7 Incredible Tips for Beginner Photographers

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19 7 Photography Tips For Beginners by Prathap Photography Nature Phootography Simplified

As a beginner photographer, I was swaying around too much at times not knowing what was good and what was not. It took me several years, and countless hours, to really understand the right path and to focus my energy on the right techniques. If this sounds familiar to you, then here are seven incredible tips that will help relieve you of the dilemma a beginner faces in photography.

Note: These tips are in no way comprehensive but are definitely a good starting point

1. Buy an Affordable Camera

One of the biggest mistakes you could do is to invest all your savings to buy expensive gear. It will soon prove to be a burden and you might end up selling it if you are not able to pull out photographs that are good enough.

Will you be able to make good photographs from the very beginning? Chances are quite low. Even if you do, you may not be able to justify your purchase, because you do not know if it was the right choice for you or not. Only with experience, will you know which is the best camera or the lens for your photographic needs.

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My recommendation would be to buy a camera that is affordable to you, and focus your time and energy in building your photography skills as a beginner. That will go a long way in your photography journey.

2. Learn the Basic Settings

Settings found on cameras, especially DSLRs, can be overwhelming. To be honest, I haven’t used more than handful of settings to date. Why? Because that’s all I have needed to know!

Most important of the settings are:

  • Focusing Modes – AF-S (Nikon)/One-Shot AF (Canon), AF-A (Nikon)/AI-Focus AF (Canon), AF-C (Nikon)/AI-Servo (Canon)
  • Camera Metering Modes – Evaluative (Canon)/Matrix (Nikon), Center-weighted Average, Spot, and Partial (Canon)
  • Auto ISO Settings
  • Shooting Modes – Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority

If you learn to use the above settings without even thinking, then you will make your camera an extension of yourself, thereby having much more time for creative expression.

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3. Understand Exposure

Making a proper exposure under any conditions is the key to making good quality photographs. Exposure is a combination of three pillars of photography called Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Exposure Triangle below depicts it in an easier way.

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The amount of light passing through the lens opening (Aperture) for a specified duration of time (Shutter Speed) for which the camera sensor, set at a particular sensitivity (ISO), is open is called the Exposure.

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Changing the value of any of these parameters, results in a change in exposure. That is why it is very important to understand aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get a strong hold on exposure.

4. Make Use of Semi-Automatic Modes

DSLRs are generally precision machines that give you more control than other compact cameras. You must take control of it, and get it to work the way you want.

Learn semi-automatic modes like Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority to get out of Auto mode. Aperture Priority mode allows you to change the aperture while the other settings like shutter speed and ISO (if it is on Auto ISO mode) are chosen by the camera. Learn the effects of aperture on the end results using Aperture Priority. See the impact of depth-of-field as you change the aperture.

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Shutter Priority mode allows you to change the shutter speed while the other settings like aperture and ISO (if it is on Auto ISO mode) are chosen by the camera. See how Shutter Priority helps you to change shutter speeds and see the effect of motion blur and freeze the action.

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Sometimes, you may end up getting an overexposed or underexposed image while using semi-automatic modes. Exposure compensation technique allows you to compensate for the exposure.

Once you are comfortable with Aperture and Shutter Priority, getting proficient with Manual mode is quite easy. Manual mode gives you complete control of all three parameters – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – to make an exposure.

5. Shoot in RAW Mode

One of the most overlooked feature of DSLRs, and some advanced compact cameras, is the RAW file format mode. In RAW mode, there is no compression applied to the sensor data, nor there is processing done (except little bit in some cases) like color saturation, contrast and sharpness.

JPEG format, the default mode, is compressed with different settings offering FINE to NORMAL quality. Compression means there is loss of data since it reduces the size of the photograph (or data) drastically. For instance, if your camera RAW file is 24 MB then you might end up getting a 8 or 9 MB file if you use FINE JPEG mode and it may be just 4 or 5 MB in NORMAL JPEG mode.

The amount of detail that a RAW file has may give you best possible result in terms of details in the shadow as well as in the highlight regions, considering that you have exposed the scene properly. Though there is an overhead of post-processing needed to convert a RAW file to a readable format like TIFF or JPEG in software, the end result is well worth the effort.

Another important aspect of using RAW format is that you can set the exposure compensation (within limits) and the white balance in post-processing without actually losing any data.

The image below has overexposed highlights as shown in the histogram.

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Using the Exposure Compensation tab I have recovered all the highlights, keeping the details in shadow intact. Also, I have changed the White Balance to Cloudy to get a warmer tone to the entire photograph.

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Here is the processed photograph from of the RAW file shown above. Isn’t it amazing to see how much information a RAW file can hold!

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As a beginner photographer, this might sound overwhelming but it is very easy if you consider the numerous advantages of using RAW format over JEPG format.

6. Learn to Use Histograms

Histograms are probably the most useful tool, apart from TTL (Through The Lens) metering, that digital cameras possess.
A histogram is a graphical representation of the light or color distribution in a photograph. It is a plotted with x-axis showing the light intensity value or the color value (usually a number between 0 and 255) and y-axis showing the frequency of occurrences of that particular value.

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Your camera’s LCD shows the histogram next to each photograph that you’ve taken. Though you could make out if the photograph is properly exposed or not by looking at it, it does not always tell you the details present in different areas of the image. Also, it isn’t possible to make out the clipped blacks (no details in the darker regions) or washed-out highlights (no details in the brighter regions) on the small LCD display, especially on bright sunny days.

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The histogram, on the other hand, gives you a fair idea of the distribution of the details in dark, shadow, mid-tone, highlight and bright regions. Below screenshots show one such example:

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If the histogram is skewed towards the extreme left, then the image is underexposed.

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If the histogram is skewed towards the extreme right, then the image is overexposed.

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A properly exposed histogram is the one which does not have the clipped blacks (extreme left) or overexposed highlights (extreme right).

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Though at times an image could be intentionally underexposed (to get a dark background in case of portraits) or overexposed (in case of sunrise/sunset photography where capturing details in the sun is not be possible) to get certain artistic impact.

7. It’s All About Light and Composition

One of the most often committed mistakes of beginner photographers is to spend a whole lot of time reading, debating, dreaming about the camera and accessories.

But photography is all about light and composition. If there is no light, there is no photograph. No matter how advanced or expensive your equipment is, at the end of the day it is you who have to take the photograph. At the end of the day, how you take the photograph, matters more than the camera or the lens you use.

If you see a masterpiece of Ansel Adams, would you ask which equipment did he use, or would you immerse yourself in the beauty of the photograph?

The skillful use of light and composition is what makes a great photograph. Learning to see the light and how it models the scene around you should be the first step in learning photography. Take note of how light changes the look and feel of the same subject in the course of the day.

Light has quality and direction.

Quality of light is best during early (two hours post sunrise) and late hours (one hour before sunset) of the day. Pre-dawn and post-dusk hours can help you witness, and photograph, some of the most spectacular landscape photographs.

Direction of the light could be frontal, side or backlit depending on where the sun is located relative to the subject. Each has its own application and should be studied thoroughly.

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Composition is the key differentiator between a bad and a good photograph. A photograph that is carefully composed demands viewers’ attention as opposed to a snapshot. Photography composition is a way of organizing the elements in a scene to make a statement that is understood by the viewer. The Rule of Thirds is one of the best photography composition techniques that will quickly improve your photography.

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By keeping the subject on one of these four power points (circled in red) will yield a more dynamic photograph, because there is a visual tension created due to uneven negative space.

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Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and got some good ideas about the concepts that you should focus on as a beginner in photography. Have a great time!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Prathap DK is a professional nature photographer and the founder of V-BLESSED Framework, A Powerful Learning Platform for Bird Photographers. V-BLESSED is the first ever framework developed to help bird photographers to learn in a systematic manner. It’s unlike any other course ever created for novice and amateur bird photographers. Download his FREE eBook, Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions, which has helped over 10,000 bird photographers to rapidly improve their skills.

  • Franklin

    I’m saving to buy a Nikon D5300 as my first DSRL camera, for now I’m using my cellphone camera to practice photography

  • That’s a fantastic Nikon body Franklin. Nice choice. Good luck!
    I use my cellphone camera to practice even after several years. You are on the right track.

  • Debra Petre

    Excellent tips! I would suggest including information about using a tripod when necessary.

  • pat.

    great post–lots to think about then learn with my new camera

  • Thank you so much! Pat

  • Thank you so much! Debra Petre. I would definitely consider this for the second part.

  • This was an excellent article. Thanks!

  • Bluequest53

    Nice i enjoyed it and marked it- I just started working with RAW and in my mind it opened a brand new world- Dont throw away the CD that came with your Nikon kiddies because thats where Nikon put all the fun stuff πŸ™‚ Go RAW !!! (over doing it) sorry just excited —

  • ED

    I am looking to invest in my first DSLR camera/packaged deal from Amazon ..and as Franklin, been looking at Nikon D5300 Digital SLR. But the available bundles are so many, as are the prices.

    I would appreciate a heads-up recommendation as to what would be a good start bundle package.

  • Hunter

    Prathap, this a good and straight forward article. It is a good reminder of the basics and not to get lost in the gear and technology of photography, too early. I agree with your first point about buying a camera to suit your budget and that can get you started. I bought an Olympus OMD10, with two kit lens and have enjoyed learning how it all works and taking great photos. I am beginning to understand what the features of the camera do and what I need to practice. I shoot in manual mode, so need to try aperture and shutter priority. Thanks for the article.

  • David Cobb

    Great article, with some clear and concise information. I really do need to pay more attention to histograms πŸ™‚

  • Omaer Rafiq

    A nikon D3200 is an amazing camera for starters and is almost the same as D5300 without the articulating screen and is a couple hundred dollars cheaper.

  • EDM FL

    Omaer, Thank you, I had forgotten about the Nikon D3200 .. great reminder! Thanks!

  • TerryS

    A well written and informative article. I am not strictly a beginner but I read beginner articles to either, a. reinforce my existing knowledge or, b. fill in the gaps it is easy to forget. If beginners apply all of your recommendations they WILL deliver good photographs sooner rather than later.

  • Thank you so much! TerryS. I believe in your principle. I am never tired of reading about Photography. It’s a life long learning experience.

  • Thank you so much! David Cobb

  • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Hunter. I am glad that you are sticking to what you have. The more your understand about your camera, the better the photographer you will become.

  • Hi EDM FL,
    As Omaer Rafiq pointed out, you could certainly check Nikon D3200. But, if you are planning for a long time investment and few hundred dollars doesn’t empty your pocket, I would suggest you to go with Nikon D5300.
    Here’s why:
    – 39 Autofocus points is a great deal breaker in D5300 as opposed to just 11 Autofocus points
    – 9 Cross points as opposed to just 1
    – Slightly faster burst speed of 5 fps as opposed to 4fps. But, if you consider action photography, it does matter a lot
    – Base ISO of 12,800 ISO as opposed to 6,400 ISO.
    I hope this helps.

  • Thank you so much! Bluequest53. RAW is always a better choice in my opinion. Good luck!

  • Thank you so much! Joe Rodriguez.

  • Rex Cordova

    Wow..its a great help of information for a newbie in field of photoghraphy, im dreaming to be someday to use dslr camera,as for now i’am gathering some reading articles like these, thanks so much for sharing this wonderful articles ??

  • Hi Rex, Thanks a lot. I was doing the exact same thing several years ago. Understanding the concepts with lot of visualization would help you to greatly improve your photography. Good Luck!

  • Ankit kumar

    thanks for such a wonderful tips.I am a beginner and your tips have really helped me a lot.

  • EDM FL

    Prathap,
    Thank you; things, to consider Good points!.

  • My pleasure!

  • It’s my pleasure! CodytCpts. That’s very good to know. I hope to see some macro shots with your new camera someday. I wish you good luck!

  • My pleasure! Ankit kumar. That’s a juvenile white-throated kingfisher! Is it tied by any chance?

  • Dr. Derek P. Blake

    The one essential setting that you omitted is the Manual Focus, no auto modes can cope with small targets or certain macro shots. Manual focus is also left out of bridge and compact cameras and it is the most useful of all the settings, even more important than aperture priority as this is often provided as a program setting.

  • ankit kumar

    it is not tied. somybody else had tied it but it flew away from there and came to my roof.it was not able to fly so i made her unpaid model.what about the second pic below.

  • ankit kumar

    some more pics

  • Ok. I think you have to work on composition a bit. Also, keeping the head sharp is critical to the success of a photo. I hope this helps.

  • Hello Dr. Derek, very valid point. Manual focus is definitely critical in achieving sharp focus in case of small subjects or in case of distracting foreground elements.

  • Soma

    Which lenses do you suggest for the beginners on Nikon d5300

  • Hi Soma, it depends on what you want to photograph and also on the budget. To begin with i would suggest you to go with one zoom lens and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. Stay with the, for a year until you understand your sheer interest. Then you can make the right choice.

  • Soma

    Thanks pratap.i am interested in bird watching and its photography…in this case what range of .zoom lenses and which make. Should it be only from Nikon or any other lens manufacturer u suggest? If u can suggest some lens model names with zoom range it would help me as I am planning to buy Nikon d5300 body separately.

  • I would always prefer Nikon over third party lenses. For bord photography, Nikkor 70-300mm VR os a very good lens to start with. If you do have enough money, then Nikkor 80-400mm VR would be great choice as it will serve your purpose for many years to come.

  • christina.stromberg
  • Johan Bauwens

    on my canon, when using auto-iso, i can’t under-or overexpose

  • Tim Lowe

    Good points and not just for beginners. I’ve been a photographer for… lets say “a long long time?” and there’s not a thing listed here that I don’t think about every day.

  • witefeather

    Great tips! I will practice these in my next shoot. The issue often is the white balance that throws my photos out of sync…that is something I’m playing more with as well.

  • one of the best article i have read on this site. will start working on Aperture Priority and Shutter priority mode

  • orcaspest

    Great article. I never understood the histogram so thank you!!

  • Robin

    Great tips, I am student of animation and my teachers are good, but what i learn form here is truly helpful. Histogram is explained nicely. Ones again thanks..

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