Essential Photography Tips for Beginners

These tips will help you to build a solid foundation, no matter if you are just starting out with photography or if you want to improve your skills. Remember that photography is an art form and you will never be proficient in it all.

It is important to practice often, make mistakes, and be open to learning from other photographers, no matter if they are experienced or novices.

1. How to properly hold your camera

Although it may seem obvious, many new photographers aren’t holding their cameras correctly. This causes blurry images and camera shake. Although tripods are the best method to prevent camera shake, unless you’re shooting in low-light situations, tripods won’t be used. It’s also important to properly hold your camera to avoid any unnecessary movement.

Although you will eventually find your own method of holding the camera with your right hand, it is best to always hold it with both hands. To support the camera’s weight, grab the right side with your right hand. Place your left hand underneath the lens.

The closer the camera is to your body the more stable it will be. You can either lean against a wall, or crouch on your knees to gain extra stability. If there is nothing else, a wider stance may be helpful.

2. Shoot in RAW

RAW is similar to jpeg but it stores all data from your camera’s sensor, rather than compressing it. You’ll get better quality images and more control over post-processing when you shoot RAW. You’ll be able, for example, to correct over- or underexposure, adjust colour temperature, white balance, and contrast.

RAW files can take up more space. RAW photos require some post processing, so you will need to invest in photo editing software.

Shooting in RAW can make a huge difference to the quality of your images. If you have the space and time, it is definitely worth it. For detailed instructions on how to convert jpeg files to RAW, refer to the manual of your camera.

3. Understanding the exposure triangle

It can be intimidating at first but the exposure triangle is simply the three most important elements in exposure. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are the key components. If you want sharp, well-lit photos, you will need to be able balance all three elements when you shoot in manual mode.

ISO:

The ISO setting controls the camera’s light sensitivity. Low ISO settings will make the camera less sensitive to light while higher ISO settings will make it more sensitive. The ISO setting will affect the quality of your image. You may notice ‘noise” in the image if you have a higher ISO. A setting of 100 to 200 for outdoor shooting is ideal, however, it may be necessary to shoot indoors at night or in low-light situations such as indoors.

Aperture

The aperture is the opening in the lens that controls the light coming through the camera’s sensor and the depth of the field. The area around the focal point of an image that remains sharp is called depth of field. A larger aperture (indicated with a lower number of f-numbers) allows more light through but has a smaller depth of field. A narrow aperture, indicated by a higher number of f-numbers, lets more light through but has a greater depth of field. You can use a wide aperture to isolate your subject. However, if you want the entire scene to be focused, like group shots, a narrow aperture will work better.

Shutter speed

The shutter speed is the time that your shutter stays open while you are taking a photograph. The more light that gets through to the sensor of the camera’s sensor, the longer the shutter is open. Fast shutter speeds are good for freezing motion, while slower shutter speeds will blur the image. Although long shutter speeds can produce interesting effects, they usually require a tripod.

4. Portraits with wide apertures are best

Portraits of animals or people should have the subject at the center of the image. A wider aperture is the best way to do this. This will help keep your subject in focus while blurring any background distractions.

Remember that a smaller aperture means a wider aperture. The more dramatic the effect, the lower the f/ number. While some lenses can be as low as f/1.2 with certain lenses, apertures as low as f/5.6 are possible. Switch to Aperture Priority Mode (Av/A) to better understand the effects of aperture on your images. Take some photos with different apertures.

5. Landscapes with a narrow aperture are best

Landscape photography requires a different approach because everything, from the rocks in front to the mountains behind, must be clearly in focus. If you are trying to capture a scene in which everything is fully in focus, a narrow aperture is better than a large one.

An aperture that is wider than f/22 will be considered narrower. This depends on the lens you have. Aperture Priority Mode (Av/A) allows you to experiment with different apertures, without needing to adjust the shutter speed every time.

6. Learn how to use Aperture Priority mode and Shutter Priority mode

You can use Aperture Priority Mode (A, Av) or Shutter Priority Mode(S or Tv), if you don’t want to go into automatic mode yet. These are very useful options available on most cameras. They will give you more control and are not too complicated.

The Aperture Priority Mode allows you to select the aperture that you want, and the camera will adjust the shutter speed accordingly. For example, if you want to blur the background in a portrait, you can simply choose a large aperture and let your camera determine the appropriate shutter speed.

You can select the shutter speed that you would like to use, and the camera will choose the aperture. For example, if your goal is to capture your dog running towards you, select a fast shutter speed. The camera will then choose the aperture.

7. Do not be afraid to increase the ISO

Many photographers avoid shooting at high ISO because they fear it might result in grainy photos or ‘noise’.

If your shutter speed is not affected by motion blur, and a tripod is not an option, sharp photos with some noise are better than none. You’ll also be able to correct a lot of noise later on. In recent years, the camera technology has advanced so much that you can now produce stunning photographs even at ISO 1600. 3200. 6400 and higher.

A wider aperture is a good way to reduce noise when shooting at higher ISOs. It can help to slightly overexpose your image. Making dark areas darker in post-processing won’t make noise worse, but making them lighter will.

8. Before you start to shoot, make sure that the ISO is correct.

It can be frustrating to discover that you accidentally took a series of photos in ISO 800 during a sunny day. This is especially true if the photos were taken for a special occasion, such as a wedding, anniversary, or any other event that cannot be replicated.

This is an easy mistake, but it’s not hard to avoid. Make a habit of checking your ISO settings before you begin shooting. Alternately, you can make it a habit to reset your ISO settings every time you put your camera in its bag.

9. Be cautious with flash

You should be careful when using the built-in flash of your camera at night or under low light. This can cause unpleasant effects such as red eyes and harsh shadows. It’s generally better to increase the ISO to get louder photos rather than using the flash on your camera and risking ruining the shot.

Sometimes there is just not enough light. If you don’t have any off-camera lighting, the flash will be used instead. There are several things you can do if you are in this situation. First, locate the flash settings on your camera’s menu. Next, reduce the brightness as much as possible.

You can also diffuse the light by covering it with something. For example, you could place a piece or opaque scotch tap over the flash to diffuse it and soften its intensity. You can also bounce the light off of the ceiling by placing a piece of white cardboard at an angle in front of it.

10. How to adjust the white balance

The white balance can make it easier to capture colours accurately. Different types of light are different, so you need to adjust your white balance. Your photos may turn slightly yellow, orange, or green depending on the ‘temperature’.

Although white balance can be adjusted in post processing, it can get tedious if there are hundreds of photos that require slight adjustments. It’s best to do this in camera. You’ll find the following white balance settings on your camera: Automatic White Balance, Daylight and Cloudy, Flash. Shade, Fluorescent, Fluorescent, Tungsten.

Each one of these icons is represented by a different icon. If you aren’t sure which icon it is, consult your manual. While automatic white balance can work in certain situations, it is best to adjust the settings to suit the lighting conditions.

11. Learn how to read the histogram

While you may glance at the LCD screen of your camera to check if it has correctly exposed an image to determine exposure, this is not a reliable method to evaluate exposure. Images can appear darker or brighter on the screen than they actually are. Your camera’s histogram is the best way to check the exposure at the time you shoot. It is the graph that appears next to your images.

It will take practice and time to learn how to interpret the histogram. However, the short explanation is that it provides information about the tonal range in your image. The graph’s left side shows the blacks, shadows, and the right side the whites, highlights.

If the graph is tilted to the right, it could indicate that your image is overexposed. You may lose a lot detail in the darker areas. If the graph is skewed to one side, your image will likely be underexposed. Digital Camera World has a cheat sheet that explains the histogram in more detail.

12. View with perspective

Experimenting with perspective is a great way to be more creative in your photography. A scene from the same location can look completely different if taken from a different angle. Changing the perspective of your subject may also change its overall feel.

You won’t be able to use every angle for every shot. However, you will never know what works if you don’t try. You can get down to the level of children or animals and see the world through their eyes. You can also photograph portraits from the top by standing on a bench. 

13. Understanding the rule of Thirds

The rule of Thirds is based upon the principle that pictures are more interesting and balanced when they’re not centred. Imagine a grid that is placed on top of your images. It has two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. This will divide your image into nine equal sections.

You would place your subject, or important elements, along the four lines if you were following the rule. You can even turn on a grid option in some cameras, which is useful for those who are still learning how to compose images.

Photography is about creativity and expression. You may choose to place your points of interest in other places. It’s fine to do this, but it is important to understand the rule and be able to consciously think about where and how you want them placed before you break it.

14. Always keep your focus

Portraits are a focussed subject. It is important to get sharp images. Particularly the eyes are a key feature of the face and are often the first thing people see, especially when it is close-ups or headshots.

Keep this in mind when focusing on your subject’s eyes. You can get both eyes sharp and clean by choosing one focus point and aiming it at one eye. After the first eye has been in focus, press the shutter button halfway down. Move the camera slightly to recompose and include the second.

15. Pay close attention to the background

The background should not distract from the main subject. Plain patterns and muted colours work well because viewers won’t be drawn to the colourful church tower or building in the background more than the model.

It is possible to fix distracting backgrounds by moving your subject or changing your angles. However, if this doesn’t work you can try to use a wider aperture to get in as close as possible to your subject. If you are placing your subject on the side of the photo, and it is very visible, keep the background neutral.

16. Invest In A Tripod

A tripod is a must-have accessory if you want sharp photos even in low light. You can also experiment with long exposure photography. This means that you can leave the shutter open for a few seconds to minutes, which can create amazing effects when you photograph things like rivers or cities.

There are three things you should consider when purchasing your first tripod: weight, stability, and height. Because you will be carrying your tripod around, you don’t want it to be too heavy. However, the tripod must be sturdy enough to support your lens and camera. The Digital Photography School has a guide for buying a tripod.

17. Take the sunrise and sunset

The lighting can make or break your photo. The best times to take photos are the morning and evening. The “golden hour” is the time when the sun rises just before or sets. This is because the sun is lower up and the light is warmer and softer.

You can use the evening or early morning light to give your photos a tranquil feel. Although the golden hour does not guarantee you will get great outdoor photos, it can make your job easier.

18. Get a quality photo editing software

After you begin shooting in RAW, you will need to do some post-processing. You will need software that can perform basic editing tasks like cropping, changing exposure, white balance, contrast and removing blemishes.

Professional photographers use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. But, if you’re looking for something less expensive to get started, you can try Photoshop Elements or Picasa.

19. Be selective

It is important to realize that even the most talented and experienced photographers get some bad shots. Their portfolios are impressive because they show only the best work. They don’t bore their viewers with ten photos of an almost identical scene.

If you want your photos to stand out on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, or other photo sharing sites like 500px or Flickr, then try to only select photos from each shoot. Although you may have taken hundreds of photos at a friend’s party or son’s football game, you are obscuring five to ten of the best shots.

20. Learn from your errors

Frustrating photos that are blurry, overexposed or poorly composed can be frustrating. But instead of letting them discourage you, make use of them as a learning resource. Don’t delete a poor photo the next time it happens. Spend some time looking at the photo and figuring out how to improve it.

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