Essential Photography Tips for Beginners

Learn to hold your camera properly

This may sound obvious, but many new photographers don’t hold their camera correctly, which causes camera shake and blurry images. Tripods are of course the best way to prevent camera shake, but since you won’t be using a tripod unless you’re shooting in low light situations, it’s important to hold your camera properly to avoid unnecessary movement.

While you’ll eventually develop your own way of holding the camera, you should always hold it with both hands. Grip the right side of the camera with your right hand and place your left hand beneath the lens to support the weight of the camera.

The closer you keep the camera to your body, the stiller you’ll be able to hold it. If you need extra stability you can lean up against a wall or crouch down on your knees, but if there’s nothing to lean on, adopting a wider stance can also help.

Understand the exposure triangle

Although it can seem a bit daunting at first, the exposure triangle simply refers to the three most important elements of exposure; ISO, aperture and shutter speed. When you’re shooting in manual mode, you’ll need to be able to balance all three of these things in order to get sharp, well-lit photos.

ISO:

ISO controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. A low ISO setting means the camera will be less sensitive to light, while a higher ISO means it will be more sensitive to light. However, the quality of the image will decrease as the ISO increases and you may see ‘noise’ on the image with a higher ISO. An ISO setting of 100 to 200 is usually ideal when shooting outdoors during the day, but when shooting in low light situations, such as indoors or at night, a higher ISO of 400 to 800 or higher might be necessary.

Aperture:

Aperture is the opening in your lens and controls how much light gets through to the camera’s sensor as well as the depth of field. Depth of field refers to the area surrounding the focal point of the image which remains sharp. A wider aperture (indicated by a lower f-number) lets more light through, but has a narrow depth of field. While a narrow aperture (indicated by a higher f-number) lets less light through, but has a wider depth of field. A wide aperture is great when you want to isolate your subject, but when you want the whole scene to be in focus, such as with group shots, you’ll need to use a narrow aperture.

Shutter speed:

Shutter speed controls how long the shutter stays open when you take a picture. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light gets through to the camera’s sensor. A fast shutter speed is good for freezing action, while a longer shutter speed will blur motion. Long shutter speeds can give interesting effects, but usually require a tripod.

Wide aperture is best for portraits

When shooting portraits, whether of people or animals, your subject should be the main focus of the picture and the best way to achieve this is to use a wider aperture. This will keep your subject sharp, while blurring out any distractions in the background.

Keep in mind that a smaller f/ number means a wider aperture and the wider the aperture, the more dramatic this effect will be. Some lenses can go as low as f/1.2, but even apertures of f/5.6 can do the trick. To better understand how the aperture affects your images, switch to Aperture Priority Mode (Av or A) and try taking some shots with different apertures.

Narrow aperture is best for landscapes

Landscape photographs require a different approach, because everything from the rocks in the foreground to the mountains in the background should be sharply in focus. So any time you’re shooting a scene where you want everything to be fully in focus, you should select a narrow aperture rather than a wide one.

A larger f/ number means a narrower aperture, so go towards f/22 or higher, depending on what your lens allows. Again, using Aperture Priority Mode (Av or A) will allow you to experiment with different apertures without having to worry about adjusting the shutter speed each time.

Check the ISO before starting to shoot

Discovering that you’ve accidentally shot a whole series of images in ISO 800 on a bright sunny day can be extremely frustrating, especially if the photos were taken to document a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or other event that can’t be recreated.

It’s an easy enough mistake to make, though, so to avoid this unpleasant surprise, make a habit of checking and resetting your ISO settings before you start shooting anything. Alternatively, make a habit of resetting this every time you’re ready to put your camera back in its bag.

Work with Your Composition

To take engaging photos, you need to be engaged with what you’re doing. Don’t just fly by on autopilot. Instead, put thought into your composition and try to make your photos as good as possible.

That starts with knowing the basics of how to compose good photos. Don’t cut off important parts of your subject with the edge of your frame. Keep your horizons level, and try to eliminate any distractions in your photo by adjusting your composition. See if your photo has a sense of balance and simplicity. And if the photo doesn’t look good on your first try, keep experimenting until you get it right.

Learn to adjust white balance

White balance can help you capture colours more accurately. Different types of light have different characteristics, so if you don’t adjust the white balance, the colours in your photography may take on a slightly blue, orange or green hue or ‘temperature.’

White balance can be fixed in post processing, of course, but it can become a bit tedious if you have hundreds of photos that need slight adjustments made, so it’s better to get this right in the camera. Some of the standard white balance settings you’ll find on your camera include Automatic White Balance, Daylight, Cloudy, Flash, Shade, Fluorescent and Tungsten.

Each of these is symbolised by a different icon, so if you’re not sure which is which, check your camera’s manual. Automatic white balance works alright in some situations, but it’s generally best to change the setting according to the type of light you’re shooting in.

Play with perspective

The best way to get a bit more creative with your photography is to experiment with perspective. The exact same scene can often look very different when approached from a different angle, and capturing your subject from above or below may change the whole feel of a photograph.

Not every angle will work for every photograph, of course, but you’ll never know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t experiment. When shooting animals or children, you can try getting down to their level and viewing the world through their eyes. If you’re shooting a portrait, why not stand on a bench and shoot your subject from above?

Pay attention to the background

Generally speaking, the background should be as simple and clutter free as possible so that it doesn’t pull the viewer’s attention away from the main subject of the photo. Muted colours and plain patterns tend to work well, because you don’t want viewers to end up being more interested in the colourful building or church tower in the background than your model.

Fixing a distracting background can be as simple as moving your subject or changing your angle, but if that doesn’t work, it may be possible to obscure it by using a wider aperture and getting in as close to your subject as possible. Whenever you can, though, try to keep the background neutral, especially if you’re placing your subject off to the side of the photograph and the background is very visible.

Shoot the sunrise and the sunset

Lighting can make or break a photo, and the early morning and evening are widely thought to be the best times of day for taking photos. In photography, the hour just after the sun rises or before it sets is called the “golden hour,” because the sun is lower in the sky and the light is softer and warmer.

Whether you’re shooting landscapes, portraits or still life, using the early morning or evening light can give your photos a serene feel with its warm glow and the long shadows it casts. Of course, the golden hour is not the only time you can get good outdoor photos, but it does make it easier.

Be selective

It’s important to realise that every photographer, no matter how experienced or talented, gets some mediocre shots. The reason that their portfolios are so impressive, however, is that they only display their best work; they don’t bore you with ten photos of a nearly identical scene.

So if you want your work to stand out when sharing your photos on Facebook, Instagram or photo sharing sites like Flickr or 500px, try to narrow it down to just a couple of very good photos from each shoot. You may have shot hundreds of photos at your friend’s birthday party or your son’s football match, but by displaying all of them, you’re obscuring the five or ten really great shots that you got.

Learn from your mistakes

Getting overexposed, blurry or badly composed photos can be frustrating, but rather than letting such photos discourage you, use them as a learning tool. The next time you get a bad photo; don’t immediately hit the delete button. Instead, spend some time studying the photo to work out what went wrong and how you could improve it.

Most of the time there will be a simple solution such as trying a different composition or using a faster shutter speed, but if you see any recurring problems, you’ll have a chance to study up on specific aspects of photography and strengthen your weaker areas.

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