I will never forget when I was first starting out on this photography journey.

I knew I wanted to learn how to use my camera. I knew my images looked very different from the professional photographers I was following. I knew I might want to start a business, but knew very little else.

It was overwhelming, and was enough to make me want to curl up into a ball and forget about this whole photography thing! Thankfully, I found Clickin Moms and was able to get some of the toughest initial questions answered.

I have searched far and wide and found ten of the most common questions asked by the new photographer. This is guaranteed to jump-start your beautiful and worthwhile journey!

1. What does manual mode mean and do I have to learn it?

Manual mode puts the photographer in complete control of how the photo will turn out. You have to manually set both the aperture, ISO, and the shutter speed. You can take this a few steps further and control the white balance, too. The camera will not make any automatic changes to the exposure. Your camera will still guide you to the best exposure with its built in meter.

For example, the following two images were taken at the same time. These are merely snapshots taken to demonstrate the power of manual mode. The first was taken in full auto mode and the second was taken in full manual mode. As you can see, the manual mode is better exposed and more pleasing to the eye. The image taken in auto is out of focus because the camera chose a slow shutter speed in attempt to expose it properly. Both of these images are straight out of camera.

Read more about exposure here.

example of photo taken in auto by Elena Blari
photo taken in auto
picture of young girl laughing by Elena Blair
photo taken in manual

Be patient with yourself as it takes time to get comfortable in manual mode.

2. How do you achieve sharp focus?

Focus can be one of the most frustrating elements of photography when you are first starting out. Nailing focus could be an entire article in and of itself, but I wanted to touch on this very common beginner question.

There are many factors that go into getting a sharp image, but there are two focusing methods that help you to stay in control of focus rather than relying on the camera’s autofocus function. Chances are most professional photographers are using one of these methods and that is why their images are sharp.

The two methods I am referring to are toggling your focal points or using back button focus. To toggle focus, you manually choose where you want to focus within the frame. The focal points available for your camera depend on the make and model, but they will likely look something like this:

Related: 7 Secrets to Tack-Sharp Pictures

what focus points are on a camera by Elena Blar

In the following image, I have toggled the focal point right to the inner corner of the subject’s right eye. If the subject had been on the other side of the frame I would have toggled to the eye on that side. In the following image the red dot indicates where the focus was toggled to.

photo of girl wearing a bandaid on her face by Elena Blair

Back Button Focus is a focusing method many professional photographers swear by. Cameras are set up to auto focus when you hold down the shutter button halfway.

Back button focus changes it so that the shutter button does not control the focus activation at all, instead you assign another button on the back of the camera to activate focusing on the camera.

Related: Can’t nail focus? Stop making these three mistakes!

3. Do you really have to edit all your photos?

In a word, yes. While it is best to nail an image in camera, editing is how it all comes together to become a finished image. Some photographers are more artistic with their editing and some are more clean. This is really just a personal preference and will come with time.

The first image below is straight out of camera, the second is with clean edits. As you can see, the first is dull and in need of some adjustments, the second is polished and much more impactful.

unedited picture of toddler eating by Elena Blair
unedited photo
editing photo fo toddler eating by Elena Blair
edited photo

4. What gear do I need to achieve great photos?

The gear you have in your bag is a personal preference and really depends on what type of photography you are interested in. It is recommended to start your journey with the “nifty 50,” AKA a 50mm prime lens.

All major manufacturers have great 50mm options and this really is a fantastic starter lens. After you have explored with the 50mm lens, you can try your hand at more wide angle and telephoto focal lengths. If zoom is appealing to you, there are plenty of zoom lenses out there, however you will hear many professional photographers who swear by prime lenses (lenses that do not zoom).

Here are a few lens examples:

  1. 24mm
  2. 35mm
  3. 50mm
  4. 100mm (macro)
  5. 135mm
  6. 200mm

Related: Why I’m Happy With Just One Lens

And a comparison of 3 lenses for you:

35mm photo by Elena Blair
50mm photo by Elena Blair
135mm photo by Elena Blair

5. Do I have to be in business to be called a pro?

No!! There are many, and I mean MANY photographers who are not in business and they are incredible! You absolutely do not need to be in business to be respected or taken seriously.

Here are just a few of my favorite photographers who do not take commissioned shoots.

  1. Megan Cieloha
  2. Sarah Wilkerson
  3. Caroline Jensen
  4. Niki Boon

6. What is white balance?

Again, a whole article could be written on this question alone so I will try and keep this answer brief. Do you ever wonder why sometimes your subject looks bright yellow or orange, or why sometimes they look grey or blue? This is because your white balance is off.

To define this very simply, in reference to digital photography, white balance means that the colors in your image are true to life. White balance is measured by numbers, lower being cooler and higher being warmer. Here is a great diagram that explains white balance.

Related: White Balance: comparing the choices

Kelvin temparature chart

White balance is a lot more than an exact science of numbers as it can also be a matter of preference. There are many ways to control white balance. You can set a custom white balance, trust your camera and put your camera on auto white balance, or directly set your Kelvin temperature.

White balance is often one of the first things photographers adjust when processing their images. Here are two images from the same shoot. The first was processed cool with a temperature of 5000 to accentuate the color of the water and the sky. The second image was processed warm with a temperature of 7200 to accentuate the warmth of the sun and the embrace between mother and child.

Related: Color by Kelvin: a better approach to white balance

family of 5 portrait in the water by Elena Blair
mom holding son by Elena Blair

7. What is the difference between JPG and RAW?

JPG is the most common file format for digital photographs. Your camera can be set to shoot and store the images you make in varying sizes of JPG. The thing with JPG is that a lot of detail is lost when the image is shot this way.

When a JPG image is taken, the camera does some automatic processing which varies with make and model of camera. When you go to edit an image shot in JPG you do not have as much data to work with, and it can be hard to recover improperly exposed parts of photos. It also gives you less control in post processing in the way of color.

RAW files are uncompressed and unprocessed shots of all of the detail available to the camera sensor. RAW files are completely unedited and need to be post processed.

Read more about JPG here.

Here is what an image looks like shot RAW straight out of camera:

straight out of camer picture taken in RAW by Elena Blair

It lacks contrast and vibrance.

Here is what it looks like after clean processing. Also, notice how the sky was able to be almost fully recovered in post processing since it was shot in RAW.

backlit silhouette of couple by Elena Blair

While it is recommended that you shoot in RAW to remain in complete control of your images, there are many photographers who shoot JPG and love it. While certain benefits of RAW files are clear cut, the files are quite large and in the end It is a matter of preference.

Learn more about RAW here.

8. How do I know when it is okay to go into business?

Take your time! But I know it can be very exciting and hard to wait. If you are thinking about going into business ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are my images consistently properly exposed, properly focused, and well composed?
  2. Am I ready for hard deadlines and to act like a professional?

Make sure the answer is yes to these questions before even thinking about going into business. Being a photographer may be the best job in the world, but it is a JOB. To succeed in this business you must be professional and ready to take on all that it entails.

If you are thinking about getting a business started, talk to an accountant and a lawyer. You must have a proper business license and you should have insurance before you ever take a paying client. Above all, be legal.

Do not charge pennies for your time, as that is the most valuable resource you possess. You are an artist and you should receive a good wage for your work.

9. How do I learn how to pose people?

Posing and directing is an art form, and it takes lots of practice and confidence. I recommend shooting as many people as you can as often as you can.

I also recommend thinking long and hard about your vision. What do you want your images to say? Plan ahead, and then you can guide and direct in such a way to execute your vision. Do you want your images more posed or do you want them to appear more candid? You have to know what you want to achieve before you begin posing and directing.

picture of family laughing and holding hands by Elena Blair

10. How do you find balance with life and photography?

Whether you are in business or a hobbyist, photography has a way of running our lives. This is because we feel so passionate about it.

Making a schedule and sticking to it is very important. If you have shoots to edit (personal or commissioned), pick a time each day to dedicate to editing and stick to it. If you like to blog, pick a day of the week that you will carve out time to blog. I am a big fan of the old fashioned paper planners and I chart out my entire week there. This really keeps me sane and in control.

Related: 10 Ways to Help You Find a Healthy Work-Life Balance