5 Tips for Photography Beginners

5 Tips for Photography Beginners

Aaron Martin

June 15th 2021

If you have an interest in photography, the first thing to learn is that there’s always more to learn. So if you are thinking of moving beyond your camera phone to a camera, be open to absorbing as much information as possible.

1. Don’t get intimidated

There are more than 10 companies that make cameras, some with household names and some with names that are a bit obscure. They each have a special feature or two, but – like cars – they are all going to function basically the same. So, if you want to go with Kodak, Pentax, or Polaroid because they have been around forever, that’s fine. If you want to go with Nikon or Canon because that’s what you see professional photographers use, that’s fine.

Some camera stores have a rental program, where you can use a camera for a specified amount of time for a fee. If you have a store with a rental program near you, that may be the best way to experiment with the different brands to see which you are most comfortable with using. Your comfort is vital, so do not feel like you have a particular brand or type of camera to get started.

2. More is not necessarily better

Along with not feeling intimidated by the number of brands to choose from, don’t feel like you have to have every piece of equipment available. More important than your camera equipment is your creative skills and knowledge of camera settings. So, focus your effort on those, not on collecting flashes and lenses. If you choose a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, your camera body is the base of your equipment and the lens is interchangeable. Purchase one with at least one lens included. It will be a mid-quality lens, which is fine for getting started. As you shoot more, you will start to learn what other lenses will fit your needs – a fast one for sports, a wide-angle one for scenery, etc.

If you choose a point-and-shoot camera, play around with the settings to find out which combination (i.e., exposure triangle) produces the best results.

3. Understand the exposure triangle

Unlike the Bermuda triangle, there’s nothing wrong with getting lost in this one – and you will suffer no physical damage if you do. The exposure triangle refers to the three variables that control your photo’s exposure: aperture (or f-stop), shutter speed, and the ISO.

Aperture is how wide your shutter will open when you snap the photo. The smaller the f-stop number, the wider the hole and the more light will come in. The larger the f-stop, the smaller the hole and the less light. In general, a smaller hole (f22) will give you more focus on a single point, like squinting your eyes to read small print.

Shutter speed is how fast that hole will open and close, measured in fractions of seconds. A faster shutter speed – like 1/3200 (of a second) – will give you a sharper image, and is usually used for sports or small children who don’t keep still. A slower shutter speed will allow blur, which can be used to show motion.

ISO is the sensitivity of the image sensor in your camera body. When you go into the settings, you will see the sensitivity of your sensor. ISO 100 is usually used for outdoor shots or areas with bright lights. On the other end of that scale ISO 800 is usually used for indoor or low-light environments. Your camera may go lower than 100 or higher than 800.

The combination of those three variables is determined by where you are shooting, and whether you are using natural light or the flash. You can make the shutter speed (S) or the aperture (A) the priority. Or you can be really adventurous and use the full manual (M) setting, and see what you get!

4. See it, then shoot it

Look at what you want to shoot with the final image in mind, or previsualization. Ask yourself what do you want to be the focus of the photo, and what do you want the photo to include? For example, If you want to feature the twirl of a dancer, you may want to set the shutter speed as the priority and use a slower speed so there is a little blur in the photo. If you want to capture the height of a jump, you may want to use a faster shutter speed to freeze the dancer in air. Having the end-product in mind will help you decide how to set your exposure triangle for the best photo.

Additionally, do you want to focus on the dancer alone? If so, you will want to focus tightly on that one point. Or, if you want to capture the crowd’s response to a dancer, you may want to shoot a wider shot to capture the audience.

5. Composition

Photography rules are made to be broken, but you should know and be comfortable with them before you break them. So remember, if your subject has a head, hands, and feet, try not to cut them off in the photo. Get the whole head, hand, or foot, or none of it (except for the head – always include the whole head). There may come a time when you want to focus on a person’s eyes, or a piano player’s fingers as they touch the keys, and that’s fine. Just know that if you want to capture a dancer’s grace, you will typically need the hands and feet (and head).

If you intend to capture the crowd in the background, that is fine. However, did you intend to capture that lady trying to take a pic on her phone? Or the waiter wiping up a spill? As you are looking through the camera and preparing to capture the perfect shot, take a split second to see what may distract from what you intend to shoot. You will have to decide if you have to hold the shot for another moment, or if it's something you can fix in the editing process.

With film photography, photographers were limited to 12, 24, or maybe 36 frames to capture an image, which made trial-and-error expensive. However, with digital photography, photographers can get 1,000+ images on one SD card. So, experiment with the brand and type of camera you like, start small with your investment in equipment, get to know your way around the exposure triangle, think about what you want the photo to be before you take it, avoid capturing anything that will distract from the subject, and – lastly – have fun!