So, you finally jumped into photography? Good for you! As you’ll surely find as you get more and more involved in photography, it’s a fun hobby and one that will bring you endless joy. You’ll also find out that it can get a little overwhelming… By that I mean that there’s just a lot to learn. From composition and lighting to camera gear and learning how to use it, you’ve got a lot on your plate. With that in mind, I put together this list of tips that I found helpful when I started my photography journey. Some of these are things I discovered on my own through silly mistakes. Others were passed on to me from more experienced photographers.
And now, I’m passing them onto you!
Work With the Camera You’ve Got
The lure of new gear is hard to resist for any photographer. But the desire to have a big, bad camera is especially strong for newbies. It makes sense, though – for many beginner photographers, there is a mistaken belief that a new camera will result in better photos. Sure, a new camera is convenient. But at the end of the day, it’s not the camera that’s responsible for things like composition or framing or choosing a compelling subject.
That stuff is up to you!
So, instead of buying a brand new camera, get some practice with the one you’ve got first. The more photos you take, the more skills you’ll develop. Once you outgrow your current camera, then you can think about an upgrade.
Never Leave the House Without Your Camera
Now that we’ve settled the do-I-need-a-new-camera-or-not debate, let’s focus on another camera-related tip that’s sure to help you improve: Your camera should be attached to you at the hip. These days, your smartphone has a camera that’s more than good enough for taking casual photos to practice your compositional skills, so use it! Great photo opportunities can happen at any moment. Your kid might make a funny face at dinner, the lighting as the sun sets during your commute home from work might cast beautiful shadows across the landscape, or the morning walk with the dog might greet you with dew-covered grass.
The point is that by having your camera with you at all times, you can capitalize on the opportunities you’re given to create a beautiful photo. And the more you practice, the better you’ll become at composition, lighting, and the other photography essentials. What’s more, the more you practice, the better your creative eye will be. You’ll find that with time, you’ll begin to see things like light and shadow or colour and texture in a way that allows you to highlight them in a photo.
You Need a Tripod
You can go without getting a brand spanking new camera, but something you can’t go without is a tripod.
Even though we’re conditioned to simply hold our cameras in our hands, sometimes, it’s not the best move to do so. Why? Sharpness.
The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone has the steadiest of hands. What’s more, not every situation you shoot in will allow for a shutter speed that’s fast enough to negate the natural movement of your body as you hold a camera. The solution is a solid tripod. Now, there are hundreds of tripods out there, and as a beginning photographer, it can be a bit daunting trying to sort through all the makes, models, and sizes that are available.
But here’s the secret: get something that’s good quality, won’t bust your budget, and that’s gotten great online reviews. You can easily spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a top-notch carbon fiber tripod, but at this point, that’s not a necessity. Instead, opt for something like the Vanguard Alta Pro 263 ab 100 aluminum tripod. Aluminum isn’t the lightest material, but for a beginner, the extra weight is worth dealing with in favor of the added stability with solid legs that will keep your camera safe, secure, and stable. You can use just one finger to lock the center column on this particular model, making setup a breeze. It’s a top seller on Amazon and gets great ratings as well. What’s not to like about that?
Master the Rule of Thirds, and Then Break It
A more common photography rule you will not find. The rule of thirds is likely the first compositional rule that most photographers learn, and it is likely the one that is used most often over the course of a photographer’s career. If you aren’t familiar with the rule, here’s a quick definition:
By breaking the image up into nine equal quadrants (think of a tic-tac-toe board), you have a guideline for placing important elements in the shot to maximize their visual impact. Place them either along one of the two horizontal grid lines or one of the vertical grid lines. Better still, place interesting elements at one of the four intersection points where those lines meet. In the video above, Joshua Cripps of Professional Photography Tips gives us a quick overview of the rule of thirds, where it came from, how to use it, and when to break the rule. Follow along as he demonstrates why it’s an important rule to learn and provides visual evidence of how to use it effectively.
Use Automatic Features When Possible
As a new photographer, you’ve got a lot to think about…
You need to frame the shot such that it complements the subject. You have to worry about compositional considerations like using the rule of thirds or incorporating foreground interest. You also have to master the art of the well-exposed photograph. There’s enough on your plate already, so simplify things as much as you can by using some of your camera’s automatic modes.
For example, let the camera control the focus and the white balance. Better still, use one of your camera’s semi-automatic shooting modes, like aperture priority, which allows you to choose the aperture and ISO settings and the camera chooses an appropriate shutter speed (more on that and other semi-automatic modes later on). Using automatic functions like these allows you to concentrate more on getting the shot and developing the skills listed above. Then, once you feel comfortable, you can start adding in other camera settings to manipulate on your own.
Make a Shot List
Keeping track of all the ideas you have for photos or the locations at which you want to shoot has never been easier. Just use the notes feature on your phone or download a note-taking app, and keep all your photography ideas in one, convenient place. And, like mentioned above, since many smartphones have pretty good cameras, that means you have your shot list and your camera in one place! The beauty of a shot list is twofold. First, it acts as a guide for your creativity, encouraging you to think of all the places and things you’d like to capture in an image. Second, it allows you to have a feeling of accomplishment as you knock items off your list. Sunset at the beach? Check! A backlit portrait? Check!
Beyond that, a shot list can help you stretch your boundaries and work towards loftier photography goals. Perhaps right now you aren’t in possession of all the skills you need to tackle astrophotography, but put it on your shot list and work towards that goal. After all, it’s that creative pursuit – identifying what we want to do and then working to achieve it – that will help you become a better photographer.
Get Cozy With Camera Modes
Your camera has some very handy semi-automatic shooting modes that make getting a well-exposed image a little bit easier for the beginner. These modes are a step up from shooting in fully automatic, but are still simple enough to use that you can concentrate on things like composition and framing. In the video above, Gizmodo offers up a very helpful yet concise overview of three popular camera modes – program, aperture priority, and shutter priority. Complete with examples and fun visuals, this video will get you familiarized with each setting so you can utilize them to take improved photos.
Here’s a quick rundown of what each mode does:
- Aperture priority – allows you to pick the aperture and ISO value, but the camera picks a shutter speed to match. This is a good setting to use if you take portraits or photos of still subjects.
- Shutter priority – allows you to control shutter speed and ISO, but the camera selects the aperture for you. This is a good setting for instances in which you want to blur or freeze movement.
- Program – gives you control over ISO while the camera selects the appropriate aperture and shutter speed. However, you can override the camera’s selection at any time (which you can’t do in aperture or shutter priority modes). This is a good setting for instances in which there is harsh lighting and the ISO needs to be controlled.
It might seem scary to get out of auto mode, but trust me…getting out of auto mode and expanding your skillset will do you much more good in the long run!
Get a Decent Camera Bag
Even if you don’t have much more gear than a camera, a single lens, and a tripod, you shouldn’t carry it around in your hands or a regular bag.
One slip and fall and your expensive gear could require expensive repairs or replacement. Because of that, camera bags aren’t some fashion accessory that’s an option. They are necessities that help protect your gear from the bumps and bruises that come along the way. What’s more, a quality bag like the Vanguard Havana 21 Shoulder Bag is inexpensive, yet built well to stand the test of time. It can accommodate a DSLR, a couple of lenses and a flash, filters, extra batteries, and other accessories, as well as a small tablet and your personal items like your phone and car keys.
Furthermore, if you get the right camera bag, it’s something that can grow with you as you acquire new gear and tackle more and more photography adventures. And, while you’re on those adventures, a proper camera bag will keep your gear neatly organized and safe from dust, rain, and other contaminants that can wreak havoc on your photography equipment.
Get Inspired by Others
When you’re just starting out in photography, it can be hard to identify what you like in terms of genre or stylistic choices. For that matter, it can be hard just deciding what things to photograph! That’s where inspiration comes in. By checking out the work of others, you can tap into a vast reservoir of creativity in the photography community. And it’s simple to do, too. Spend some time on photo sharing sites like Flickr, Instagram, and 500px. Have a look at the photos uploaded to the Photography Talk galleries and check out our Inspirational Photos of the Day. Heck, you can do a simple Google Images search for certain types of photos to get your creative juices flowing.
The goal here is to develop your creative eye and help you begin to form your personal photography aesthetic, not simply copy what other people are doing. A good exercise is to take a look at a few dozen photos, and as you find ones you like, bookmark them in your browser. Then, go back through the images you liked and examine each one for the specific features that caught your eye, looking for commonalities between the photos. Doing so helps you begin that journey of figuring out what speaks to you as a photographer. So, if you find that most of the images you prefer are portraits, you know that portraiture is where you might want to begin. If you see that your favorite photos use very dim lighting, you know that that style of portraiture is where you should focus your attention.
Get a Reflector and Learn to Use It
One of the biggest problems that beginning photographers face is how to wrestle more control over the lighting in their photos. There’s often too much reliance on harsh lighting, like what you get when shooting outdoors at noon, or using direct, artificial lighting like the built-in camera flash, which often doesn’t do a very good job of illuminating the subject anyway, as Jared Polin of FroKnowsPhoto explains in the video above. The solution to this problem is to get a reflector.
Fortunately, reflector kits are inexpensive, coming in packs that include four or five different colours that can warm up or cool down the colour of the image or even reduce or add shadows. The point is that a reflector opens up all kinds of possibilities for improved photos. For example, instead of having a portrait subject face the sun and squint, you can instead have them face away from the sun and use a reflector to bounce light back onto their face. Doing so means that you can get even, soft light onto your subject that results in a more pleasing image. Check out Jared’s video above to see what I mean.
Photography, like any other artform, is rife with opportunities to learn. Even the greats like Ansel Adams continued to perfect their skills right up until the very end of their career. Use that as inspiration to commit yourself to continual learning. The best part is that learning photography skills has really never been so easy! You’ve taken the first step by checking out this article. There are plenty more free photography articles from PhotographyTalk as well!
YouTube is another fantastic, free resource with a wealth of tutorials on all manner of photography subjects. From landscapes to portraits, mastering exposure to getting familiar with camera settings, if you have a question about photography, the chances are very good that you can find a YouTube video on the subject. In fact, here’s a great beginner photography video from Nico at CamCrunch that details the three camera settings responsible for exposure: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.
Don’t Be Afraid of Making a Mistake
Something that we all struggle with from time to time is making mistakes. When it comes to photography, getting the exposure settings wrong or messing up the composition is certainly frustrating. But, if you look at it as a learning opportunity, those mistakes become the gateway to being a better photographer. With that in mind, pursue photography with unabashed joy. Take photos of whatever you want. Experiment with your camera settings. Try new subject matter and learn new techniques. And, as you perform these tasks, worry less about creating a perfect photo and concern yourself more with the experience and what you can learn from it.
Once you throw off the shackles of trying to create the perfect photo, you’ll likely find that you make fewer mistakes anyway! Besides, your photos represent who you are as an individual and an artist, so in the end, there’s no right or wrong answer – just your take on the world as you see it with your camera.