Oh and by the way, this handsome photographer is my husband, Sean. Hehe 😉
Have you seen his photos?! They’re stunning! I’m so proud of him. Sean has an interest in the complex engineering of cameras, and he also has an authentic eye for artistic potential. I believe (as do many others) that Sean has reached the caliber of a professional photographer, but with the demands of his career in engineering he likes keeping it as a hobby.
Over the years he’s taught me about the difference in shutter speeds, focal lengths, etc. But because I haven’t devoted the time it takes to “get it” through practice and hands-on research, I often ask him to wind it back for me and re-teach me the basics. Which brings me here.
I know I’m not the only one who could benefit from reading a few basics tips. Am I right…ehh? There’s a reason you decided to read this. So, Sean’s here to give us all some pointers. Take it a wayyyyy, honey! 😉
5 Photography Tips for Beginners
by Sean Mason
1) Learn to See Light
You don’t need a camera for this tip which is why it’s often overlooked by beginners. Most people take light for granted; never taking time to admire all the variations that light can take.
Light can be harsh, or soft. It can fall off quickly, or barely at all. It can come from one direction, or many. It can come from down low, up high, from the side or sometimes both. Even more overlooked is its shadow. Many new photographers do their best to eliminate shadow altogether. This is often a mistake, because shadow can actually add add depth to your photo.
One quick tip for good light outdoors. Move your subject to, what photographers call, “open shade.” A tree will block the direct light of the sun and your subject will be lit with soft light bouncing off everything around them.
Another easy way to get good light for portraits is to use a window. So long as the sun isn’t shining directly into it, the window will act like a studio soft box and give you beautiful, soft side lighting with quick fall off.
2) Change Your Perspective
One of the great things about photography is its ability to take an every day item and give it new meaning. We spend most of our life looking at this world by standing from 5-feet-something off the ground. Naturally, this is also the same perspective we take most of our photos. If you are struggling with uninteresting photos, try finding a new perspective. “Get low” as they say…or find a ladder. Move back, and zoom in. Maybe get close and zoom out.
Look! Cute dog. If you only point down and snap…you’ll get this kind of photo:
OR…if you can get low and take a shot from a more personal angle, you’ll get this kind of photo:
3) Composition Isn’t a Scary Word.
Google “Photo Composition,” and you will get a million results on The Rules of Composition. Most of which will go over the Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Golden Ratio, Depth, Framing, etc. – and then, at the very end it will tell you to break the rules. If you were feeling nervous before that this fun and creative hobby was just about to take a dark turn into a classroom, this fact alone should give you some comfort. There is no pop quiz in photography. You never have to know which rule you are following. Jimmy Hendrix didn’t know the rules behind music theory and he did just fine. But simply knowing that these rules exist is a good enough start.
The reason why this subject is so broad and studied is that as humans, we see patterns. It’s what we do. We crave them so much that we will invent them even when there aren’t any. Composition is an awesome subject that you will eventually learn to love, but first – baby steps. Because this is for beginners, I will give you two simple tips that will improve your photographs right away:
A. When taking a photo of a landscape, try moving the horizon from the center of the photo to the bottom or to the top. This will simplify your photo and draw attention to the foreground or to the sky, whichever is right for the scene.
B. When taking a photo of person, try to keep their eyes above the middle of the photo.
4) Snapping the Photo is Just the Start
Now this tip can be a little controversial in some photography circles, but I think I have history on my side. Once you have your photo, you need to develop it. Ask Ansel Adams how long he spent in the dark room working on a single image.
Post processing has gotten a bad rap lately with the YouTube videos showing the power of photoshop, and the effect of advertising on young women. Well, I’m not getting near that, but if you use this one simple concept to guide you while you process your photo, we will both be safe. Use “post processing” to bring out and highlight the essence of your subject. For example, that zit is not the essence of your subject. Go ahead and get rid of it.
Ever take a shot and feel like it just didn’t capture the feeling right? The camera is a lifeless tool. It doesn’t have the first idea of what it’s pointed at. It approaches every scene the same way. This is not how our eyes work, and as such it is our job to do the work our brains normally do when we use our eyes. I don’t have a quick tip for this one, but try and move away from the one-click filters and graduate to the sliders/manual adjustments. I recommend Adobe Lightroom. Don’t worry about Photoshop; Lightroom can do 99% of everything you might need to do and it’s much simpler.
5) Keep Your Money Until You Know Why You’re Spending it.
Photography can become very expensive, very quickly. You don’t need the latest most expensive camera to get started. Either you will fall in love with photography, or you will eventually give it up. Either way, the days of your first camera are numbered. I recommend starting out with a second hand camera model from a few years ago. You will get the best bang for your buck while you learn, and when you upgrade – you’ll do so with little invested and as an informed buyer. The first thing you have to decide is how important size and portability is to you. Mirrorless Cameras have a significant size advantage over the bulky DSLR, but that size advantage comes with a couple trade offs. DSLRs are often cheaper, handle better, track moving subjects better, and have more lenses and accessories to choose from.
Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and Olympus are all great brands. You can’t go wrong. I’m a Canon user and as such will point out a couple reasons to consider them for your starter kit:
A. They are the biggest, and offer the most extensive camera system you can buy into.
B. They make a lens that I recommend to all beginners, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. This little guy is about the cheapest lens you can buy, and is sharp; great for low light, and can give you the background blur you see in professional photos. Pair this lens with a second hand Canon T3i and 18-55mm kit lens and you are on your way. I even have a sample image from a few years back.
Canon T3i with Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 – Settings: 1/3200, ISO 100, f/2.0
If you are set on mirrorless, I’d go with Sony, Fuji or Olympus. Nikon and Canon are the kings of the DSLR world, but their mirrorless cameras are not as good as the smaller companies.
Remember: a good carpenter never blames his tools, and the most important feature of any camera is the person holding it.