Photography is simple, right?

Photography can be simple or very complex. It’s similar to writing. It’s easy to write a throw away note, but difficult to write a story. Read on to discover how thinking differently about photography can help you to create better photos and make more sense of the world around you.

Where to start with photography

It can be tricky to find a way into something that is everything and everywhere, and all at once! When swimming in a sea of photography it is always not easy to make sense of it. Like a fish trying to understand the water that surrounds it – where to look first?

“Photography is the simplest thing in the world, but it is incredibly complicated to make it really work.”

Martin Parr

Photography genres

Genres are a way of labelling different styles of photography. They give a convenient way of explaining ‘what type of photography do you do?‘. Or what kind of photograph viewers are interested in seeing. They help describe the visual in words. Some photographers shun genres because they don’t want to be boxed in. Genres can and do encourage rules-based thinking within them – what fits and what doesn’t. The rules become more important than the images.

Therefore, treat genre as a rough guide to what you might see. Not something to impose rigid rules on your photography. Exploring them yourself is a good way to understand them – look at the work of photographers in a genre.


Learning from photography masters is a great way to understand photography – for free and easy access spend some time at the university of Youtube, watching documentaries on photographers. Not the technical, ‘how to’ videos but the ones where photographers are talking about their work and the stories they share with their images. Begin with the whys of photography and pick up the technical skills you need, if and only you need them.

Galleries, museums and exhibitions

Gillian Wearing exhibition Copenhagen

Seeing professionally curated exhibitions can make a great day out as well as a fantastic learning experience. If you’re only used to seeing photos on screen or in books, it will change your thinking. Seeing them printed with high quality inks, on fine papers bring a different dimension to the experience of seeing. Well curated exhibitions also provide revealing information about the photographer and the context for the work. Image shows visitors to an exhibition of Gillian Wearing’s Family Stories in Copenhagen.

Photography exhibitions are not always as well publicised as other events with bigger advertising budgets. You need to connect with venues near youto make sure you don’t miss out. Also, check anywhere you are visiting or holidaying.

Finally, you will need to decide how you will backup your digital memories – all hard drives will eventually fail. Avoid loosing the irreplaceable!

Photography technique

As with technique in all things creative, only learn techniques that you will use in making photos. Don’t use time learning and practicing techniques that you’ll never apply. This is particularly true of the digital darkroom and sophisticated tools like Photoshop – just because it is possible to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

How to use a smartphone camera

Using a camera begins with your relationship with what you are photographing and how you see things. The most important part of photography is what happens in your head, not in the camera. This is more difficult to grasp than the technicalities of using a camera. Modern smart phones have limitations compared with full cameras but for all practical purposes they have replaced once popular point and shoot cameras. Also, many amateur photographers with full sized cameras do not take them off automatic settings or print the large images made possible with their higher resolution images. Starting photography with a smartphone is a smart thing to do. Only get a full camera when and if you find you need for one.

Processing photos

You’ll hear ‘editing’ and ‘processing’ used interchangeably. To make things clearer is better to separate them.

Think of editing as the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff after you’ve been making photographs – deleting the poor ones and selecting the ones you might want to use. In a similar way to a newspaper editor will delete unnecessary information or even reorder it. Processing (or post-processing – after the photo is made in the smartphone) is the work done on a photo to refine and shape its appearance with software tools.

A common misunderstanding is in the #nofilter tag – as if a picture is a pure representation of a thing. Smartphones apply filters to the raw data to show it as a camera generated photo (jpg). Some offer the options of different styling, or even RAW unprocessed data to work with from scratch.

Editing photos and organising photos is always a good idea – otherwise you’ll struggle to find them later. However, post-processing is not necessary if you leave it to your smartphone. But you’d miss opportunities for fine tuning of an image with the human touch!

Seeing and showing photography

Digital photography has made it easy than ever to show and see photography online and have your own photographs adorn calendars, mugs and photo books. However, many photos won’t make it past the small screens of social media apps.

There’s an art to learning how to prepare a photograph to print on fine photo paper while keeping the image tones within its display range. If done well, it will produce something special and tangible, worthy of any living room wall. There are also ways of cheaply and quickly printing snapshots to share with friends, family and the fridge door.

Do have a go at taking your photos beyond the social media screen!

Writing about photography

Lastly but certainly not least, there is a vast range of writing about photography. It ranges from the humblest photography blog to sophisticated academic research. It covers histories, biographies, social commentary, how-to-use cameras, how-to use software, how-to analyse photographs, collections of photographs, exhibition catalogues and so on. The range is as broad as the influence of photography on our culture itself. It is being constantly updated to reflect changes in technology and society – the latest being the topic of AI generated images.

In our ‘understaning photography’ articles we cover a range of topics that interest us. They might also interest you, or give ideas about areas you’d like to discover more.

Create – one click at a time

This article has taken some thinking about – things I wish I knew when I first started making photographs. It’s a framework that would have helped me to sort my head out quicker in a vast field where it’s impossible for anyone to know everything.

We hope you found it useful and please comment with your own thoughts. Do also take a look at our linked articles to explore deeper and please consider taking a membership with us – they start from free and include a monthly newsletter.

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