Whether youve just purchased your first DSLR and want to learn the basics or are looking for simple ways to update your existing photography skills, the following tips should help you build a strong foundation. Keep in mind, however, that photography is an art youll never really be done learning.
The best way to keep improving is to practice often, make mistakes and be open to learning from others, whether theyre well-established photographers or newcomers to the craft.
Learn to hold your camera properly
While youll eventually develop your own way of holding the camera, you should always hold it with both hands. Grip the right side of the camera with your right hand and place your left hand beneath the lens to support the weight of the camera.
The closer you keep the camera to your body, the stiller youll be able to hold it. If you need extra stability you can lean up against a wall or crouch down on your knees, but if theres nothing to lean on, adopting a wider stance can also help.
Start shooting in RAW
One downside to shooting in RAW is that the files take up more space. Additionally, RAW photos always need some post processing so youll need to invest in photo editing software.
Ultimately, however, shooting in RAW can transform the quality of your images, so if you have the time and space, its definitely worth it. If youre not sure how to switch from jpeg to RAW, check your cameras manual for detailed instructions.
3. Understand the exposure triangle
Although it can seem a bit daunting at first, the exposure triangle simply refers to the three most important elements of exposure; ISO, aperture and shutter speed. When youre shooting in manual mode, youll need to be able to balance all three of these things in order to get sharp, well-lit photos.
4. Wide aperture is best for portraits
When shooting portraits, whether of people or animals, your subject should be the main focus of the picture and the best way to achieve this is to use a wider aperture. This will keep your subject sharp, while blurring out any distractions in the background.
Keep in mind that a smaller f/ number means a wider aperture and the wider the aperture, the more dramatic this effect will be. Some lenses can go as low as f/1.2, but even apertures of f/5.6 can do the trick. To better understand how the aperture affects your images, switch to Aperture Priority Mode (Av or A) and try taking some shots with different apertures.
5. Narrow aperture is best for landscapes
Landscape photographs require a different approach, because everything from the rocks in the foreground to the mountains in the background should be sharply in focus. So any time youre shooting a scene where you want everything to be fully in focus, you should select a narrow aperture rather than a wide one.
A larger f/ number means a narrower aperture, so go towards f/22 or higher, depending on what your lens allows. Again, using Aperture Priority Mode (Av or A) will allow you to experiment with different apertures without having to worry about adjusting the shutter speed each time.
6. Learn to use Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority Mode
Aperture Priority Mode lets you select the aperture you wish to use and then the camera adjusts the shutter speed accordingly. So for instance, if youre shooting a portrait and want to blur the background, you could simply select a wide aperture and let the camera figure out what shutter speed is appropriate.
In Shutter Priority Mode, you select the shutter speed you want to use and the camera will select the aperture for you. So for example, if you want to get a clear shot of your dog racing towards you, you can select a fast shutter speed and let the camera choose the aperture for you.
7. Don't be afraid to raise the ISO
If you cant lower your shutter speed due to motion blur and a tripod isnt an option, its better to get a sharp photo with a bit of noise than no photo at all, and youll be able to remove a lot of noise in post processing anyway. Moreover, camera technology has improved so much in recent years that its now quite possible to produce amazing photographs even at ISO 1600, 3200, 6400 or higher.
One way to minimise noise when shooting at higher ISOs is to use a wider aperture whenever possible. Slightly overexposing your image can also help, because making light areas darker in post processing wont increase noise, whereas making dark areas lighter definitely will.
8. Check the ISO before starting to shoot
Its an easy enough mistake to make, though, so to avoid this unpleasant surprise, make a habit of checking and resetting your ISO settings before you start shooting anything. Alternatively, make a habit of resetting this every time youre ready to put your camera back in its bag.
9. Be careful with the flash
Sometimes, however, there may simply not be enough light, and if you dont have off-camera lighting, youll be left with no choice but to use the built in flash. If you find yourself in this situation and dont want to miss the shot, there are a couple of things you can do. First of all, find the flash settings in your cameras menu and reduce brightness as much as you can.
Second, you can try diffusing the light from the flash by putting something over it. Securing a piece of paper or opaque scotch tape over the flash, for instance, can help diffuse the light and soften it. Or you could bounce the light off the ceiling by holding a bit of white cardboard in front of it at an angle.
10. Learn to adjust white balance
White balance can be fixed in post processing, of course, but it can become a bit tedious if you have hundreds of photos that need slight adjustments made, so its better to get this right in the camera. Some of the standard white balance settings youll find on your camera include Automatic White Balance, Daylight, Cloudy, Flash, Shade, Fluorescent and Tungsten.
Each of these is symbolised by a different icon, so if youre not sure which is which, check your cameras manual. Automatic white balance works alright in some situations, but its generally best to change the setting according to the type of light youre shooting in.
11. Learn to read the histogram
Learning to interpret the histogram will take some time and practice, but the brief explanation of it is that it gives you information about the tonal range present in your image. The left side of the graph represents the blacks or shadows and the right side represents the whites or highlights.
If the graph is skewed to the right, your image may be overexposed and youll have lost a lot of detail in the lighter areas of the photo. If its skewed to the left, its likely underexposed and will be too dark. For a more in-depth explanation of the histogram, check out Digital Camera Worlds histogram cheat sheets.
12. Play with perspective
Not every angle will work for every photograph, of course, but youll never know what works and what doesnt if you dont experiment. When shooting animals or children, you can try getting down to their level and viewing the world through their eyes. If youre shooting a portrait, why not stand on a bench and shoot your subject from above?
13. Understand the rule of thirds
If you were following the rule of thirds, rather than positioning your subject or the important elements of a scene at the centre of the photo, youd place them along one of the four lines, or at the points where the lines intersect. Some cameras even have a grid option you can turn on, which can be useful if youre still learning to compose your images.
Of course, photography is all about creativity and personal expression, so you may sometimes choose to break this rule and place the points of interest elsewhere in your photo. This is absolutely fine, but before you start breaking this rule, its important that you understand it and are in the habit of consciously thinking about the points of interest and where you want to place them.
14. Eyes should always be in focus
With this in mind, your subjects eyes should be your main point of focus. To get both eyes nice and sharp, choose a single focus point and aim it at one of the eyes. Once the first eye is in focus, keep the shutter button pressed halfway down and move the camera slightly to recompose the photo and include the second eye.
15. Pay attention to the background
Fixing a distracting background can be as simple as moving your subject or changing your angle, but if that doesnt work, it may be possible to obscure it by using a wider aperture and getting in as close to your subject as possible. Whenever you can, though, try to keep the background neutral, especially if youre placing your subject off to the side of the photograph and the background is very visible.
16. Invest in a tripod
When purchasing your first tripod, there are a few things to consider such as weight, stability and height. Weight is important because youll be carrying the tripod around with you and dont want anything too heavy, but it also needs to be stable enough to support your camera and the lenses you plan to use. If in doubt, check out the Digital Photography Schools guide to buying a tripod.
17. Shoot the sunrise and the sunset
Whether youre shooting landscapes, portraits or still life, using the early morning or evening light can give your photos a serene feel with its warm glow and the long shadows it casts. Of course, the golden hour is not the only time you can get good outdoor photos, but it does make it easier.
18. Invest in a good photo editing software
Most professional photographers use programs like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, but if you want something a little less pricey to start with you can try Photoshop Elements, Picasa or Paint Shop Pro.
19. Be selective
So if you want your work to stand out when sharing your photos on Facebook, Instagram or photo sharing sites like Flickr or 500px, try to narrow it down to just a couple of very good photos from each shoot. You may have shot hundreds of photos at your friends birthday party or your sons football match, but by displaying all of them, youre obscuring the five or ten really great shots that you got.
20. Learn from your mistakes
Most of the time there will be a simple solution such as trying a different composition or using a faster shutter speed, but if you see any recurring problems, youll have a chance to study up on specific aspects of photography and strengthen your weaker areas.
Video Tutorials are Coming Soon