Photo Notebook


Resting Taxi at Tazawako Station [f1.7]

After taking thousands of iPhone photos while traveling over the course of a year, I decided to buy an actual camera. This notebook is about learning photography.

The purpose isn’t to explain what aperture, f-stop, and ISO are. That’s what YouTube is for. It’s also not about general tips or advice—particularly because I’m such a novice myself.

The purpose is to learn from my experiments. Describing my process and giving examples makes my learning more active. The act of writing and including examples also helps push me to be a bit more critical, and a bit more honest, than if I were to just think without verifying.

I also hope that there’s an off-chance that something here will be interesting or useful to someone embarking on the same journey, curious about the nitty-gritty but turned off of clickbait articles and videos.

Shooting a real camera is hard. It’s harder than I thought it would be. Out of the gate, most of my photos looked quite bad.

I Googled something along the lines of, “help I just started taking photos with a good camera and, in many ways, they look worse than my iPhone photos. Someone give me confidence.”

I found a forum where someone asked said basically the same thing. There were lots of replies. I got two good takeaways.

The first was that this is normal. Using a professional tool is difficult and requires experience. In the first hour, day, or week, your photos might look worse than your phone’s. Improve, and you will start creating photos that look as good as your phone’s. Keep improving, and you will eventually make photos that surpass what is possible with your phone.

The second takeaway was an extremely helpful conceptualization. It said this: there are two parts to taking a photo:

  1. Capturing light with a sensor
  2. Turning the data into a finished image

Phones do both at once. They automate most decisions with pleasing defaults. With a real camera, you have a great tool to do (1). You will then need to do (2) on your own with software.01

Both (1) and (2) require lots of practice to get good at.


  1. You will take RAW files which lack any postprocessing then use software like Lightroom to turn these enormous data files into publishable images. ↩︎