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How To Learn Photography Without Buying Expensive Equipment

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

My first camera was a point and shoot film camera, and that’s exactly what I did. I pointed the camera at my subject and took the shot.

My images were not always successful!

I often had images with a branch sticking out of someone’s head or limbs cut off. I had images where all the interest was concentrated on one side, images with wonky horizons or images that were over or under exposed.

After receiving many disappointing images back from the photo lab, I began to realise that I needed to be more careful with my compositions. And because making these types of mistakes was expensive, my first photography lessons were to learn some basic composition techniques.

When I progressed from a basic camera to my first SLR camera I tried to get to grips with all the wheels and dials and to understand ISO, aperture and shutter speed, but this was a steep learning curve at the time, and I didn’t have a lot of success.

Fast forward to four years ago when I started re-learning photography with a DSLR camera and I began to realise that there is so much to learn, so much improvement to be made all the time, that it really does take a serious commitment of time and interest.

Thankfully, with digital photography we don’t have the expense of having film developed but there are still considerable costs in starting photography as a hobby.

Apart from the camera and lenses there are extras such as camera bag, lens filters, tripod, possibly a subscription to an editing programme. The costs mount up.

But there is one way that you can learn photography without these costs and that is by learning with your phone camera.

Firstly, it is a camera that you always have with you.

Secondly, it is much more capable than the old point and shoot cameras. There is a view that the top range mobile phone cameras can even equal cheaper DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

Thirdly, there are no extras to buy such as camera bag, tripod and lenses, unless you want these to enhance your experience.

I am not talking here about investing in the ‘latest and greatest’ phone camera. In fact, having the latest phone camera might prove to be a disadvantage as you may find it difficult to move to a real camera, and in my view, we don’t gain a real photography experience by just using a phone.

What I am talking about is using a phone to learn about photography rather than worrying about quality of images. So, any phone with a camera will do the job.

Here are 7 ways in which you can learn photography without buying expensive camera equipment.

1. Composition – learning the fundamentals

In my view, getting the composition right is one of the most important skills in photography. We can know all the technical jargon but if we fail to nail the composition, we fail to capture a good image.

Our mobile phone is invaluable for learning composition.

A simple first step is to turn on the grid which will help keep horizons straight and encourage use of one of the most popular composition strategies – the rule of thirds.

Good composition involves getting different perspectives, using a variety of angles from which to shoot, constantly moving to get the best vantage point, and working with the best available light.

Having a small, handheld device makes this easy to do and encourages us to constantly experiment with composition. Nothing beats learning by doing and by having lots of opportunities to practise, we naturally teach ourselves better composition skills.

I am always on the lookout for interesting leading lines which lead the viewer into the frame. Having my phone camera on hand helps me find these when least expected.

2. Subject – learning about focus and exposure

Finding an interesting subject is key to having a good composition.

Photographer James Popsys claims that the best photographs are those that are about something rather than of something. A beautiful scene will not always translate into a beautiful image but when we focus on a subject, on an interesting aspect of the scene, we can elevate the image into something more.

Focus is easy with our phone cameras. We just tap on the screen where we want our focus to be, and the camera does the rest.

We can lock focus to ensure that we are still focused on our subject even if we move, and from our focal point we can slide our finger up or down to control exposure. This quickly becomes highly intuitive.

3. Working with lenses – learning about lens choice and how focal lengths work

One of the important lessons in photography is learning about focal length and the effect that changing focal length has on an image. To do this properly with a camera we would need to have a range of different lenses or at least a standard telephoto lens with a good focal range, and both these options can be expensive.

Working with a mobile phone camera gives us easy access to a choice of several lenses, all within the one device.

Mobile phone cameras vary considerably regarding lenses. Entry level phones will at least have a wide-angle and an ultra-wide-angle lens, while many recent phones have a triple lens setup consisting of a wide-angle lens, an ultra-wide-angle and a telephoto lens.

Phone camera lenses are developing all the time and some now have the addition of a macro lens for close-up photography. Having this range of lenses at our disposal, without having to physically change lenses, means we can easily experiment with the effect of changing focal length, with choosing which focal length is best in each situation and with being creative with focal length.

The images below give some examples of using three different mobile camera lenses.

2x lens

1x lens

0.5 lens

4. Editing – learning about improving our images

Most images, even those captured on an expensive camera, need at least some editing. This is another aspect of photography that can be mastered using a mobile phone.

Most online photo storage spaces have their own editing suites. Social media sites used for displaying photographs also have editing capabilities as well as a range of filters.

Additionally, there are many editing apps such as Lightroom Mobile or Snapseed which can give excellent results.

One of the main advantages of these editing options is that we can do our editing on the go. We instantly upload our images, edit as required, and easily save the edited images to our phone storage.

The results may not equal those of a full editing programme, but they do give a taste of how to edit and help us refine our editing style.

5. Get Creative - make more of your photography

Light trails, macro, abstract, ICM, use of creative filters and editing techniques, blurring background with Live Focus and use of third-party apps are all options available to us on our phone cameras and give us the opportunity to get creative with our photography.

6. Apps – learning advanced skills

While some modern phones have a manual option which can be accessed through the camera settings, for those that don’t there are many third-party apps available to download onto any smartphone which will enhance the camera capabilities of our phone and give us some aspects of a more professional camera.

Slow Shutter Cam allows us to easily change shutter speed for creative effect, such as creating ICM images.

Editing apps such as Snapseed allow us to make creative choices, as well as regular editing

Apps such as Lightroom Mobile, ProCam and Reeflex allow us to shoot in manual mode with the option of adjusting ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Having this capability on our phone encourages us to experiment with these professional settings, and helps us understand the terms, what they mean and what they do.

7. Continuity – life-long learning

Photography is one of those subjects where there is always more to learn and where you never reach perfection. The phone camera can be our constant learning companion in that we can use it at any time and for any purpose. It can help us perfect a skill or try out a technique when the right opportunity arises. Phones themselves will continue to advance and develop and give us continuous opportunities to upskill and keep abreast of new technologies.

With our phone camera by our side, we can be life-long learners in the art of photography.


Learning photography is challenging and rewarding. It has given me endless hours of pleasure; it has kept my mind active and fed my soul. And learning photography doesn’t have to be expensive. We have an effective learning tool with us all the time – our phone camera.

With our phone camera we can:

· Learn the basics of composition and editing without investing in expensive cameras, lenses, filters, tripod and camera bag.

Our phone camera travels light.

· Get creative with our photography

Learning to be creative with our camera is where the real joy of photography lies. Once we have mastered the basic skills our photography journey becomes a journey of discovery.

· Develop more advanced skills and continue our learning

Whatever we need to learn to improve our photography skills, our phone camera, by being an increasingly capable and ever-present device, will support and accelerate the learning process.

Why not unlock the learning potential of your mobile phone camera?


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