A Guide to Your Photography Learning Path

When you first start out in photography, you quickly realise just how MUCH there is to learn.  (And once you learn one thing,  you realise you need to learn something else!)  There is so much information available on the internet, books to read,  workshops to take and so on, that it can be difficult to know what to learn first, or just where is the best place to start. 

Although of course everyone is unique, and may learn things in a different order,  I've compiled a rough guide to a learning path that will get you from absolute beginner to shooting pro in no time :) 

A guide to your photography learning path - includes a free checklist!


The most important element to begin with is understanding the basics of your camera - what all the buttons do, and how to change the functions on it. Start by digging out your camera manual - absolutely useless for learning photography, but you'll need it to find out where all your buttons and dials are, and how to change and use certain elements. Keep it with you as a reference point, but also take a little while to find out where everything is - knowing the layout of your camera will save you from fumbling with your settings too much whilst learning the controls. 


This the basics of photography, but as it will affect every single photograph you take, it's best to start to get this nailed down as quickly as possible!  Exposure is the single most important thing you can learn to begin with, so start with the three basic elements of exposure:  Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO, and learn how they all work together to create an image that is correctly exposed. Then learn about how your camera meters for your subject, and why it will often get it wrong!  That way, you can learn to override your camera, and shoot in Manual Mode to get the exposure YOU want.   Then move onto white balance, so your pictures have the correct color tones, and then onto understanding the various shooting modes available on your camera to ensure you get a sharp, in focus picture every time.  This is the fundamentals of photography - the foundations onto which everything else is set.  We cover all of this in-depth in my Auto to Awesome  ecourse, so if you want a program that teaches you EXACTLY (and I really do mean step by freakin' step!) how to do this, you should check it out.

Suggested Learning Path

- Learn Exposure Triangle

- Understand Aperture & Depth of Field

- Learn about Shutter Speed 

- Learn about ISO

- Start to shoot in Manual Mode

- Understand White Balance and How to Change It

- Learn how to Change your Focus Points

- Learn About Shooting Modes

- Research the difference between RAW and JPEG

- Learn how to do a basic "Clean" Edit - correct in camera mistakes and add basic "pop" to raw images. 



Once you have a good solid understanding of the photography fundamentals, you can begin to work on the more creative side, and getting your images to look the way you want them to!  You will continue to use and improve your technical skills, perhaps learning one or two more tips and tricks,  but now is the time to focus more on light and composition - both huge areas that can have a massive impact on your final image. 

Suggested Learning Path

- Learn some simple rules of composition - rule of thirds, negative space, leading lines etc

- Learn about light quality 

- Understand how the direction of light impacts your photographs

- Learn to work with front, side and backlight

- Learn how to capture silhouettes

- Explore unconventional light sources 

- Understand perspective

- Consider how to tell a story with your images 

- Consider the impact of lens choices (Focal Length and Compression)

- Learn how to edit your photos more effectively (with use of color toning, converting to black and white, and portrait enhancement - or landscape enhancement, if that's your thing!) 



By now, you will be confident in your camera settings for each image, and be taking images that are thoughtfully composed and utilise light effectively.  Now you can take everything a step further,  using more advanced lighting techniques, deliberating making "wrong" camera choices to create mood, and using advanced composition tools to draw the viewers eye around the frame, and use these to show further show an emotion or feeling. 

Suggested Learning Path

- Learn how to work in very low light

- Embrace harsh light

- Creatively use shutter speed, ISO and exposure, for example by deliberating over exposing or adding grain to affect mood

- Create shots that are deliberately unfocused

- Learn advanced composition such as chromatic contrast, and golden compositions

- Consider the psychological affects of color 

- Pre-visualise scenes and anticipate emotion 

- Incorporate symbolism or visual echoes 

- Create images with juxtaposition

- Use advanced editing techniques to pull viewers eye around the frame, and use color and light to express emotion and mood

That looks like such a big list doesn't it!  Of course if you specialise in one form of photography over another there will be more to learn,  for example, learning about focus stacking for macro, or working with off-camera flash for studio portraits, but I hope this has given you some idea about where to start and where to look next, whatever stage you are on. 

You can find a lot of information on the internet and I have linked to some tutorials I have here on the blog throughout this list. However, I strongly recommend taking a workshop or working through a book designed to help you through these stages - I can honestly say I've moved forward much more quickly and more solidly when I have followed through a book or taken a workshop, than I have when simply tried to haphazardly work my way through the internet.  It's probably one of the biggest mistakes new photographers make - wasting a year or so trying to piece it together fo' free on the internet, rather than just following a tried and tested path.  It's your choice of course, but if you want to learn in a matter of weeks rather than years, you should check this out. 

One last piece of advice: it's a long journey to being a photographer, and one in which I don't ever think you reach a final destination - you are always learning and trying new things, whatever stage you are on.  So, remember to enjoy your time along this learning path too!

If you want a comprehensive guide to using manual mode AND controlling all the other settings in your camera, Auto to Awesome shows you exactly what to do. You'll learn how to know which settings to use when, how to get tack sharp images and even how to use light and composition for amazing photos. You can learn more about Auto to Awesome right here.