Best advice for beginner portrait photographers: Learning from 5+ years of portraits

I remember looking around the web for the best advice for beginner portrait photographers when I first started learning. There is tons of information. 

There are literally thousands of tips for the best camera gear, lighting equipment, techniques, etc.

It can be hard to wrap your head around everything and it can make you want to quit before you even get started to be honest.

Best advice for beginner portrait photographers

Before you fall into this trap, let me give you the best advise for beginner portrait photographers that I wish I came across when I got started.

These are simple tips to remember and keep you focused on your portrait photography work.

If I had a chance to start all over again, I would want to know these few things from day one.

Here is the most helpful advice I would give to new portrait photographers who are just starting to build their portfolios.

Sony 24-70mm f2.8 Portraits Iana sitting down
Portrait Shoot with Iana | Off-Camera Flash

Everyone has a camera, but your creativity will help you stand out

Cameras are cheaper now than they were around 5-10 years ago, and technology has become more advanced in smaller packages.

Millions of people are carrying smartphones with advanced cameras built right into them. Everybody has a camera, but not everyone is a photographer.

Your ability to frame a subject and get creative with post-production will always help you stand apart from the rest.

Your creative compositions and using light to get the best shot will always put you above the rest. 

Don’t worry about the next photographer with a bigger and more expensive camera.

Learn the principles of photography

Principles of photography are the same for everyone. It’s how you practice these principles that will make you more of a professional.

Do your research and learn as much as you can about the technical aspects of lighting and photography. Learn color theory and learn to see in patterns and textures.

This will make you a better creative professional and show others that you are fully invested in learning your craft.

It’s not just about taking photos. Learn all aspects of this industry in order to grow as a creative professional.

best advise for beginner photographers no need for most expensive gear

You don’t always need the newest and most expensive camera gear

Speaking of bigger and better cameras. It seems like every few months, there is a new bigger and more expensive camera on the market.

Yes, it’s nice to have, but upgrading constantly can be an expensive habit.

G.A.S is real. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is a real thing and can get expensive really fast so don’t fall into this trap of wanting to constantly upgrade.

I wrote a detailed article on expensive camera gear and why it doesn’t make you a better photographer. Make sure to check it out here. 

I shot with the same Sony a7 mirrorless camera for 2 years before I upgraded. I even upgraded to an older version and not the newest one.

Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Portrait Lens
Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Portrait Lens

Invest in better lenses

The best advice I was given when I started was to invest in good lenses. Camera bodies will be changing all the time, but good glass will always be a great investment.

We all start with the kit lenses, but the best thing you could do is move past this and get a good portrait lens or lens specific to the type of photography that you shoot.

Many people never outgrew their original camera, but always feel the need to upgrade. If your budget allows for better glass, then I would choose a new lens over a new camera body.

Check out my detailed breakdown of the 35mm vs 50mm vs 85mm and how each prime lens looks for taking portraits.

Go for the upgrade, but don’t feel like you need too. Don’t feel pressured because you are using an older camera system.

If you’re like me and started with a limited budget save up so you can go out and invest in new glass. In my opinion, lenses hold their value way more than camera bodies.

Behind the scenes portrait photography shoot
Portrait shoot with Mina | Off camera flash

Learn about lighting before you learn anything else

Lighting is a huge key to good portraits and it is often one of the last things beginners want to learn about when they pick up a shiny new camera.

It’s ok to start with natural light portraits, but you will want to eventually learn off-camera flash and other types of lighting.

When you strive to master lighting principles, you will be able to shoot all types of portraits, no matter the situation.

Lighting is a key element that distinguishes beginners from professionals. Pros can take available light and bend it to their needs.

Beginners have to bend to the needs of the available light. This is a bit part of photography so you don’t want to miss it.

Keep shooting, and don’t give up

There were so many times I wanted to quit shooting. I felt like there were so many other people out there younger, and more creative than I was.

I constantly searched social media for tips on how to shoot and learning what my favorite photographers were using.

This really made me question my work and why I was shooting. After 2 years of shooting, the best thing I did was not quit. I kept shooting, studying, and kept getting better.

Give yourself the time to grow as a creative. This is not something you will learn overnight. You will need to take time to develop your look and your own unique style.

Is instagram good for photographers
Is Instagram good for photographers

Take breaks from social media

Social media is a double-edged sword in my opinion.

It can help you learn and grow but can also lead to discouraging you when your numbers and stats are not matching other people’s profiles.

Realize numbers are just one aspect of social media that we will never truly understand.

Don’t get caught up in trying to be Instagram famous. Work on your photography and work to learn more about your craft.

Shameless plug – follow me at http://www.instagram.com/jasonthecreative

Keep in mind there are people who pay hundreds of dollars to promote their accounts and still never get high numbers. You can always pot face accounts as well and fake follower counts on many profiles.

Make sure to check out this detailed article on Instagram and why it is good and bad for photographers. The results might surprise you. 

Don’t tie your work to the numbers. Shoot portraits or other types of photography because you want to grow, and not because you need the likes.

dallasportraits.com | Sony portraits
My personal Dallasportraits.com portfolio website

The key to becoming a professional is to start presenting yourself like one

This one punched me in the gut.

Shooting great photos is a sure-fire way to become a professional, but it is not a guarantee.

How you communicate and present yourself to potential clients plays a big part in how you’re perceived.

Your brand also plays a huge role in how people see your business so look at investing in good branding and other small business collateral.

Take the time and make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best light possible. (no pun intended)

Another idea is to polish those business cards, and start a simple website or social media portfolio to showcase your best work. Don’t just use an Instagram account. 

Go buy a unique domain name and build a small site. If you can’t code or are not technical, check out Squarespace as a good starting point.

This will go a long way in helping you become a pro or start doing more TFP portrait sessions.

dallasportraits.com website
Build your portfolio and keep updating it

Build a portfolio from the start

When you’re just starting out, you will not have much in the ways of content. That’s ok. We all start from zero. Work to do collaborations and more portrait shoots, and start picking out your best work.

This work can always be replaced with newer works and you will never really be done with your portfolio.

The most important thing is to start shooting and keep shooting so you’re constantly getting better.

Also, once you start getting a groove for the type of photography you like, make sure you are growing this part of your portfolio the fastest.

For example, if you want to shoot fashion portraits, then make sure you are presenting this as the main focus of your portfolio.

Don’t let anyone looking at your portfolio have to guess the type of photography you specialize in shooting.

PROEDU Photography Tutorials
PROEDU Photography Tutorials

Invest in online learning

If you can’t make it to class, then just grab your phone and start watching videos. Make it a point to start learning more about your craft.

Learning portrait photography online is so much easier now that everyone has better and faster access to the internet.

YouTube literally has hundreds of thousands of videos on photography. If you’re wanting to find something more course-based, then check out creativelive.com or proedu.com.

I can’t begin to tell you how many courses I have taken online to get better at certain aspects of my photography.

It’s a great investment in myself and my craft. I don’t like spending money, but it was always an easy choice to find and buy courses by professionals in the field of photography.

Check out my review of ProEDU.com here and see what I learned from professionals like Dani Diamond, Jake Hicks and more.

Stop comparing yourself to others

Some of the best advice for beginner portrait photographers is to stop comparing yourself to others. 

Let me say this louder for everyone to hear. When you are just starting in portrait photography, you will almost certainly want to compare your work to other photographers.

You will need to break this habit really quickly if you want to make progress as a portrait photographer.

We all start at the same level and work our way up. We all learn at different speeds and this is why you will not get very far if you are constantly comparing your work to others. You don’t know their background or how often they shoot. 

Many times you won’t know how long they’ve been shooting.

The goal is to get better at your craft and not try to compete with every single photographer you see doing well on social media.

Quick Recap

  1. Everyone has a camera, but your creativity will help define you
  2. Learn the principles of lighting
  3. You don’t need the newest and most expensive camera gear
  4. Invest in better lenses if you can
  5. Learn about lighting
  6. Keep shooting, and don’t give up when it gets hard
  7. Take breaks from social media often
  8. The key to becoming a professional is to start presenting yourself like one
  9. Build a portfolio from the start – Websites
  10. Invest in online learning not just YouTube
  11. Stop comparing yourself to others

Conclusion – Just keep making progress

Like any creative, you will find yourself learning with all new projects. Don’t get discouraged at the popularity of people online, as much of this is fake and very trivial.

Learn new skills beyond the camera as you keep moving and learning. The best advice for beginner photographers is don’t give up. Best wishes and happy shooting!

*Affiliate Disclaimer - I am a proud partner of the various affiliate programs including the Amazon.com Affiliate Program. When you click on my links and make a purchase I make a commision which goes to helping me support this blog. Thanks!

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