Photography Crash Course: 10 Quick Tips

Photography Crash Course Series
photo copyright {Serenity Bolt Photography}
It’s time to turn that dial! You know what I’m talking about….that safe little “A” on your camera where you’ve been hiding out, or perhaps you’re more of the adventurous type and have scooted it over to “P” a few times? Well, it’s time to step it up. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to start experimenting with your camera. It’s not like there’s any risk involved- no one has to know how many crappy photos you deleted before you got that one amazing shot!

Here are just a few quick tips to get you started:

1. Shoot, shoot, shoot. I remember watching an interview with Jay Maisel, a world-renowned street photographer, and that was the one thing that he stressed the most. You have to get out there, every day if possible, and just take a lot of pictures. It increases the chance that you’ll photograph something spectacular. There has never been a day that I’ve taken my camera out with me for the day and regretted it. You’ll see the world differently, I promise.

2. Count to 10. Take the time to frame your shots. Don’t shoot with the intention of cropping later. You’ll save time, and you won’t lose any image quality by zooming and cropping away at it in post-processing. As war photographer Robert Capa said, “zoom with your feet.”

3. Pay attention to lighting. Don’t shoot in direct sunlight, especially if you’re photographing people. It’s really unflattering! Try to pay attention to the quality and direction of the light around you. Late afternoon and early morning are great times to shoot. Mid-day (when the sun is harshest) is not so great.

4. Learn the basics of exposure. ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. You can print and laminate these cheat-sheet cards to keep in your camera bag. Once you get these down, that “M” button will be your friend because it means you have total control over your photographs. After all….you’re smarter than your camera, right?!

Example of a slow shutter speed:

Example of a high shutter speed:

Now about aperture…

Things you should know about your aperture:

  • The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.When you hit a button to take a picture, a hole opens to allow the camera to  capture the scene — the aperture you set effects the size of that hole. The larger the hold, the more light goes in, the smaller the hole, the less light.
  •   Aperture is measured in f-stops (you will see it referred to as f/number, like f/2.8, f/4, f/22, etc.).
  • Moving from one f-stop to the next doubles or halves the size of the amount of opening in your lens. Simply put, it doubles or halves the amount of light coming into your camera.
  • The one tricky thing you MUST remember — large apertures (where more light is let in) have SMALLER f-stops, and small apertures (less light) have LARGER f-stops. In context: f/2.8 lets in much more light than f/22.
  • The depth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.
  • Large depth of field means that most or all of your image (meaning both foreground and the background) is in focus, or sharp. For this effect, you want a larger f-stop, meaning a smaller aperture or less light getting in.

Most of the background here is in focus, giving it a large depth of field and a small aperture:

Shallow depth of field means that only a part of the image is in focus, and the rest will be blurry or fuzzy. For this effect, you want a smaller f-stop, meaning a larger aperture or more light.

Example, the background is blurry, leaving only the subject in focus, which is a shallow DOF and a larger aperture:

One way to keep all this straight in your head: small f-stop numbers mean small DOF, and large f-stop numbers mean large DOF (depth of field).

…and now moving on, a few more things to consider:

 4.  Check the background. Make sure there’s nothing “growing” out of your subject’s head….like a tree or a telephone pole.

5. Hold steady! This one might seem obvious, but it’s a good idea to get in the habit of holding your camera with one hand supporting it from underneath. This helps to keep it nice and level, as well as reduce camera shake.

6. Pay attention to composition. Start with a few articles on composition. Learn the rules from more experienced photographers. There is a wealth of information out there- use it!

7. Forget the flash! Learn to take pictures in low light by using the right combination of high ISO (this is not complicated, higher numbers mean a brighter picture) shutter speed, and aperture (lower is better for low-light situations because it lets in more light). If you must use a flash, use a diffuser (this can be as simple as holding a napkin above the flash). Your subjects will thank you for it, I promise.

8. Study the greats. Identify what is is about their work that draws you to it. It’s not a bad idea to try and copy the style of photographers that you admire. You can learn a lot by trying to figure out what motivated them to get the shots you love. You’ll find that your own style emerges on its own after a while.

9. Move around. Do you want every photo to look like it was taken from the same point of view (about yay high…er…exactly the height of your face!) Crouch down, lean over, experiment with angles…it’s waaay more fun!

10. Experiment away! Remember, it doesn’t cost anything to go crazy with your camera. Take a hundred pictures of the same bathtub with different exposures (just don’t show them to anybody). It’s the best way to learn your camera inside and out.

11. Bonus tip: Focus on the details. Don’t just look at the big picture. Sometimes it’s the little things that capture the feeling of a place or situation. This is also a good way to make color stand out in your photos. I love to take vivid close-ups- it never fails to turn the everyday into something extraordinary.

Already got a few awesome shots you’d like to make prints of? Learn how to make unique canvas prints at home with my easy How-To Guide: Canvas Photo Transfer.

A few resources:

Digital Photography School is a great website with a huge stockpile of articles on every subject imaginable.

Also, check out this helpful (and hilarious) video 50 PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES

Kelby Training is a subscription-only site by photoshop guru Scott Kelby. For 25 bucks a month, you can watch as many videos as you want. I subscribed for a month, watched a ton of videos, and unsubscribed! This is entirely acceptable.

Happy Shooting!

xo Serenity

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

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10 thoughts on “Photography Crash Course: 10 Quick Tips

  1. great article, more example photos for some of the points would be great. i DO need to start learning how to use a camera properly and when i get started, i’ll print this out and the tip cards. 🙂

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