myself a PRo. My definition of a Pro is one that makes the bulk of their income from photography, which I don’t.

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  17. josh

    I always use ‘I am not an amateur, hobby or pro photographer. Just having fun with gadgets, apps and stuff.’ Guess that this would fit just fine.

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  18. Chris Nachtwey

    #4 YES!! More people need to apply that! That is all.

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  19. Gonzalo

    Good summary of points Tanya!

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  20. David

    Great tips! I fell victim to #1 for awhile before I put my foot down (actually my friends helped, but yeah). And then #2-3 are probably the biggest tips that I feel helped me the most when I started shooting.

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