Can I Take Great Photos Without Learning Photography?

Do you need to learn anything before you can take good pictures? Read on to find out.

Keith Chen

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Image by author.

I got this question a lot — Keith, what do I need to learn before I can take nice photos? Today, I will share my thoughts on this exact topic. This is mostly in the context of Street Photography because that is the genre I am specialized in (and very passionate about).

Image by author.

To start, I would say that some kinds of photos do require a lot of technical knowledge to shoot right, like this photo of the Vessel from NYC. You need to know how to use a super-wide lens, know your exposure settings, understand perspective, have a good idea of what is a good time to shoot, and know your color chart for editing to get to this warm/cold tone combination. On the other hand, check out the next photo of the cool-looking gentleman. It was a completely random shot when I took it during my lunch break, with an old iPhone that I don’t even remember the model number. Do you need to know anything technical to shoot a photo like this? Absolutely not (maybe some ninja street photography skill would help, which will be discussed in a different story).

Image by author.

There are two types of skills. One is like Computer Programming — you have to learn the basics, otherwise, you will be sitting in front of a machine like a fool. The other is like playing basketball — you can just pick it up and do it. You may not be good at it at the beginning, but there should be nothing stopping you from trying, as long as you have a basketball. Photography should be the latter, as long as you have a camera of any sort.

Sample photo from an amateur photographer.

Check out this cellphone photo above from a complete amateur. It is probably one of the first 50 photos she has ever taken in her life. Is it good? Absolutely…

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Keith Chen

Photographer, Product Manager @ Google, Professor, Runner, Hiker, and World Traveler. Took photos from 50+ cities (and counting). Language : 中文 / EN