Photography Tips for Beginners
Updated: Jan 31, 2019
There are so many cameras on the market and different styles of photography it's hard to know where to begin. In this post I share my thoughts on how to get started in digital photography. Film photography is also incredibly popular at the moment and you can read my film photography tips here, but for now let's get stuck in to my top photography tips for absolute beginners, which I've broken down into five categories:
1. Your Camera & Lens
With such a saturated market it's hard to decide which is the best camera to buy for a beginner photographer. My first camera was a middle of the line Canon DSLR, but with technology developing so rapidly, by the time my brother went to purchase the same camera five years later, it was not only half the price, but also a much faster camera than the one I'd purchased. That said, it's all going to come down to what you're looking to spend and what you're looking to use the camera for. A good place to start would be purchasing a cropped DSLR (because this will be cheaper than full frame) and both a prime and zoom lens. Having a prime lens will force you to move around, with the most common prime lens being 50mm. The 50mm lens replicates the way our we see the world through our eyes and, as such, is almost always used for portraiture, but is also a great all round lens.
As to which brand to buy, there are ample reviews online, so do your research and, most importantly, consider whether or not the review you're reading is impartial. Once you're ready to start shooting, make sure you're doing so in raw + jpg, so that you have a raw file when you get to editing your photos. Also try to step away from using auto settings so that you can start to understand the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO and how, combined, they affect the overall quality of your image. The sooner you learn to shoot on manual the better, so start by using the partial manual settings (those that allow you to manually set one element) and you'll be on your way to being a pro in no time.
2. Your Accessories
An external flash is a key piece of kit if you're looking to take photos of people at night or if you're interested in fashion photography. If you're looking to take professional photographs outside, be that for fashion editorials or for family/engagement/wedding photoshoots, then there are also a whole bunch of accessories you might want to invest in. If you're shooting on location, rather than in a studio, these might include a tripod, external flash, UV filter and reflector (available in different colours).
Filters are also something you should consider purchasing when you get your first camera. Which filter you require will depend on the type of photography you want to pursue. UV, CPL (polarized) and ND filters are three of the most common types of filters and are all available from the good folk at GOBE, who, for every lens filter purchased, employ a team of local workers to plant five trees, thus providing vital employment and environmental regeneration. Head to the GOBE website to check out their filters and also their super inspiring blog.
3. Your Knowledge
There are a handful of general photography 'rules' and there are even more rules that apply specifically to different genres of photography. This doesn't mean to say that they have to be followed, nor does it mean you have to know them before you start shooting, but I personally like them and use them more often than not. Here are a few of my favourite general photography rules:
The first is the rule of thirds which is a basic compositional tool used across all genres of photography. You can read more about it here.
The second rule is leading lines, which is a really simple tool to use if the occasion arises, and you can read up on how to use leading lines here.
The third rule you might choose to follow when composing a shot is to frame your subject, which you can read more about here. It's important to also pay attention to the whole of your image, not just your subject. That means keeping an eye on what's in the background of your shot, as often people forget about the background and have to spend time editing out unsightly inclusion in post processing.
The fourth general photography rule, applied especially to portrait and fashion photography is to shoot in filtered light, the most revered type of filtered light being 'golden hour.' Direct light leaves harsh shadows and although some fashion brands have been putting out campaigns shot in direct, harsh light lately, myself and my photographer friends all cringe at the images. Sometimes you mightn't be able to avoid shooting in direct light - say when you're photographing a landscape or a lizard that's stuck its head out of the undergrowth to soak up the sun - that's why filters and the technology behind them can really help your photography improve.
4. Your Skills
Whilst your photography knowledge will carry you so far, your skills will set you apart from other photographers. These days editing plays a large part in majority of photographic work. The best thing you can do, besides composing a great photograph, is to learn to post process with Lightroom and Photoshop. There are a myriad of tutorials available on YouTube that will help you learn. Presets are sometimes useful if you're just starting out, but I would 100% recommend learning to edit yourself over paying money for presets that can often turn out to be pretty rubbish. Fundamentally, you don't need to spend hours editing, but knowing the basics right from the beginning of your photography journey can be really beneficial.
5. Your Experiences
We all find our favourite photographers, both past and present, and draw a huge source of not only inspiration but also knowledge from them. For me, watching the documentary 'Finding Vivian Maier' inspired me to try out street photography for the first time when I moved to Beijing. Following photographers whose work I admire on Instagram and following hashtags that interest me, such as #thestreetphotographyhub is also another way I find continual motivation to improve my photography.
What is invaluable, however, is learning first hand from other photographers - from conversations with them, from outings with them and from editing sessions with them. As an intern I was asked to shadow the hired photographer and take some photos at an event, so the organisation had a few of their own images readily available. As I hadn't really worked that much with other photographers before, this was a huge learning curve for me and the photographer was more than happy to share his tips and tricks. One that has stuck with me and is important in the context of event photography (or any kind of scenario in which there is a lot of movement, eg. photographing sport, animals) is to keep both of your eyes open. This enables you to monitor what's outside your frame so you are aware of what might be about to shortly enter your frame. Sure, I might have read this online in a 'tips for beginner photographers' post like this one, but I learned it by experience and, more importantly, I was able to put it into practise right away.
Beyond all that, photograph what you love and are passionate about, because that will make photography enjoyable for you and will motivate you to keep learning and growing as a photographer. My brother and sister photograph almost entirely animals and the natural world and, although I started out doing the same, over time I've found myself increasingly interested in people and they way we all coexist in the world, hence people have become my main photographic subject.