The Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute Beginners

canont4igiveaway   The Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute BeginnersFueled by a desire to take better photos, last year I got myself a nice DSLR for Christmas. I’m certainly no photography expert – but I did take the time learn a few photography tips I could immediately use to take substantially better photos. Some of these tips can be applied to any photo – not just using a DSLR – so even if you have a point and shoot or a camera on your smartphone, then it’s worth reading these.

I should stress, these are only for an absolute beginner; if you class yourself as an amateur photographer, you’ll probably laugh. For me, these tips pretty much blew my mind.

The Rule of Thirds

This really ought to be taught in school, and it’s so ridiculously easy to learn. Essentially, photos will look better if your subject isn’t centered. I know, that may sound totally counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

Every digital camera – even your iPhone – comes with a grid option, which overlays two vertical and two horizontal lines on the picture, splitting the image into 9 sections. Enable it now, and look around. Place items of visual interest onto these lines or at the intersections for a better composition. For example – if there’s a horizon in your shot, don’t place it dead in the center – align it along either the top third or bottom third line, depending on whether you want to place focus onto the sky or the ground/sea. If there’s a foreground subject – a person, or a tree – place them against either the left or right third lines.

This photo from Wikipedia (from user Moondigger) demonstrates the rule effectively.
Rivertree thirds md   The Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute Beginners
On a related note: leading lines encourage a viewer to naturally move “through” your photograph, so including them can stimulate interest. Specifically, this might include a road, a river, or perhaps a short pathway leading out to your subject, or beyond.

Change your elevation or viewpoint

Logic dictates that you should take a photograph from eye-level right? Nope. Boring. Move the camera either up or down for a more interesting shot; obviously, this makes seeing the viewfinder somewhat more difficult, which is why a rotatable LCD screen can be a wonderful thing – you can hold the camera high above your head or on the ground, and still see what’s going on. This is especially important when photographing kids or animals.

Here’s a random example to demonstrate the point; you love cute dogs right? Well here’s mine, and his name is Loki. The first is taken from eye level, and ignoring the rule of thirds. It is the very definition of a boring and bad photograph.

loki 1   The Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute Beginners

This one is taken from lower down, and attempting to use the rule of thirds for composition. All other settings remained the same. I think you’ll agree it’s much better.

loki 2   The Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute Beginners

Always take photos in full resolution and full quality

With memory cards so cheap nowadays, there’s absolutely no excuse for dropping the quality down on the camera side – if you need to optimize the image for sharing or sending over email, do this on the computer using any standard photo management app. Why take anything less than the best? The only excusable reason for doing this is to speed up the file saving process if you need to shoot continuously. For most of us, it’s simply a waste.

If your camera is capable of taking RAW format – where all the data the camera sensor receives is saved, and not just the final product – use it. You can’t go back and fix a bad JPG, but you might be able to with RAW. You can’t put a price on some shots. Oh, and even if you do take a bad photo, don’t delete it!

The Trifecta of Exposure (ISO), Aperture and Shutter Speed

This is the most difficult part of photography for me, so I want to thank Jackson for all his helpful advice. I’ll only explain these points briefly; for a thorough explanation head on over to the fantastic ExposureGuide.com, which is where this helpful diagram is from. Print it out, and stick it on your wall!
exposure triangle   The Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute Beginners
To explain briefly then, these three factors determine everything.

  • ISO/Exposure is how sensitive the camera chip is to light; a high ISO will allow you to take photos even in very low light, but there’ll be more noise (“grainy”). Lower ISOs are better, but not always possible.
  • Aperture determines the focal length and is the size of the physical opening to the lens. A higher number means there’s a smaller hole letting light in, which results in more of the background being sharp and in focus. A smaller number is a larger opening, so background objects appear out of focus.
  • Shutter Speed is how long the shutter remains open for, allowing more light in. Leaving it open for a longer time will show motion in a photo, while a short time will show a single moment.

Learn the modes on your camera

Even your most basic point and shoot will have at least:

  • Manual mode where you can specify everything.
  • Automatic mode where the camera will make a best guess.
  • Programmed mode where certain characteristics are pre-determind.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to stay away from programmed mode and anything to do with adding effects to the photo – these can always be controlled better with manual mode, or applied afterwards. If you take a photo in black and white on a compact camera, you’re simply destroying data that you can never get back again.

On a DSLR, you’ll find a few other modes, and it’s important you understand those too. These modes allow you to set a particular variable and let the camera work out the best values for the others.

  • Av: Aperture Value. This is the most widely used mode for general shooting and gives you control over the Aperture. The camera will calculate the best shutter speed and exposure to use.
  • Tv: Time Value. This gives you control over the shutter speed, allowing you to capture either motion or a single moment. The camera will calculate the best aperture and exposure values to use.

These two modes are where you’ll spend most of your time if you’re a beginner to DSLR photography, like myself.

Thanks for reading, and I hope these photography tips help you in some way. I don’t presume to be an expert in photography, so if you have any tips, advice or corrections you think should be included then please, let us know in the comments.

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44 Comments -

Scutterman

This is a fantastic piece, and very easy to understand.

Pilgrim57

Some good tips here James & I’ve learnt what Tv means.
Use your legs! move yourself to frame a picture better.
A tripod is great for some shots but not always practical to carry or maybe you can’t afford one so brace yourself against a wall, lamppost. car roof etc. A bean bag will make an uneven surface into a steady platform for still-life/landscapes.

Apertures: some times you want the foreground out of focus so it doesn’t distract from the middle distance. Watch that the shutter speed doesn’t drop below 1/60th or you’ll get camera shake. Another way to avoid camera shake is to put the camera on something & use the timer, great for those longer exposures.

Your dog photos: both would be better if you had removed the red cushion! If you can alter the composition then do it. In the first if you had the dog looking at you or something out of shot then you could have cropped the image to get a better result.

The golden rule with landscapes is have a level horizon! My camera has a grid on the lcd screen that you can turn on or off.

Lastly, carry space batteries, memory cards, backup your photos [in the cloud?]. & don’t let your toddler take you smartphone, with all the holiday snaps on, out of your bag & leave it at the hotel.

Muo TechGuy

Excellent advice, thanks! I just learnt the hard way about backup cards; mine got corrupted, and I lost 250 photos of the dog playing in the snow ;(

Francisco de Gusmão

Finally, I understand! Thank you so much! I always get confused when I’m messing with those, but bot anymore ;)

Francisco de Gusmão

Thank you! It’s great article!

Kannon Yamada

Great article. I have been reading a lot of Bakari’s articles on photography, but this one really helps fill in the gaps.

Mac Witty

Change your elevation or viewpoint is right but maybe also say “get closer”

Dave Parrack

Great piece. Photography is, like so many things, an endless learning curve. The more photos you take, the more appreciate the subtleties involved.

Dee Wheat

A very experienced pro photographer once told me you should learn the rules before you try breaking them LOL. It’s good advice for any photographer!

Megan-Harley Hayden

Thanks, this is a great article – I’ve just gotten a DSLR and am still getting used to it, but this definitely makes it a lot easier!

Melroy D’monte

Nice!! Basic and easy to understand!! Thanks

Bogdan Chirita

I realy liked the information posted here.

Sonny Lim

Thanks for a highly readable article. This certainly motivates me to try my hand in photography.

Timothy Ford

The Light Meter always reads a base of 18% grey, will make your snow & beach shots overexposed!
:)
tf

Bob Carbaugh

Tim, the camera’s metering system will try to make the bright/white background “18% gray”, so the pics end up too dark – Underexposed. Lots of cameras have “Exposure compensation” settings to adjust for just such conditions – IF I remember to use them. At least, with digital photography, I don’t have to wait for the “prints” to see my errors ! Bob C

Anonymous

Great article !! Basic yet powerful. Will put them in practice soon !!

Lori

For your Round 2 of tips, remind folks about “forcing the flash” when taking photos of people with any kind of light behind them. Likewise, disabling flash when they are shooting from further than the flash can effectively reach. I see so many flash bulbs going off at arena events I wonder how many people are going home to view dozens of images of well-lit (or overexposed) bald spots.

Muo TechGuy

Excellent advice Lori, thanks!

jateenc

I get these all the time, some useful , some not…. It would be great if they were more printer friendly because I like toprint them and read during delays etc in my travels. the materials at the very top and bottom just seem to waste ink and paper

Pete

One thing not mentioned is White Balance. In many cases the camera’s Auto functional will be fine but sometimes it can be fooled and you end up with some terrible colour problems. I’ve seen photos taken in a room that had huge windows meaning plenty of daylight but the brightly lit fluorescent lights in the ceiling were imparting their own different Colour Temperature to that of daylight. This gave the people in the photograph weird greenish grey tinge in the shaded parts of their faces.

Other times if you put the White Balance to manual and forget then you can end up with a photo taken around noon that looks as if the sun is actually setting, everything looks golden yellow and orange.

To really understand more about what White Balance is and why we need to be aware of it have a good read on the subject for your cameras own operational manual (there should be some explanation) or do a Google.

Muo TechGuy

Good point. This can be fixed easily with RAW files though I believe?

Ken Wilson

This article is a well-written piece on the vital basics of creating an affective image. As a professional shooter of more than forty years experience, I can assert that the two items on your list that are critical to excelling at the craft of photography are: First; “The Trifecta of Exposure” (great description) and, Second; “The Rule of Thirds.”

Even with such an excellent article as this, I still regularly encounter “professional” photographers packing tens-of-thousands of dollars of camera gear who do not understand, nor do they seem capable of utilizing, these basic concepts.

The wonderful thing about these simple yet powerful concepts is that they can be used with any camera to produce images that will impact the viewer. Photography is a function of the mind, not the camera. Cameras are simply tools to capture your vision. That may seem an obvious statement, but it is one many, many photographers fail to grasp. Technology is great but ultimately useless if one does not take advantage of the tenants laid out in this article.

Again, thanks for sharing. Well done!

johnbuk

Don’t apologize for the apparent basic information. These are spot on and if you follow them your photos will be vastly better.
I would add one more- zoom in much closer than you think. A photo when viewed will always look further away than it looked in the view finder.

Cerese Minetti

Very good article! I took a photography crash course in design school few years ago and it’s a nice refresher since my husband just bought me a DSLR. Thanks. One thing I wanted to mention as a little advice. The “good” photo of your dog Loki could be improved even more if she wasn’t looking off the edge of the photo. One of the things I learned from my art classes is that you never want to have your subject looking off the edge they are touching. Eyes in a frame create a focal point and the audience will look at the eyes first then at what the eyes seem to be looking at, this can cause the viewer to go right out of the frame and not notice much else in the photo. Hope that helps you along your journey to great photographs. :)

Anonymous

Great article. I have also just recently upgraded to dslr and have been trying to come to grips with these same issues. Thanks.

Bill Engebretson

Please check, but I think your use of focal length in the article is wrong. I think you meant depth of field. Focal length is a physical characteristic of the lens related to how large the image appears. Some have a set focal length and some have a variable focal length(zoom lenses).

All in all, nice work on this article

James Bruce

I believe they’re also related to zoom, but the longer focal length you use, the shallower depth of field you will have.

Mohammed Yatim

I love the “The Trifecta of Exposure (ISO), Aperture and Shutter Speed” image, is there anywhere I can go to get a high resolution one to possibly use as a background!?

Muo TechGuy

I think there’s a higher res version at the site credited as the source.

Mohammed Yatim

Nope same low res!
But thanks for the reply :)

Yogesh Unavane

Whao . . .Informative . . . TY

Keith Swartz

Got to get started somewhere & this article is an AWESOME place too start! Thank you ALL for this.

John

It’s not easy to advise beginners – these are generally good tips. One point perhaps about program mode which is to do with exposure not effects – many cameras have program shift which means that you can set the camera to program for correct exposure and then shift to any shutter speed or aperture combination you prefer – one other tip which you hinted at and makes some in my family scream – read the manual

fritz Richard

thanks for this article.. very easy to understand

Eric Rosenberg

This was an informative article. I don’t know how long I’ve spent trying to understand about shutter speed, aperture, etc. This makes it sound easy.

Nancy B

As an absolute beginner, most of my cameras don’t give the choice of shutter speeds but they do have an aperture type choice of closer or further away. Oldest camera with film I do have the choice of exposure types but not with the digital basic camera I have.

Now I know what these values mean! Thanks!

Golden J. Williams Jr.

Very good article, I’m still using film so I’ve lost a few good shots due to inexperience. Now all I have to do is upgrade to Digital. I still like my old SLR’s even though my eyesight isn’t sharp as in my youth. Everything seems to be easy with a digital camera (Oh The Concert shots I could of had with digital during the 60’s-70’s music scene). Sorry; just reminiscing.

wolfkin

absolute beginners don’t need RAW files. Absolute beginners aren’t jumping head first into photoshopping. They’re starting out with Picasa filters. JPGs will do fine especially at max resolution.

Absolutes need tips like use the timer so you’re hand is steady when the shot is taken. Take as many shots as possible so you can find the perfect one later. hold your breath before shutters. understanding the limits of flash distance and how to compensate for backlight.

The trifecta and the rule of thirds part was fantastic. Clearly I’ve always misunderstood the rule of third myself and I’m .. not new.. but just beyond new.

Muo TechGuy

Hmm, not sure I agree about RAW files. Would be best to have them around anyway, as they might take some otherwise great shots that can’t be fixed with filters. No need to start messing around with RAW immediately, but at least have them there, backed up, ready to play with when you get a little more experienced.

Fantastic advice about timers and holding your breath though; I guess this is going to warrant a follow up article on 5 more tips!

Taswir Haider

Excellent advice, thanks! Photography is, like so many things, an endless learning curve. This certainly motivates me to try my hand in photography.

Eduardo Van Beest Hermse

Very clear……the rest is the eye

Smith

Informative & technically sound photo shot tips. Hope visitors will find you useful. Thanks for sharing.

joe

Hi guys, my name’s Joe and I have a serious passion for photography. I’m constantly looking to grow and improve. I started posting some of my original photography to my blog in hopes to get some constructive feedback. I also share HUNDREDS of photographs daily from all around the world. My blog is http://www.onlyjoelee.com and you can find my originals under “my photography”. Thank you guys so much :)