Beginning Photography Tips

Jared Skye
Smiling man looking at camera

Getting started in photography can be intimidating. From knowing what equipment you need to learning how to make the most of it, there's plenty of information to digest. This is why it's so important to spend some time learning some basic beginning photography tips when you're getting started. These tips can help turn a mystifying array of buttons and dials into a manageable system you can learn from.

Equipment Basics

The first thing you need to do is select a camera and some lenses. Much of what you select will be dictated by the type of photography you're most interested in pursuing as well as your budget.

The Camera

Most beginning photographers will want to find a budget camera to learn on before they invest thousands of dollars into a more advanced camera. While there is a wide amount of variation between camera models, some general functions to look for include:

  • A rear-jog wheel that can be used to adjust aperture or that can be assigned with custom functions
  • A top-mounted LCD displaying your settings
  • A drive mode of at least five frames per second, though high-end cameras can go up to fourteen frames per second
  • Weatherizing if you will potentially be using the camera in adverse weather conditions
  • Decent low-light performance, with low image noise at high ISO settings

There are a number of cameras that you can buy which provide a great compromise on these features. For example, the Canon 60D provides a variable drive speed and the same overall image quality of more expensive cameras like the 7D. Since the T2i, T3i, 60D and 7D all essentially use the same sensor and processor, they will yield similar image quality. The major differences between these cameras are in ergonomics and "pro" features.

For weatherizing, the Canon 7D is widely regarded as one of the toughest "affordable" weatherized cameras on the market, but can be pricey at around $1200 brand-new. A great option for outdoor photographers on a budget is the "K" line of Pentax DSLRs. These cameras are fully weather sealed and they are very reasonably priced. The lens selection isn't nearly as good as what you'll find with Canon, but the cameras themselves are very tough.

The Lenses

Long camera lens

When shopping for camera lenses, it's important to remember that you should generally spend more money on lenses than on camera bodies when it comes to image quality. Great lenses can last you forever if you take good care of them, while you'll almost constantly be replacing your camera as it goes out of date.

  • Get a few fixed-length prime lenses
  • Find at least one zoom with a range of 70-200mm or more
  • Get one lens with a zoom range of roughly 14-70mm to use as your "walking around" lens
  • Zoom lenses with more than one f-stop listed on the lens (for example, f/3.5-5.6) will automatically change aperture when you zoom
  • Zoom lenses with only one f-stop listed (for example, f/2.8) will stay at the same aperture setting throughout the zoom
  • For low light shooting, try to find lenses that can stop down to f/2.8 or lower

With your primes, select your focal length by considering your sensor and the type of photography you're doing. If you are doing landscapes on a cropped-sensor, consider getting a 28mm, or a 35mm on a full-frame sensor. If you're doing portraits, consider a 50mm lens on a cropped sensor, or an 85mm lens on a full-frame sensor.

As you become more familiar with lenses and what each one can do, you'll likely expand your collection to include many more. The key is to play around with your lenses and settings to find the right combinations that will work for your own photography style and subject matter.

Get to Know Your Camera

Woman photographing tulips

It may sound simplistic, but the reality is that the only way you can learn about photography is to take photos. You can read all of the training booklets and watch all the videos you want, but the fact is that you won't get comfortable with your camera until you spend hours working with it. While there are a lot of things you need to learn, there are some basic functions you should understand the most.

  • Learn about ISO and how it affects your image
  • Learn where your ISO buttons are and how to use them
  • Learn about the impact of different shutter speeds on your exposure
  • Learn where your shutter adjustment wheel is and how to use it
  • Learn to use your internal light meter to get proper exposure

Composition

Composition of your photographs is a skill that takes years to properly develop. However, there area few tips you can use to help compose better photos right out of the gate.

Portraits

Man taking family portrait photo

With portraits, you want to shoot with a very shallow depth of field, which requires a low f-stop number. This helps to blur the background and make your subject stand out more. Focus on the eyes, and make sure you find a background that compliments the subject.

Landscapes

With landscape photography, you want to be sure that you shoot at around f/9 or f/11 depending on the lens. This will help provide you with a deep depth of field and great image quality. Try to use foreground interest in your photos. This is essentially something unobtrusive but interesting in the foreground of larger wide shots.

The Rule of Thirds

One of the most basic overall rules of composition in photography is known as the rule of thirds. The idea is that you should take your image and divide it into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Imagine that there are lines creating those divisions, and align your major subjects along those lines or where those lines cross.

Putting it All Together

The truth is that there is no easy road to becoming a good photographer, or even a marginally good one. If you want to learn how to take good pictures, there is no way to get around the practice and studying involved. However, this studying and practice are all part of the fun of learning a new skill and putting it to use. When you take the time to learn some beginning photography tips, you are more likely to get the most out of your new hobby.

Beginning Photography Tips