I find people just entering the world of photography to be super inspiring. They hold a love for this art form that is hard to top in people who have been shooting for years. That's why I'm constantly reminding myself to shoot like a beginner. Because it can make your photos better and give you back some of the joy of just shooting. That beginner's mindset is a special place to be. Where photography is new and fresh and exciting. It's part of the reason I love teaching photography as well. I get so many great questions that make me think long and hard about my presumptions and why we shoot things the way we do. And I love the chance to get back into that mindset.
That's why today, I want to encourage you to think like a beginner. And, if you are a beginner, embrace your mindset and not think of it as a limitation but a strength. Because beginners have a unique way of seeing photography.
Let's start with the most significant reason that the beginner's mindset is great for creating unique images.
Beginners aren't encumbered by knowing all the 'rules of photography or the ins and outs of posing, composition, and lighting. They don't know the difference between a good photo and a bad photo, so they don't limit themselves and they take all the photos that interest them. And this is a considerable advantage when out shooting. I find myself and see other professionals doing this too, who self-censor. They look, explore, wander, and then don't take any photos even though you can clearly see them thinking about it. I did this just the other night. Golden hour was lighting up the world, the trees were glowing, and the sky had this great orange-pink cotton candy look to it. And instead of just enjoying the light and shooting, I spent so long looking for the perfect composition or the perfect place to be that I started to lose the light. It was terrible. Who knows what I would have made if I hadn't censored my own creativity by looking for something perfect. I should have just spent the time shooting and exploring the light. And this is what beginners do. They explore the light. Unencumbered by looking for the perfect moment, they see something pretty and take photos of it. One of my favourite parts about this mindset is that they shoot every day in all types of conditions. High noon, golden hour, whenever. It doesn't matter. They don't see the light quality and think, meh or Nah. They see the light in general and see thousands of opportunities to shoot. And they do it.
As people who have taken photos for a while, this is something that we should be doing too. I find myself sometimes only shooting during the perfect times of the day. Or only heading out when it looks like a sunset will give off spectacular colours. This is horribly limiting and keeps me shooting for just a few hours at a time. Instead, I need to get the camera out and create whenever I can. So, don't limit what you shoot. Don't spend so long hunting for the 'perfect composition that you don't take any photos. Buckle down, and get out there shooting.
So, that's the first advantage that beginners have. They don't get bogged down by the rules. They just create. And the next thing I love about the beginner's mindset falls right in line with the first thing, except, instead of not knowing about the so-called rules of photography. They don't really know about the gear. So, instead of pinning for a wide-angle lens that goes down to f/2.8 instead of 'only' f/4. They just shoot with what they have. 'Equipment be damned, I'm taking photos of everything,' seems to be their mindset. And this is perfect! This is something more of us who understand our equipment should look at more often.
Beginners can make gorgeous photos with kit equipment, which means you can too. The only thing limiting you from using that gear is yourself. Are there things that could be better about kit lenses, cheap lenses, variable focal lengths, and massive f-stops? Of course! But those limitations can enhance your photography. They can make it better. So, rather than sitting there thinking, 'I can't get that bird photo because I don't have a 600mm lens,' think, 'I'm taking that bird photo because it's beautiful.' Don't let your kit determine what and how you shoot. You decide what you're doing and make that equipment work for you. Follow the beginner's guide; equipment be damned. I'm shooting everything!
Alright, so that beginner's mindset is a great place to leave the rules, expectations, and beliefs about photography behind you to just get out there and shoot regardless of the lighting conditions or the equipment you have.
Now, beginners also have another wonderful thing they do that too many high-end amateurs and professionals turn away. Constant education. Beginners absorb every iota of photography information they can, and, personally, I find they challenge all of it. Why is this lighting good, why is this composition bad, why do these things work, what's this, what's that—so many questions from those just starting out. And I love it! Questions are one of the only ways to get answers that will help you grow. I find a few things happen once you've been shooting for a while. You get into routines and set ways of shooting that stop you from asking questions and thinking through why you shoot something the way you do. Or, you get so busy that you don't take the time to learn more. Either way, you stop growing. And I think this is such a huge lesson we can take away from the way beginner's think. They keep growing. All. The. Time. Those who are really serious about becoming better work at it consistently through YouTube, courses, podcasts (good work here), one-on-ones, and mentorship. They are always looking for ways to grow and become better.
Now, constant learning may be a bit harder to do if you've been shooting for a while. But it's certainly not impossible. We are never done learning, no matter how much we know. Just the way we absorb information may have to change. Find a photographer who inspires you and see if they offer workshops or digital courses you can take. Or message someone and ask about mentorship. What's the worst that is going to happen? They are going to say no, and so what? It'll be a little awkward, and it may be hard to be rejected, but you're still alive and still creating, so you'll be fine. Don't let a fear of rejection stop you. You'll never progress that way, and who knows what will happen if that person says yes.
So, educate yourself. And don't just reinforce what you already know. Learn something new and push your boundaries to grow. Just like beginners are doing all the time.
Finally, and this is the last thing I'll say about why the beginner mindset is so great. They are pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. I've talked about this before on here, and it's one of the best things that being a beginner - or getting into that beginner mindset - can bring to you. Just the sheer fact of learning something new pushes you out of your comfort zone. That's a huge thing that beginners are doing. But beyond that, they need to be willing to put themselves in places where people may look at them funny or think they're silly. And that's totally awesome! Beginners are just admitting to the fact that they will be uncomfortable and leaning into it.
Now, for those of us who have been shooting a while. Having a camera in our hands may be the most comfortable thing in the world. So, how can you make yourself uncomfortable? What can you do to challenge yourself again and push your comfort zone? /this is going to be a bit different for everyone. For me, it's astrophotography. I’m terrible at it right now, and it’s hard to sit in lightroom looking at the work and thinking how bad the images look. But I need to keep making myself uncomfortable to grow.
For others, it may be trying street photography or giving yourself permission to edit photos in a whole new way. Who knows, you may develop a different style!
Think about what makes you uncomfortable, and see where you can push it that little bit. This is what beginners are doing all the time, which is one reason they grow so much. Because they force themselves to do so. And you can too.
A beginner's mindset isn't something that should ever go away. You will always be a beginner at something as long as you are growing and changing and not sitting stagnant. So, buckle up and start growing. It'll make your photography better for sure, and it will make your life more exciting and fulfilling as well.
I love that beginner's mindset. It's one of the first things I turn to when my photography starts feeling stale. I look at the world through the eyes of a true beginner photographer again, and I can find magic in the mundane once more.
You can follow along with Robert’s adventures on Instagram @RobertMasseyPhotography.