I just got my dslr camera last fall so I am faaaaaar from an expert. But I have learned a couple things so I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far with these super beginner photography tips. (These tips will mainly address using a dslr but some of the tips could apply to any camera.) Oh and, fyi, I have the Canon EOS Rebel T3i and I think it’s a great camera for beginners – I love mine!
When you get your new camera, you should read the manual. I know – no one reads those things, right? Any time I get a new electronic, I rip open the package and start pressing buttons and I can usually figure it out. This will not work with your new camera if you’re a newbie. The manual will tell you all the features of your camera and how to find and use them. It’s not as intuitive as I thought but once I found where everything is, it’s a lot easier to use. Pretty obvious.
Consider taking a class. I know there are a tons of resources on the internet (including this measly post of mine) but I worried that if I tried to teach myself how to use the camera, I would just get lazy. So I found a beginner photography class at my local community college. It was 6 weeks and the class met once a week for 3 hours. I think it cost about $110 which isn’t bad for over 18 hours of instruction. We learned the basics of how dslr’s work, the exposure triangle (more on that below) and basic composition ideas. We also went on “field trips” 2 of the weeks instead of having class. This forced us all to get out there and practice which was such a great idea. (You can see my field trip photos here – Phipps Conservatory and Station Square, both in Pittsburgh.)
Whether you take a class or not, you need to practice. I was lazy about this at first since I felt like I didn’t have anything interesting to shoot. Now I try to take my camera more places or I even just take photos in our yard. One nice thing about digital cameras is that you can take a million photos and see your results right away. Use that to your advantage and just try things out – you can delete any duds so no pressure.
That being said, eventually try to frame your shots so that you are taking thoughtful shots. You don’t want to take a million shots of everything and hope that one of them ends up being half decent just on chance. So once you have a handle of the way you camera looks, take time now and then to take more purposeful shots to help hone your composition skills. Try this with subjects that aren’t moving or something that isn’t super important to you. You don’t want to be practicing your composition skills at a big event and then get home with no good photos. Luckily my pugs are willing, lazy and free models for me. Lucky them/me!
So here’s a quick run down of the whole exposure triangle thing. It’s not as scary as it sounds! (My brain didn’t understand it for the first class or two that I took and then it suddenly clicked, so just keep working on it.) This is just the basics, but it’s a good to start thinking about.
Shutter speed - This is how fast the shutter closes. If you have a moving subject and want to “freeze” the motion, you’ll want a fast shutter speed. If you used a slower shutter speed, your subject would be blurry. This also affects the amount of light getting into your camera. If you’re shooting in a darker space, you might want to use a slower shutter speed, in order to allow more light into your camera.
Aperture - This is how wide the lens is open in order to let light into the camera. Aperture is measured in “f-stops” (which are seriously still confusing to me) – the smaller the f-stop, the wider open the lens is. A wider open lens/smaller f-stop lets in more light, while a smaller open lens/bigger f-stop lets in less light. So again, you adjust this depending on how much light is in your environment. This is also the setting that you use in order to get those photos with the blurry stuff in the background because aperture affects depth of field. With a smaller f-stop, the subject closest to you will be in focus while the background is blurry, while a larger f-stop will make everything consistently sharp.
ISO - For me, I basically just adjust my ISO depending on whether I’m indoors or outdoors and the amount of light. Indoor photos have less natural light, so I use a higher ISO. This lets more light into the camera, but it can cause something called noise which is basically graininess in your photos. To avoid noise, you want your ISO as low as the conditions will allow, so I make sure to lower my ISO when I’m taking photos outside and have more natural light. Typically when I take photos, I first adjust my ISO to the lighting conditions first and then I deal with shutter speed and aperture.
I know that it is a lot to take in, but seriously practice is the only way to get better! Once you have the basics of the mechanics of using your camera, then you need to start thinking about composition more. I will share some of my (super) beginner composition tips in another post soon! Did I miss anything – what would you add to this list if you’re a better photographer than me (which is pretty likely)? Or if you’re a newbie, anything I could expand on?