with Courtney Slazinik
Letter to Beginner Photography Self

A letter to my beginner photography self

Dear Courtney,

You recently got your first DSLR and convinced Megan to come over and start teaching you manual mode. Yes, it is super confusing but you will get there.

Manual mode seems like a daunting and confusing new language that you do not understand.

Take your time.

You will get there.

You will be amazed that you will eventually be able to change your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture without even thinking about it. Your fingers will do the work for you.

Despite your first several “photo shoots”. You don’t need to have your ISO at 6400 in a full lit room. Set your aperture first, not ISO.

You know that yellowish look your photos have when shooting inside that drives you batty and you don’t know how to fix it. That is called white balance. Just saved you hours of googling. You’re welcome.

There are going to be days where you are going to yell and get beyond frustrated with the girls when trying to take their photo.

They are trying to listen.

They are trying to understand what you are saying, but if you give a 3-year old an umbrella and expect her to stand still for a silhouette shot…you are asking too much.

When you find yourself losing it with the kids over photography, take a deep breath, walk away, and think why are you doing this. You are doing it to capture their childhood.

Each and every shot does not have to be perfect.

Let it go. Let it go when the kids don’t want to look at the camera, tilt their head just so, look out the window, look at you, look at their sibling, look down.

If you stay patient and keep the experience fun than the kids won’t get burnt out and run away from the camera.

When taking your family photos yourself, aim low. Seriously, you will enjoy yourself more if you only hope to get one good photo.

You know that lens that came with your camera? Get rid of it!

Buy the 50mm 1.8 Megan suggests. Yes, $100 seems like a lot of money for a lens but I promise that will seem like a drop in the bucket later down the road when you buy more lenses.

The 50mm 1.8 will be your trusty lens for over a year before you can purchase another one.

Those blurry backgrounds you love? Yeah, you can get those with your 50mm 1.8 by shooting wide open. Don’t go crazy shooting wide open because you will miss the focus more times than I would like to admit.

You have a tendency of finding a hobby and obsessing about it for 6 months before moving onto another one. Not photography. You have finally found your true passion (besides teaching).

Photography is THE hobby you have been searching for.

Read as much as you can about photography. Find blogs, forums, and books. Soak it all up. BUT get out and practice it.

Spending all that time reading is important but if you don’t implement you new skills than they will not become second nature.

That Project 365 you keep hearing about. Do it! Single best thing you did for your photography.

Get in front of the camera. You will eventually figure out how to get yourself in focus in those shots.

Edit daily.

Take the workshops. Participate in them fully. Critique your classmates images and really study their work.

Continue to practice what you learned once the class is over.

In fact, when you are in a rut and you will be in a lot of them, take out your workshop material and repeat a workshop on your own.

The hardest times in your photography journey are normally right after these workshops. You will have learned so many new things but struggle to put them into practice.

Don’t get discouraged.

This typically happens right before you have a growth in your photography.

You will have ups and downs. You will have months where you feel like your photos aren’t good enough. Stop looking at other photographers’ work.

Don’t compare yourself.

Your journey is your journey.

There will be photographers who start after you and pass you in skill. That is ok. Don’t let it get you down.

The only photographer you should compare yourself to is yourself.

And let me tell you, you will come a LONG way from the photos you took in your front yard of the kids.

Keep clicking.

Yourself in 3.5 years

What would you tell yourself?

  • Vanessa
    May 2, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    Love this. Very encouraging!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 2:58 PM

      Thanks :)

  • May 2, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    What a great post! Thanks so much for writing this – so helpful! Just bought my first DSLR and still trying to figure it all out. :)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      Congrats on your first DSLR! How exciting to start your journey!

  • Life with Kaishon
    May 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    Great advice Courtney : )

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      Thanks ;)

  • Jenn
    May 2, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    I would tell myself to work at it everyday and let go of perfection. Comparison is the thief of joy.
    Instead of looking at the work of others look back at my own work to see how far I’ve come. Invest in others & pay it forward.

    • Pam
      May 2, 2013 at 10:43 PM

      “Comparison is the thief of joy” ….well said Jennifer

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      I love that “Comparison is the their of joy”. No truer words have been spoken! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jean
    May 2, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    Yes! Yes! Yes! :0)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      Thanks <3

  • Ashley
    May 2, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    I just wanted to say THANK You so much for posting this. I am just starting my business and this was just what I needed.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      I’m so glad to hear that! Best of luck!

  • May 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    Love this! Going to send this to my husband (he’s the photographer). Going to relate this to my photo editing journey. Maybe I’ll write myself one of these ;)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      You totally should write one to yourself!

  • Jacqueline
    May 2, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    So, there’s hope for me, huh?! Great post!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      Yes! Believe me, if I can do it ANYONE can :)

  • May 2, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    “It’s called white balance- I just saved you hours of googling. You’re welcome”
    Haha- I’m dying here! Soooo true.

    And “You have a tendency of finding a hobby and obsessing about it for 6 months before moving onto another one. Not photography. You have finally found your true passion (besides teaching).”

    Wow- I think you’re living in my head. Truer words have never been spoken. I’ve always been crafty- sewing/knitting/Scrapbooking/jewelry making/etc- and beyond sewing, photography has been the thing I’ve stuck with the longest!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      Isn’t it fantastic to finally find the hobby you have been searching for! And darn white balance, that had me scratching my head for MONTHS!

  • May 2, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Whoa! I feel like you wrote this letter for me! Thanks so much! It really makes me feel better :)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      I’m so glad to hear it makes you feel better! Yay!

  • May 2, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Ugh – I would tell myself NOT to drop hundreds of dollars of tax return money on ACTIONS instead of taking editing classes. ROLLING EYES.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      Yes, actions and presets can suck up so much money better spent on education! Good point!

  • Barb
    May 2, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    I love this! Especially the part about the kids. I can’t count the number of times I have gotten frustrated because the girls wouldn’t stand or look exactly like I wanted them to.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      Completely normal to get frustrated with the kiddos, I just have to remind myself it isn’t worth it :)

  • rachel
    May 2, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    well said, my friend! :) one of these days i am sure you will talk me into that 365…. :)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      Thanks! Oh, you’ll do a 365 before I’m done with you ;)

  • May 2, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    I’ve really loved this post ’cause I’m starting now this adventure and… I’m so excited and scary at the same time! This is the best encouragement for someone starting now: thank you!!!!!!!!!!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      Thank you! How exciting for you to be starting your journey! So much ahead of you, how exciting!

  • Kristin
    May 2, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    This letter is fantastic. I am so glad I found CM to help me along my journey! Glad so many bloggers I love recommended it!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      CM is fantastic :) Yay!

  • May 2, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    I LOVE THIS!!!! Very encouraging :)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      Thanks :)

  • Kim
    May 2, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Love LOVE this! I want to print this and read it over and over again. I’m at a point right now where I’m frustrated but like you I feel like I have found my true hobby and do not want to give up.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      I’m so glad to hear that! Photography is wonderful and frustrating all at the same time :)

  • May 2, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    This is a fabulous post!!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      Thank you!

  • May 2, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    I love this! At last an encouraging post that does not bash new photographers. A post that is positive and full of real life advice! THANK-YOU!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      Thanks for your sweet comment :)

  • May 2, 2013 at 10:42 PM

    Yep, I needed that. Shooting mostly my 1 and 3 year old little girls has proven challenging as I’m learning. I’ll admit, some days I give up and go take pictures of the plants in my garden. They are so much better behaved!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      ha ha I have those days where the flowers on my table are much better subjects :)

  • Franny Rogers
    May 3, 2013 at 1:04 AM

    Just what I needed to hear Courtney! After my last session with my daughter, I swear I wanted to throw my camera at her (not that I ever would), but it just reminded me of why I’m doing this! THanks for this encouraging post!! ;)

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:07 PM

      I know, it can be so frustrating. It’s a great reminder for myself as well :)

  • May 3, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    Amazing tips! Thanks so much!!!!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:07 PM


  • Ilene
    May 3, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Thank you, Courtney! I needed to read this. I’ve been contemplating getting a dslr for months now and I’m finally getting ready to take the plunge. During these months, I think I’ve devoured a good 600+ articles on manual settings, f-stops, aperture, white balance, etc. My mind feels as if it’s going to explode.

    I’m absolutely terrified. Reading this helped me breathe, sit down, and realize that it’s going to be okay. I don’t need to be “perfect”.

    Thank you.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:08 PM

      Yes, you don’t need to be perfect! Have fun on your journey!

  • fumsicles
    May 5, 2013 at 7:25 AM

    Hi Courtney!!!

    I literally stumbled upon your website a few days ago and I have been hooked ever since!! your tips and tricks are so helpful I am new to the DSLR world and have only had my camera for 2 months. After hours of fiddling with my camera and getting frustrated at why I couldn’t get those blurry shots I read this letter and thought…………well duh of course its the LENSE!!!! I am now purchasing a 50mm 1.8 to take with me on holiday next week. Before reading your post I was used to shooting on programme mode but I am going to embark on Manual mode this week (fingers crossed!)

    Thanks for all your help and I cant wait to read your new posts!

    Lots of love


    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:09 PM

      Thanks! Oh, I hope you love your new 50mm 1.8! It’s a fantastic lens :)

  • May 6, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    I love this! I’m pretending it wrote this to me, because THIS IS ME RIGHT NOW. haha. Trying to practice all I can, though!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      June 10, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      Yes, practice will definitely get you were you want to be :) Best of luck! So many exciting things ahead of you!

  • July 2, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    *sigh* Thanks!

    • Courtney Slazinik
      July 5, 2013 at 2:55 PM

      Welcome <3

  • Chelsea
    August 30, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    I would tell myself that EDITING IS NOT CHEATING!! It’s part of the art!
    Thanks :)

  • December 9, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    I needed to read this, thank you

  • December 11, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Next month it will be 2 years after I purchase my frist DSLR, I am addicted, that shows mz shutter 40.000 and counting and my flickr account :) Great article!

  • December 11, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    Next month it will be 2 years after I purchased my frist DSLR, I am addicted, that shows my shutter 40.000 and counting and my flickr account :) Great article!

  • December 11, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    Just keep clicking, just keep clicking! Love this!! So needed this today.

  • Teri G
    December 12, 2013 at 12:32 AM

    I love the part about photography being a hobby you stick with and are passionate about, just like teaching. That is me, too! I’m amazed at how I’m sticking to photography as an art form despite the ups and downs. And yes, I am passionate about teaching. Next step when I get photography down, teaching it :)

    Great article!

  • December 12, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    Very nice and inspirational! Thank you :)

  • Christen
    December 12, 2013 at 9:45 PM

    These are several points my husband has been trying to tell me for months, but I’m too stubborn to listen to him :) So great to read these and know I’m not alone. Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts and helping us to remember that every photographer had a beginning at some point!

  • Florencia Aldaco
    March 22, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    I think you pretty much covered it!
    I do tend to get frustrated when I compare.
    Repeat “don’t compare, because there is always one loser, and generally it’s you” …because of expectations

  • Nicky
    March 22, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Just because you CAN start a business doesn’t mean you should. Don’t do it.

  • Dawn
    March 22, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    Great letter and very true!!! Im not much past where you were when you wrote this letter. Bought my DSLR 3 months ago. At the time I told my friend, I wasn’t into the editing part. Well Ive realized that editing is a big part of it all. I have the 50mm lens and I probably shoot wide open to often… Im doing my first project 365. I am also one who gets into something for 6 months at a time.
    Im finding I’m always wondering what to buy next. Reflectors, lighting, lens’… its pretty much endless but the bank account is not so it holds me back and forces me to learn with what I have. Thats not a bad thing.

  • March 22, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    I would say, learn to shoot in manual-it frees your limitations. Take at least one class and learn it the right way. And keep those horizons straight. Nothing says amateur more than crooked horizons.

  • March 22, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    I literally told my husband an hour I feel like giving up completely. Thanks for this!! http://www.daniellegeriphotography.com

  • Elena
    September 30, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    Love it!! I so needed this.

    Thank you

  • Cindi Koch
    September 30, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    This is for real! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!

  • Haley Thornton
    September 30, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    Thank you for this ! I have recently moved up from a rebel cannon to Cannon 70d .. I have the 50mm 1.8 lens and love it however ready to move up in a new lens similar any ideas of what to purchase .. Want to start Senior Photography ?? Thank you!! Haley

  • Sabrina
    September 30, 2014 at 11:05 PM

    This makes me want to break down and cry happy tears….

  • Jennifer Dohy
    October 1, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    Wow! Thank you Courtney! You always post exactly what I need to hear right at that moment! Today I started working on my first two real photo projects with my brand new equipment & software. All of which I have never used before (Macbook Pro, Lightroom 5, Elements 12 & a Wacom tablet). I am completely overwhelmed and worried I bit off more than I can chew. I was doubting myself all day today and then I saw your post…that reminded me I am right where I am supposed to be at this moment. I truly needed to hear that tonight. Thank you so much!!!

    Seattle, WA

    • October 1, 2014 at 2:49 PM

      Oh goodness! That can be very overwhelming to learn all those things. Don’t get discouraged! Keep going!

  • October 1, 2014 at 6:15 AM

    Wonderful article. Thank you so much!

  • Stefanie
    October 1, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    Thank you so much for this!! It feels like that was written specifically for me! I’m just beginning my journey (only had my DSLR since January). I’ve come along way, but I get discouraged so easily when I feel there is no way I will get as good as the other work I see. But, I’m researching,joining blogs(like yours), taking workshops through clickin moms (thank you for that suggestion) as well as other classes, joined the local photography club and just trying to absorb as much as I can. Oh, and taking senior photos, family portraits for friends even though I feel I’m not good enough yet. Because obviously they think I am if they asked me. Thank you again for such inspiration and a site full of great resources.

    • October 1, 2014 at 2:49 PM

      Thank you :) You are definitely where you need to be. Look how far you have come! Check out your old photos.

  • October 2, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    This letter is so incredibly accurate for me too! I think being patient is the most important part as I wanted to learn it all as soon as I got bit by the photography bug! I’m 2.5 years into my journey and I’m finally OK with taking my time and enjoying the ride. It takes time to develop the technical skills and even more time to develop your style. And I’m finally OK with that! Thanks for putting this out there. I couldn’t have written it better myself, and will be passing this along to any new photographers struggling with the same issues I remember having myself! I have a long way to go, but I’m proud of where I’ve come in my 2.5 years since switching the dial to manual. Your blog has been super helpful, so thanks for all the time and honesty you put into it!

    • October 6, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      Thank you! Yes, it’s such an individual journey. I love that you embrace it :)

  • K.Kelly
    May 28, 2015 at 12:52 PM

    This is the first post I’ve seen on this site. Definitely motivates me to subscribe and check out other posts.

    This is easy to absorb and there is a lot of positive intent in this post and still you’ve likely helped others like myself more than you know.

    Thank you,
    ~ A photographer that doesn’t practice nearly as much as she researches.

  • Courtney J
    February 6, 2016 at 11:08 AM

    My name is Courtney too, and it definitely felt like you were talking to me! Thanks for the advice!

  • PeterStudden
    February 6, 2016 at 5:38 PM

    This reminds me of my archery coaching days. I would tell my archers not to worry about others progressing faster or who’s bow looks better. Don’t copy but find your own way of shooting…And so on.
    You can only read so much, then you have to start practicing.Remember the basics and develop your own style, what works for others may not work for you.

  • Nye
    March 23, 2016 at 11:28 PM

    Great encouragement! I’ve been in a rut for over a year and started to get back into it – Relearning the skills I forgotten… I started to read up on blogs and came across yours while doing some research. I find your posts motivating, just wanna say thank you!! :) Started the 365 Project a couple of days ago :) so far I’m finding it helpful and also downloaded the “Collect” app to keep track! It’s awesome! :)

  • bill
    March 25, 2016 at 12:13 PM

    Can I be one of the ‘girls’? I find what you right to be just right for me.

  • Nicole Moore
    April 21, 2016 at 4:01 AM

    All I needed to hear! Thank you Courtney. Your website is very informative and helpful.

  • Abhilash
    April 26, 2016 at 12:39 PM

    Thanks Courtney.
    Need a suggestion.
    If money is not a concern, what will you suggest – 50f1.8 or 35f1.4.
    Considering I want to end up being a wedding photographer.

  • Mike
    May 19, 2016 at 1:13 PM

    Wonderful post! So very true on so many levels…

  • Marisa
    May 22, 2016 at 1:37 AM

    I am definitely at the stage where every photo i take is missing something… is so frustrating .. but i was saying to my husband yesterday after a little photoshoot that i won’t give up i will take better photos :) this article is very encouraging so thank you :)

  • Lemon mark pacione
    June 1, 2016 at 11:29 AM

    Thank youuuuu! What a great read. 😊 I really need this motivation thanks a LOT!

  • Angela
    August 1, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    Thank you for this! I’m so glad I found your site! Super stoked to improve my photography. Tired of reading articles that confused me even more!

  • Balakumar
    August 7, 2016 at 11:30 AM

    Thank you… Wonderful speech…

  • Nancy J.
    August 20, 2016 at 10:44 AM

    Thank You! This is very encouraging! I don’t think I give myself enough credit because I’m obsessed with other photographers works. I must admit, I do compare myself.

  • sanjay kumar dingwani
    August 20, 2016 at 12:58 PM

    thankyou so much for tell me
    i always compare my self
    and i always hurt
    when i compare
    thankyou mam
    and i really need this .
    please help figure out
    how to be creativity in your work ??
    how to think ?

  • Jean Bou Serhal
    August 24, 2016 at 10:59 AM

    Love it! I loved every single encouragement in this letter! Very warm and touching words! Thank you so much for sharing this deeply helpful message!

  • Frank Alex
    September 1, 2016 at 5:26 PM

    it fun reading your article about photography…i love your effort in sharing these wisdom to us..Thank you ma,And i love the part that you said we should be ourself and we should not think that someone is making faster then us..i usually have issues with understanding white balance,because i know it very good using it.so now aam going back to read it again for more understanding…..

  • Ashlee Smith
    October 20, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    Love this!! Love the line “Your journey is your journey”
    Thank you for sharing your message!!

  • Danielle Fletcher
    October 22, 2016 at 6:33 PM

    Great Post! I compare myself all the time and it’s very frustrating. I will remember that it is “My journey” Thank you so much for words of wisdom. Looking forward to Wednesday’s forum.

  • Sonja Carree
    October 24, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    Thank you Courtney ..

  • Kevin Barton
    January 28, 2017 at 8:19 PM

    Good stuff. I just wish I could get the book in the UK.

  • Hannah Phillips
    May 9, 2017 at 11:38 AM

    This so encouraging! I am a high school photographer. I love taking pictures of my siblings, and friends but lack confidence to actual ask someone to pay me. But this is so encouraging! I love taking pictures, although I don’t do much editing. This summer while on break, is going to be my ultimate test. Thank you for this blog! I would love any tips on lifestyle photography when in Low light. Or bags that are small but hold a DSLR. I want to take my camera everywhere but don’t really want to lug a giant bag all the time.
    Thank you so much for this!

  • John Bouton
    July 25, 2017 at 12:55 PM

    Hi, my name is John. I’m glad to have connected with you through “learning manual mode” sites. Your first few posts helped to begin to accept that I need to slowly learn & shoot pics every day. Thanks. JB

  • Alicia
    September 1, 2017 at 7:16 PM

    Sweet! Thanks for sharing… I’ll put this on the shelf to reach back for during those discouraging moments. And they will come!

  • Maria Pereira
    January 22, 2018 at 1:16 PM

    Thank you for sharing. Very encouraging and inspiring.

  • Cheryl Morris
    March 19, 2018 at 3:14 PM

    Thanks so much Courtney! This is all very helpful. I do have a question about the 50. Do you only use the 1.8 fstop? Or are you able to adjust it? I know this is probably a silly question. I have one, but not really sure if I just change aperture and ISO.

    Thanks for your help,

  • Quent
    July 5, 2018 at 9:04 PM

    Awesome share Courtney! Also enjoyed your recent webinar.

  • Christian
    July 19, 2018 at 3:28 PM

    Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Robin wolfenden
    July 21, 2018 at 12:09 PM

    Just bought my first DSLR camera feel like it’s an extension to my arm already..some great tips on here thank. You

  • osmandsalle
    September 1, 2018 at 8:27 PM

    Thank you so much…everything very informative

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