Photography Lessons For My Mom – Just Shoot

In Photography by Matt K25 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mom asking her how she was doing with the last exercise I’d given her (read more about it here). She said she had gone through the exercise a few times and she was doing ok. So I asked if she’d gone out shooting, and what she said back really stuck with me, because it sounded like something I hear from a lot of people (and something that had happened to me a long time ago).

Why Wasn’t My Mom Shooting?

So, when I asked my mom if she had gone out shooting she said “Well, not lately… I’m going to try to practice these settings more, and maybe in a month or so I should be ready”.

That response really hit home to me because I hear it from a lot of people. It seems a lot of people own really good photography gear, but are almost afraid to use it. They think they’re missing something, and that studying more will help.

Obviously I disagree. Here’s why. I believe the best way to make better photos is by gaining confidence. And how do you gain confidence? By getting out there and making a nice photo. And how do you do that? By shooting! There’s no substitute. You have to get out and shoot. Again, it’s that timeless piece of advice right? Practice makes perfect! The more you shoot, the better you’ll get at it. Seems simple right?

Elowah Falls

But she, like a lot of other photographers I run in to, think they’re missing something and are almost afraid to get out there and just create photos. But here’s what I can tell you… there is absolutely no setting that is keeping her back from a good photo right now. I can say with 100% certainty, that the only thing keeping her from a good photo, is getting her camera in to a good place.

I don’t care where she focusses, I don’t care what ISO she has it set to, I don’t care if she shoots it at f/4 or f/22, or what metering mode she has, or if she’s shooting HDR brackets and all of that crap. All of that stuff is nice-to-know extras, that all get in the way of the most important thing – shooting. Get your camera in to a good place, and shoot!

Why My Mom’s Situation Really Impacted Me?

Here’s a little back story to why this really impacted me, and I’d never even told my mom this story before that day on the phone. When I was a teenager, I played the guitar. I started when I was about 10-11 or so, and fell in love with it. I took lessons every week for years. I had 2 of the best guitar teachers in the state of NJ at the time. They’d literally spend hours with me each week. I sucked up information as fast as they’d give it out.

Like many photographers I meet, I became obsessed with the “technical” details of music. When most of my friends who picked up the guitar were just jamming away to Van Halen, Motley Crue, and Ozzy Osbourne (I was a kid in the 70s and early 80’s), I was studying music theory. I knew every scale, every chord, up down, left and right. I became an expert at the “technical” part of playing the guitar.

But one thing I never did was to create. I never created anything. I was afraid. I always thought I wasn’t ready to make music, so I just played other people’s music, and read/practiced the technical stuff (scales, chords, etc…). My friends would take their tape recorders and just play rock rhythm chords to them for 5 minutes. And then they’d play it back and just jam over it. Eventually they got really good at “creating”. I was jealous. I always felt that I “knew” more than them about music, and theory and all that techie stuff. But they were better than me.

So why didn’t I do the same thing as them? I always thought I didn’t have the right equipment to lay one track on top of the other. I always thought I didn’t have the right amp, or effects pedal. I always thought I didn’t know enough about the song, or what scale to play in, or the music theory behind the song to really make anything that was my own.

Friends would ask me (much like other photographers may ask you to go shooting), to bring my guitar over and just jam out and play. I never did. Even though I knew I was good, I never felt good enough to actually go and “create” with them.

As a result, I eventually stopped playing. I lost interest because I got tired of not knowing enough to get good (or at least what I thought “good” was). I never created anything, and eventually I wasn’t interested in just playing other people’s songs so I dropped out of playing the guitar.

Elowah Falls

Elowah Falls by Rick Lepage

(Photo Credit: my buddy Rick LePage taking a photo of me)

Just Get Out and Shoot!

While I agree that my mom should indeed spend 5-10 minutes a day for a few weeks going through her menus (again, this was from the last blog post, so read that if you haven’t yet), I also believe that what’s keeping her from making good photos is not a setting on her camera.

My mom isn’t a working pro, nor will she ever be. My advice to a pro would definitely not be “Sure… go out and shoot that wedding even if you don’t know your camera that well… you’ll figure it out. And if you don’t, no sweat!”.

Definitely not! By becoming a working pro and accepting client work, you’re undertaking a responsibility to produce good work for them and you should indeed be as prepared as possible. But for my mom, there’s zero harm in her grabbing her camera and driving down to the beach to shoot sunset one night.

Sure, she may not feel totally at ease with the settings on her camera just yet, but nobody feels at ease at first. That’s how we learn. It should feel awkward when you’re learning. You should feel a little bit overwhelmed by all of the settings. You should wonder if you got a shot, and probably not know much of what you got until you get home and look on the computer. All of that stuff is totally okay. It happened to everyone who learned photography over time. The pros only show you the good stuff on Facebook, Instagram, and their websites. They don’t show you all of the crap that got them there. But rest assured… there are many bad photos somewhere in the photo archives 🙂

So my second piece of advice to my mom… just shoot. Stop studying, stop worrying about settings, stop overthinking gear. Instead, worry about where you’re going to put your camera, and the quality of light you’re shooting in. I guarantee that if you tackle that enough times, you’re going to come back with a winner that you’ll be proud of. And that, I believe, will give you way more confidence than studying up on ISO or Metering settings in your camera.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!


  1. Michael Bowen


    Great point! I often struggle with this and I’ve been shooting for more than 25 years. I recently tried to do a 365 project and have struggled to simply get out and shoot. You are dead on when you say get out and shoot because it is truly the simplest way to improve your photography. Thank you for the post.

    1. Cindy Hollingsworth

      I really like the down-to-earth way you present information, Matt. I love to shoot photos. I enjoy looking at my photos later. Some other people actually like to look at them too. Beyond that — which I guess should be sufficient — I don’t know what to DO with them. Some day my kids or grandkids are to be stuck going through tons of digital files and photo albums. I bet most of them just get ditched. But since I enjoy the creative process, it should be sufficient. Guess I said that; perhaps it bore repeating. My other issue is that whereas once I simply enjoyed the experience of seeing, shooting, and enjoying, I’ve gotten good enough that most of what I shoot I end up picking apart — too much of this, too little of that, could have, should have. Would love to see you address this in a future blog post.

  2. Chris Scoggins

    Matt, what a great blog. You are spot, spot on. To back you up, even on wedding shoots you can always offer yourself up to shoot as a 3rd for free until you feel confident that you can turn out high quality products.

    Even if a beginner has not clue what the settings are, there is no shame in “auto mode”. I have shot some great photos on my little point and shoot canon on auto mode. When I became more comfortable I moved over to various “Priority Modes” and then eventually manual.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Best, Chris

  3. Diana Verdun Braddom

    Thank you, Matt! I am a Grandma who received a camera for my 70th birthday and have been bogged down with learning aperture settings, ISO etc. and not getting out and taking photos. After reading your article, my camera’s “auto mode” and I will be out and about capturing nature’s special moments!

  4. Lisa

    The best thing I ever did was a 365 project online. I posted a photo every single day that year. It forced me to pick up my camera ever day. Heck, I carried it with me everywhere. I look back through that year of photos and see how I progressed from training wheels to full manual, how I learned to use depth of field, how my composition improved. I figured out what all those numbers meant on my lenses. I saw what others posted and asked them questions about how they got certain results. So what you say here is dead on. Just get out there and shoot! An added bonus is when you’re out there you’re meeting people and seeing things you never noticed before. I am forever grateful for the way photography changed my life.

  5. Gary K

    Thanks Matt. This seems to be a theme in my life right now.
    I am in the middle of doing a Photo Artistry course and the instructor is saying the same thing. If you want to be more creative then create. Do you want to take better photos? then shoot. Do you want to be a better writer? Then write. Sure a lot of it will be destined to the trash bin but that is OK. We seem to have this perception that all the greats or even the somewhat accomplished were that way from the first day they started. Most, if not all, simply put in the time and effort to get better.
    While I am sure there will be some pros or experts who make a living at any of this, for the bulk of us, it is either a passion or a hobby. So most of all have fun and enjoy the ride.

  6. Paul Sumberg

    Good article Matt. Shoot first and ask questions later is what I tell folks just starting out with digital cameras. After all, unlike film in the old days, you can review each image and make note of your camera settings and what effect they had. . It won’t be long before you begin to see the differences and start having those Ah Ha moments.
    As always, I enjoy your articles, insights and tutelage.

  7. Jim Johnson

    Great point! I’m going through a little bit of that feeling with trying to learn how and when to use ND filters. No substitute for just getting out there and firing away!

    Enjoy all your posts and information,

    Jim Johnson

  8. Richard Siggins

    I’m about to finish up a basic photography class I’m teaching and I’m making sure all my students get a copy of this blog post! We get so caught up in gear and settings that we don’t do what is most important. Similarly, we don’t get out and shoot because conditions aren’t good enough. There is no harm in shooting with settings that aren’t exactly right, or a camera that’s not the current best model or in less than perfect conditions. In fact, there are great benefits to doing these things. Practice, try new things, fail, learn, and have a good time.

    Thanks for your teaching Matt. You truly have a gift.

    Richard Siggins

  9. Mary Glendinning

    Matt – I’m so glad I read your blog today. Like your mom, I have great camera equipment but only get it out if I’m traveling or somewhere that “warrants” taking photos. My husband is a fabulous photographer as is my brother and sister in law. I am always trying to measure up to what they can do, and I’m often disappointed in the results. I’ve taken every class you can imagine, read every book and magazine, belong to every online site and still don’t feel I’m good enough. The only difference is that I don’t practice! I often see my husband heading out to the backyard with camera in hand and I think – what the heck is he taking pictures of out there?! I realize now that it doesn’t matter – he is just out shooting and that is what makes him good! Thanks for your advice!

  10. Kathy McDevitt

    I totally agree Matt. The more you shoot the more you feel at ease with the settings and the better you get.

  11. Richard

    Hi Matt,

    What a great article! It so hits home for me. Just before reading this, I got out for the first time with my camera to shoot a sunset. Beforehand, I decided on focussing on my exposure, not composition. This was a huge step for me, as I have been making excuses not to get out there and just shoot.

    I dont understand where my fear of schooting comes from and I do look to gear for the solution. You are so right that I won’t find it there. I just need to find the courage to keep at it, keep going out there. So I will do that. And next time, I’ll also be looking for a nice composition.

    Thx for sharing your story with us, it really helps!

    With regards,
    Richard Bremer

  12. Umashankar Arora

    Hi Matt,

    Perfectly correct, I am also like “technical” Matt learning guitar. I read a lot, take and process many but publish less. I have been following you from last 4-5 years, but always feel like know more than others, but resist myself from creating on my own. This has motivated me and will take me a step further to produce creative work.

    I love your way of presentation and admire your photography and teaching work a lot. Keep writing and inspiring us.

    Umashankar Arora

  13. Gladys

    I am 73 years old now and I have been shooting various cameras for quite a few years. I am sure that your mom is younger than me, but one is never to old to learn.

    In 2014, a friend and I decided to do a 365 project. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done, but it helped my shooting tremendously. I made it a little harder on myself, because each night, I posted the photo on my blog and I also wrote something to go along with it. That meant that every evening, I had to edit it, load it to the blog and then figure out something to write. Still, I don’t regret it because I learned so much. I know that a 365 is not for everyone, but it got me used to picking up my camera and taking photos of things that I might not ordinarily shoot.

    I am not looking to sell my photos but I am looking to improve my photography. Even today, I read something about photography or watch a video almost every day. BTW Matt, I find your posts some of the best learning tools and have for quite some time. You make everything so down to earth.

    The best advice that I can give is to carry your camera with you everywhere you go. Take photos of different things. Whether a landscape, a bug, a tree or a grocery cart, you will get used to using the camera and as you process your photos, you will learn what you did wrong and what you did right. Photography for most of us is fun and we don’t have to make money at it. As Matt says “just shoot”.

  14. Colin

    Absolutely spot on Matt. I am currently in USA doing a four week road trip with my wife visiting some of the National Parks and using my camera frequently. I have learnt more in the past fortnight just by using the camera daily than I did in the previous year with occasional shoots.
    Looking forward to the Ultimate Lightroom course
    PS Have made it to Sundance in Utah – the colours of the trees here in the mountains are stunning

  15. Lynne B.

    Thanks for this blog Matt, because it has made me stop and evaluate what has been happening with me. I have just downloaded your new Lightroom course because I love to study and I am very excited about starting it. BUT after reading about your mum I realised that while I go all out with studying by taking notes and writing headings in different coloured inks (which is very important ) what I don’t do is actually go out and TAKE photos. I keep starting new study courses because I think that I am not good enough to take worthwhile photos until I can master the technical stuff. So, because of your blog I got my camera out this morning, as well as a BIGGER handbag so I can lug it around with me and take photos every day. Does it matter if I take them on auto to start with as I can’t cope with the Bermuda Triangle of settings just yet.

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  17. Chris

    Really good blog. Practice makes perfect (or at least better).
    My thought is:
    For training – “Take first on auto, then reset to AP or whatever. Back home compare results on the computer and the settings, auto or otherwise, that gives ‘best’ result”.

  18. Tom Dinning

    I don’t know how much influence you have over your mom, Matt, but it better be less than she has over you.
    Moms are people first. Being your mom has a lot to do with chance. Be grateful for having one.
    From this you then develop respect for she who went through the pain of giving birth.
    Patronizing her isn’t going to work.
    First, she’s taking the photos she wants, not the ones you want her to take. As shaky, ‘uncomposed’ technically inept and uninteresting they are to you and the rest of your mates, she is doing what mothers have done for years,; a damned sight longer than you have even drawn breath, she records her history.
    Now there’s something we have only been able to do in pictures for about 200 years.
    What did mothers do before that? They talked to their children. They told stories.
    Maybe your mother has done that from time to time, if she can get a word in between the cooking, housework, getting you off to school and listening to you go on about photography.
    At what point did you interrupt her and tell her how she should tell her stories? Irrespective of how she might speak, you were probably more enthralled in the content and interpretation than any judgement you might make on her grammatical skills.
    Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with your photographic relationship with your mother. She has become a sounding board for your judgements on what a photograph should constitute.
    Perhaps it might have been a saner approach that you approached your mother BEFORE she bought something she couldn’t control because of her lack of technical proficiency and suggested she keep her original camera, you know the one, that which she was already comfortable.
    Then your time could have, and still can be, spent talking WITH your mom about the qualities her photos have, the information they contain, and the value they have in recording her life.
    Sure, it’s nice to have pretty picture.
    But that’s like having a pretty box with nothing in it. You soon loose interest.
    Concentrate on what is important for the person, who happens to be your mother.
    She has interests beyond photography. That’s what she wants to photograph, and for her own reasons. Concentrating on arbitrary parameters like lighting, framing, composition, sharpness, exposure control and lens choice is subsidiary to her purpose.
    In fact, up to know, it’s been irrelevant.
    Keep it irrelevant.
    Find her relevance and work with that.
    You’ll be a better son for it.


    1. Matt's Mom

      Hi… I’m not sure but it seems like you read an entirely different blog post from the one my son wrote. He never told me my photos were bad, and that I should shoot something different. Instead, he was just trying to share a story with me, to encourage me to get out there and shoot, rather than concentrate on the technical stuff that was holding me back.

      I appreciate your support. But Matt is my friend, photography adviser and role model, and the best son a mother could wish for. I’m so fortunate that I have someone with his passion for photography to help me find mine.

      Matt’s Mom

  19. Paul C

    Great post, Matt’s Mom – Since we lost my Dad I take my own Mom out to beautiful places, we take photos together, but the best, the very best bit….. talking & sharing….. on anything, even forgetting to take shots!

  20. Myles

    Matt: Congrats on going out on your own. That is an incredibly courageous decision. I hope that some day soon, I will be able to that too. I truly appreciate this post. I actually read it over on Scott’s blog. None-the-less, I can totally relate to all of it. I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets scared. I always second guess so much of what I do. I wonder if it will be accepted, or appreciated and the list goes on. This post encourages me to just get out there and shoot. Create rather than copy. It is what I needed to hear today. Thanks!

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