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Tips for Photography Newbies


I love it when eager new photographers get their first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera.  Their minds are racing with creative ideas but sometimes they're a little hesitant and don't know how to get started.  When they come to me for advice, I generally share these basic concepts.


  • Take pictures! Lots and lots and lots of pictures.  Initially, just put your camera on automatic and go crazy.  Take shots of the family, the neighbors, the dog.  Shoot flowers, cars, the bricks on your house, and the bark of a tree.  Just play with your camera and have fun.  Take thousands (yes thousands) of pictures.

  • Get close to your subject!   You don't need to see feet in every picture of your family.   Zoom in to reduce distractions.   Fill the frame with the most important part of the image.  Sometimes just a portion of the face filling the frame will tell the story.

  • Climb up, lay down, move right, move left, zoom in, zoom out!   Very few quality images are taken from the sidewalk in a standing position.    Don't be afraid to move into various positions with different perspectives on your subject.   Whenever you move, the lighting will also change so don't be afraid to experiment. 

  • Review your images!  The only way to get better is to review your images.  Decide what you like and don't like about they way the subject is framed.   Look at the effects of the light from various positions.   Don't be dissapointed if you end up deleting 95% of your images.  They are each a learning experience.  Professional photographers will shoot hundreds of images only to get 2 or 3 acceptable shots.

  • Look at the pictures in books, magazines, and photography websites.  Get new ideas and motivation from professional photographers.  Can you identify the direction and type of light source, how did that light change the image, what lens did they use, how did they frame the subject, what do you like/dislike about each picture, etc.

  • Most of all, HAVE FUN.

Many photographers will be happy to stay at this level.   They like the camera's automatic mode and they just want to capture important memories without worrying about all the technical mumbo jumbo.   Others, however, will want to take the next step and get a better understanding of shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, etc.  They want to take control of their images in order to achieve next level of creativity. They ask questions like "how do I blur water in a moving stream" or "how do I create those cool headlight trails during night shots" or "how do I get crisp macro images."   This is where photography really starts to get fun.  :)



(Virgin River in Utah, 17 mm wide angle lens, F22,  1/3 sec on tripod, ISO 100)



(Kansas City Plaza, 17 mm wide angle lens, F22,  30 sec on tripod, ISO 100)



(Flower, 60 mm macro lens, F32,  Flash, 1/200 sec, ISO 400)


To move your photography to the next level, you have to grasp some important technical concepts related to exposure and light.  You also have to venture into your camera's manual mode (sometimes referred to as "scary mode") and understand how to use some of the advanced features.  I've created these documents trying to summarize what I view as the most important concepts.



Camera Controls (Canon)

Aperture and Depth of Field

Shutter Speed and Motion

Putting It All Together


Two final recommendations.

  • Save your images with meaningful names and place them in directories where you can find them easily.   Too often people just let their digital images pile up and they can never find them again.  They have no idea what a file named "IMG_7753" means. 
    I use this naming syntax:  [Shoot Date YYYYMMDD] + [Subject] + [Sequential Number]
    Example: 2008-01-15_Smith_Wedding_0952

  • Back-up your data!   Your computer hard drive WILL crash at some point in time.   When that happens, what will you lose?  Back-up your images to CD's or an external hard drive then store those files off site so they wouldn't be damaged by fire or burglery.

Enjoy your camera and have fun shooting!

Tom




Other reference and motivational photography sites:

Nature's Best Photography

Outdoor Photographer

Digital Photography Review

Adorama Imaging Resource Center

Web Photo School