How to NOT Suck at Photography

photography | le jolie

Did I get your attention? Such a bitchy thing to say – I know, but I don’t exactly mean “you suck at photography”… I’m lacking the capacity to contrive a more impressive title at the moment. But now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s get to the point. This is me, frank and candid af.

Photography is hustle. With the democratization of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras these days, it’s no surprise that everyone wants to be a photographer, a blogger, a content creator – or whatever you want to call it. If you’re reading this, we’re all in the same boat. The problem is not everyone really wants to hustle – and that’s why most people never reach the level of photography they often dream about. They’re looking to mimic someone’s style or seeking an easy way out be it through downloading random Photoshop actions or utilizing presets with no understanding of color or dynamic range – and no desire to understand. They’re waiting for someone to tell them or show them, or they stop learning altogether after conquering one thing.

How does this apply to you?

If you own a camera or are thinking about buying one with the intention of “shooting pretty things”, ask yourself how committed you are to really learning the art… If your mentality from the minute you pick up that camera is, “shooting in manual is too hard”, “this is too confusing”, or “I just don’t have the time to learn”, then you’ve already failed. You’ll never truly learn.

If you’ve already been shooting for several years and you’re still questioning why you’re missing the mark, you should really be asking why you don’t already know the answer. Do your homework. Check your resources and ask people who truly know what they’re doing. The one thing I’ve found extremely beneficial to my progression is talking through my thought process with someone who’s actually good at it. When you that find person, recognize that it’s a blessing and learn everything you can!

Photography is robust. It’s hard. And it’s no doubt confusing as hell. If you’re ready to take this monster on, then congratulations. Here’s how to NOT suck at photography:


Don’t try to learn everything at once…

Pick 2-3 top priorities and master those first – but don’t make photo editing one of those priorities. If you ask me, I would recommend learning the following in this exact order: 1.) Manual Mode – develop full understanding of the exposure triangle, 2.) Focus – manual mode is pointless if you can’t even get a sharp image, and 3.) Focal lengths – because it has a huge impact on the end result. Then, put it all together – that’s the trickiest part and an excellent measurement of mastery! I wish someone told me this years ago!

Don’t assume that you can shoot everything if you primarily shoot one thing…

A huge mistake I see too often is someone assuming they can shoot everything and anything once they’ve “mastered manual mode”. If you’re shooting flatlays all day, what makes you think you’re going to shoot street style and nail it? If you’re shooting portraits in poppy fields all the time, do you really think you can successfully shoot weddings?

The only way to truly know if you can master all genres of photography is to shoot ALL OF IT, which isn’t entirely possible. That’s why there are designated photographers for fashion, weddings, and products. You’ll eventually get to a point where can shoot just about anything, but you’ll discover that you’re best at one or two genres. And it’s certainly not going to happen in your first year unless of course, you’re a unicorn (and some people are).

That being said, try everything! You’ll be surprised at what your specialization really is.

Don’t lie to yourself…

To become a better photographer, you have to keep raising the bar. Set your standards high to begin with and be honest with yourself. Look at and digest beautiful, aspirational work daily – not your neighbor’s who’s merely at your level. If you can’t even tell that your work isn’t hitting a certain benchmark, how can you improve? You won’t. Surround yourself with artists who will critique you and push you to be better – and pick those individuals carefully. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Don’t be a sheep.

Don’t make excuses…

Looking back, I was probably a little maniacal and obsessed with photography when I first started. I had a full-time job, two kids, and a family to take care of – sure, it meant working until 2 am, declining social functions, or reading ferociously during any possible break (even at red lights). My desperation led me to the right resources through heaps of googles a day. I was ecstatic to shoot anything and everything. If given the chance, I would have shot for anyone and everyone UNPAID. Unfortunately, I knew no one. I’m still game to shoot unpaid today because the value of learning from an excellent photographer is tremendous and I refuse to overvalue myself. Complacency will hurt you. My point is, if there is a will, there is a way. Always.

Don’t copy other people…

Do you ever look at Instagram and think “Oh this looks just like ______’s page?” Yawns. Don’t be that person. Consider your vision and identity and shoot accordingly. The last thing anyone wants to see is a copy of someone else’s work. Sometimes, we end up copying unintentionally, but if/when you catch yourself, STOP. It’s ok to reference other photographers, but a blatant copy is baffling. Plus, everyone notices.

Really, these principles apply not just to photography, but life in general. Hope that helps and apologies in advance if I pissed anyone off. Bye guys ๐Ÿ™‚

Wearing HM dress. Self-shot.

photography - le jolie

  • I love this post!!! I just shot a few flatlays in manual today and I think it helped me get a better understand for the exposure triangle because I wasn’t in a rush. I took my time choosing the settings. Thank you for being my person to talk to about these things. Also, I love the red dress it looks lovely on your skin tone.

    Genevieve |

    • Susan

      haha, thanks! I think red is my color atm. That’s great news though – keep it up ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Kuee Breeze Vue

    Great post! I love it. Couldn’t agreed more.

    • Susan

      Thanks Kue! ๐Ÿ™‚