The First Steps are those studies and skill sets that one needs no matter what type of photography you wish to pursue. Simply put, these are the fundamentals of photography, camera handling, lighting, exposure, composition and digital finishing that all photographers should know and understand. These are not unique to any of the photographic disciplines, they are fundamental to ALL of the disciplines.


If you were a musician, you would want to know a bit about music and the notes and chords that go into creating a pleasing composition. You would also want to acquire the skills to play an instrument and to be able to play well enough that people want to hear you play. You might also want to be able to recognize the difference between a great musician and someone who just knows how to play the notes. The same can be said for photography.

Sadly, far too many photographers get ahead of themselves and start trying to run before they have learned to walk. In the photographic industry, these individuals find themselves in way over their heads when it comes to their ability to photograph at a high degree of technical savvy and artistic creativity. Their work is often sub-par and because they don’t have a solid fundamental background, they don’t have a discerning eye for what is a good photograph with proper exposure and what is not.

Many often try to charge for their work before they are technically ready or before they have come to understand the sound principles of running a photographic business. As a result, they wind up working for cheap – often only selling images on a CD at below market prices only to soon realize that this business model is not sustainable. It often leads to “burn-out” because the time spent working on images is not worth what they are paid.

We do NOT want this to happen to you. We want you to develop a sound fundamental knowledge of photography and all that relates to it. We want you to know what goes into a great photograph and to recognize one when you see it. Furthermore, we want you to be able to produce outstanding images – consistently. That is why you begin with the “First Steps”.

We have identified several “First Step” topics that make up something of a lesson plan for those who really want to begin their journey on the Pathway to Success. Each of the First Steps is identified with a green “Success Badge” which identifies the topic followed by a description of what needs to be studied and the skills that need to be mastered to earn that badge. There are eleven badges on the First Steps pathway.

As you prepare for your journey, don’t be offended or embarrassed by the green badges or the “Beginner” label. We actually consider these badges to be equivalent to the education that you might receive during the first and second year of a college or technical school. When you think about it in these terms, you can clearly see the value of your TPPA membership.


 Camera Controls – TPPA recognizes that success at any level begins with a working knowledge of the fundamentals of photographic principles and a basic understanding of camera menus and exposure controls. This includes the ability to operate one’s camera in Manual Mode or to work in automatic modes with the understanding of how the photographer’s influence over these modes is needed to render proper exposures. Also, an understanding of the benefits of working in RAW verses Jpeg is encouraged. Once this level of skill has been achieved, photographers will then have a better opportunity for success as they pursue other areas of photographic interests.


Light Control – This level looks at recognizing natural lighting indoors and outdoors and finding the best source of light in these situations. Photographers should have a knowledge basic lighting patterns and of the tools and techniques for controlling natural light. In addition, photographers should be able to recognize situations that require supplemental lighting and a working knowledge of how to use it. Finally, a basic knowledge of studio lighting and basic lighting patterns is recommended.


Lighting Sciences – Since lighting is the basis in which all images are crafted, a study of the science of light and the qualities of light are in order. This includes an understanding some of the basic physics of light and a comprehension of of the various qualities of light (hard light, soft light, direct light, reflected light, etc.). In addition, photographers should gain a working knowledge of the color properties of light with a basic understanding of the Kelvin color temperature scale.


Composition Concepts – The next step includes the visual aspects of image making including lens selections and the composition arts of creating an image with strong visual interests. Compositional elements include the classic concepts of image design including leading lines, repetition, framing and more. Add to this an understanding of how lens selection plays a role in depth of field, angle of view, compression and distortion as well as other important aspects of lens choice.


Posing Concepts – These skills begin with an understanding of posing individuals, couples and families and creating poses that flatter the subject and provide nice compositions. Also, includes an understanding of posing terms (headshot, ¾ view, feminine and masculine poses) and how to accomplish them.


Flash Control – Photographers should have a working understanding portable flash and recognizing situations where its use is appropriate. Includes knowledge of using the flash in TTL vs manual and how to determine exposures accurately. Also, knowledge of using the flash’s adjustments to control the output of the flash and controlling the flash’s zoom head and its impact on exposures. In addition, photographers should have an understanding of the quality of light from a portable strobe and the variety of options for modifying the quality of the light.


Digital Finishing Concepts – At this level, photographers should have a the skills of editing images in RAW and JPG in Photoshop, Lightroom or other imaging software. Furthermore, photographers should be able to navigate with a degree of confidence, the Lightroom or Photoshop workspace and have the skill set to use menus, tools, dialogue boxes and layers to do basic retouching, selective adjustments of exposure and enhancements and color adjustments.

TPPA supports the idea of setting the stage early on, to begin work on earning the Certified Professional Photographer designation from PPA and preparing for participation in TPPA State Image Competition and the International Photographic Competition through PPA. We believe these two important steps go a long way in acquiring a strong photographic knowledge as well as an excellent opportunity to develop the strength, creativity and quality of your own images.


Exposure Mastery – At this level, photographers should have an understanding of metering including reflective metering and incident metering and the differences between the two. Also, a working knowledge of 18% grey and it’s place in understanding exposure. Photographers should have an understanding of the Sunny 16 rule and equivalent exposures and how changing the ISO impacts an exposure.


CPP Pathway – Begin with an understanding of the benefit of participation in the Certified Professional Photographer program and the requirements to earn the designation. Also included is the preparation of study for the written exam.

Guild Membership: TPPA also advocates the concurrent membership and participation in the local guild structure. TPPA recognizes the vast educational opportunities and networking benefits of our local affiliated guilds throughout Texas. TPPA understands that the benefit of local guild membership enhances and compliments our own endeavors to create strong community of skilled and prosperous photographic artists. To connect to a guild near you, check out the links to the local guilds at the bottom of this page.


Image Competition Pathway – Begin with an understanding of the benefit of participation in image competition and the differences in the various competitions and the requirements to enter images. Also, an understanding of the judging processes and the scoring methods of various competitions is included. Also includes a study of the “12 Elements” and the beginnings of how to evaluate images and determine their appropriateness for competition.

Each of the above badges represents skills and knowledge that should be mastered for all photographers, regardless of their photographic interest or their professional aspirations. For those considering a career as a part-time or full time professional, TPPA also supports a study of solid fundamental business and and marketing ideals.



Business and Marketing – Begin with a fundamental knowledge of getting a business up and running including: obtaining a DBA, acquiring a sales tax permit, business and equipment insurance and more. Also includes developing a solid business plan and defining a suitable target market. Other topics include creating a marketing plan and business brand and developing a social media strategy, partnering with a professional lab and creating product lines.