super beginner photography tips

super beginner photography tips - jade and oak

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.

Exposure Triangle

photo via

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?


  1. says

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m buying my first DSLR today and I am so excited. I’m done with my iPhone photos! :)

  2. says

    OMG this post was perfect timing for me! I just ordered my first DSLR camera the other day and I can’t wait to get my hands on it, but I am going to have no clue what to do, thanks for all the tips, I am sure they are 100% going to come in handy!

  3. says

    I wish I had a fancy camera like this! My camera is great, and for a point and shoot it’s pretty top notch… but still a point and shoot. :(

  4. says

    I got my dslr camera (Canon Rebel T2i) about 3 years ago and I been telling myself that I will take classes and never have. I should really do it this time!

  5. says

    This is great! I got my camera a year or so ago, but I barely use it because I just don’t know how. I definitely need to practice and start bringing it with me everywhere. It’s just so big and heavy, and I hate to leave it in my car.

  6. says

    Taking a class is a great idea! Sometimes it helps having someone show you exactly how to do something. Pinterest is a great resource too, it has so many tutorials and helpful websites!

  7. says

    I am also the type that likes to think that I can figure out any electronics device (or anything really) without reading a manual. My DSLR put me to shame! I am still like, ummm, what does that icon mean?? Fortunately I signed up for an online seminar coming up this month. It’s probably not as good as an in-person class, but each day there is a lecture about some skill, with plenty of practice time to play with that technique and submit your best effort. I am really excited!

  8. says

    I’m so ashamed to say it, but my DSLR has rarely not been on manual mode… the poor thing needs to spread its wings and learn to fly. ……soon.

  9. says

    Thanks for these tips! I got a T5i for my birthday and never learned how to use it. Partially because I’m “busy” and partially because it’s kind of daunting. Your tips definitely help :)

  10. says

    I love my dslr! I haven’t taken any classes, but I did watch a lot of Youtube tutorials to learn how to work my camera and shoot in manual. Totally worth it!

  11. says

    I have the same camera! And I love it to. These are great tips and my photography has certainly improved in the last year. I do want to take a class but her in NY they run about $300. I got a couple of books but they are not that helpful. I still have much to learn but it is fun!

    Allie of ALLIE NYC

  12. says

    I’ve been trying so hard to get good at photography. My brother tried explaining aperture to me but I was so lost, this helps a bit!

  13. says

    My key to good photos is taking a million! One is bound to come out good right? I was forced to take an old 35mm black and white photo class for my major and I think it helped tremendously. When you don’t have the ability to have an infinite amount of photos it def forces you to make sure all of your settings are on point. It was such a pain to develop film with no good shots!

  14. says

    This is terrific! All great tips. I also have a Canon Rebel T3i and I love it. It is so easy to use once you get the hang of it. I took a photography class just after I bought it and it helped so much.

  15. says

    I’m new in the blogging world, and I definitely struggle with the pictures. I have a fancy Nikon DSLR and no idea how to use it LOL I’ll definitely save some of these tips. Thanks again. xx, jen –

  16. Bessita says

    Thank you so much, your so awesome for doing this. Many people say “I paid for the class so why should I give away the knowledge for free? “” Many cant afford a new dslr AND the class. I wanted a top quality camera since I was 12 and now at age 36 I finally have one, I was so excited then once I got it and started reading the manual my excitement went dim but after seeing your pin I got excited again. Thank you so much. I subbed

  17. Angie says

    Thank you for posting this :0) I am a photography student and these are some of the best tips I would give a beginner. I am still no professional by any means but understanding these tips will improve any ones pictures a great deal.

    Thank you, Can’t wait to see whats next

  18. says

    Thanks for sharing that triangle diagram! I’ve had a camera for a few years now but have only recently (this week :) ) began to try to understand how to use it. I have been watching youtube videos which has taught me a lot but seeing it in the diagram (I need to print it!) really helps. Thanks!

  19. says

    I just fell upon your blog via Swoon Worthy. Thanks for these tips! I purchased a fancy Nikon camera a few months ago, and I love it! Although, I think it has greater potential and I just don’t know how to tap that potential (yet! trying to self-teach). I also wanted to share another blogger’s post on photography tools for the novices and experts alike– I’m thinking of making a couple of these purchases: Hope you and your readers find it helpful! I sure did. Xo, Yelda


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