Start Simple

From time to time I come across a willing new photographer who has just bought his first camera and is looking for advice on where to start. Unfortunately, quite often a broad request such as “What I should do first?” is often directed at social media. It should not come as a surprise that we are all eager to help, regardless of our knowledge or expertise. After all, photography can’t be that hard, can it?

However, some communal advice I encounter wakes up the worst of my human instincts. Calm down Olaf, no need to go berserk!

Today, I am not going to write a long, in-depth article but let me share some simple advice for those of you who have bought your first camera and don’t have a clue what to do next.

  • No, your first step should not be learning Photoshop!
  • No, you should not worry about sharpening settings!
  • No, you don’t need all those accessories everyone is trying to sell you.
  • No, you don’t need this $500 camera bag to impress your friends.

Here is what you should do.

  • Yes, read the manual.
  • Yes, get to know your camera.
  • Yes, read about shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation.
  • Yes, read tons of photographic, non-technical books.

Most importantly, find a small city plaza, street corner or a sport park near your home. Take your new camera with you and visit the same location daily or as often as you can.

Observe the light throughout the day and see how things change as the sun moves across the horizon. Try photographing this one location for a few weeks every day. Play with exposure compensation and learn to master the light. Then start imagining how the same scene would look if you underexpose (make the picture darker) or overexpose (make the picture brighter). Don’t be afraid to go crazy with the exposure compensation dial (read about it in your camera’s manual and use it).

Keep arranging the same elements in as many ways as you can. Try to construct your images from the fewest items possible (hint: focus on shapes, lines, etc.). Think as if you were designing a puzzle by changing your perspective.

The bottom line is this: learn to observe, get to know how light interacts with elements around you and compose simple imagery! Then go from there.

Below please find imagery containing a minimal number of elements. I enjoy this type of visual discovery as it helps me to train my eye to see the light, line and perspective. After all, that’s all you need.




London / March 9 – 11, 2018

Berlin / March 16 – 18, 2018

Toronto / June 8 – 10, 2018

New York / June 15 – 17, 2018

Vancouver / August 10 – 12, 2018

Paris / September 21 – 23, 2018

San Francisco – November 2018

Sydney – late 2018

Make sure to reserve your spot early!


2018 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved

17 thoughts on “Start Simple

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I love photography in death (learned a manual film black and white photo course in high school and loved it ever since, used a cheap non-SLR digital camera for the longest time with great success, bought my brother a DSLR recently), but have lately been in this rut: WHERE DO I GO FOR THE CONTENT? It’s driven me mad, prevented me from taking any pictures. Your advice perfectly combats this: Go to the simplest place you can think of (not exactly what you said, I know, but anyway) and photograph the same damn thing over and over. I thought my problem was, well, I ALREADY went to the park and took all the good pictures there are to take there! But you’ve shown me the light. *pun unintended*. Things change, time moves, what was there before is now different. I will definitely start taking more pictures after your post. Thank you!!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

      All the best,


    1. Magnus,

      Great content! Thank you for sharing. Maybe I will put together all the links and share them in one of upcoming blog posts.



  2. Great reminder for me (& others) not to get caught up in the hype. Love the simplistic lines of your photography.

  3. Camera Mfgs are between a rock and a hard place. Cell Phones have become a disruptive technology that ate the lower end of the market for cameras and are comping up-stream every year or so. Their competition has grow to include every other publicly traded company out there. Not from a product perspective, but from a profitability perspective. Where will I put my investment to give me the most return?

    I got a book years back for my son who expressed an interest in photography, it was by Nation Geographic. Photography Guide for Kids if I remember right. It went over a lot of basics in very good detail. I managed to have do a lot of fun for years with just three lenses (all primes). While I’ve had a few periods with a lot more “Stuff” (bodies, glass, motor, etc.), one prime is a fine place to start. I know a lot of folks who start film with a 50mm, got a 24 and then a 105 and were very happy. My first kit was 24/85/200 (I like big jumps). It should be said that I worked with a fixed lens rangefinder for the first three years of my addiction (to photography). Lens and cameras are things that you can outgrow and that’s OK. You don’t need to chase the best camera of the year, year after year. What you need to do is find the best camera for you.

    LOTS of people do great work with a X100 or an iPhone, simple rocks.

    B2 (;->

  4. Incredibly true words of advice rarely heard in todays photography marketing machine (i.e. creative death trap). More times than not, the simpler the image the more it seems to draw you in. Once again beautiful imagery Olaf.

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