So you finally bought that new camera you’ve always wanted. Or better yet, someone who loves you got it for you as a gift. Nice. Now it’s time to take the pictures you’ve always envisioned, but you’re not quite sure how to get started. Here are some tips that should help…
Get Familiar With Your Equipment
Sounds obvious, but before even taking a shot of a flower in a vase, you have to know where to point the lens and which button to push. It may be human nature for us to throw aside instruction manuals and dive head first into unknown territory, but on the other hand somebody took the time to write it for a reason. An artist is only as good as his tools (or perhaps how well he knows them), and in this case, that means your camera. You don’t need to sign up for photography classes at an online school, but take the time to get to know your camera’s settings and functions. READ THE MANUAL.
You are not Ansel Adams (yet). Once you know the basics of your camera, experiment a bit with simple subjects under easy shooting conditions. How do your photos look? What are the technical and artistic factors that create that look? What can you do to make them look better? Play around, but keep it simple.
Learn and Practice the Rule of Thirds
This is one of the most basic conventions in the art of photography, which provides a simple set of guidelines (literally) for the technique of composition. Imagine looking through your viewfinder and seeing a tic-tac-toe board. The intersections of the four lines of this grid are said to identify the four most important points used to frame your image. The idea is that the viewer’s eye naturally tends to focus on objects aligned with those intersections, or along the lines themselves, rather than in the center of the frame.
Be Aware of Your Light
To “photograph” something means to make an image from light, so it’s no surprise that many photographers regard lighting as the key to taking good pictures. Experiment with your manual light settings. Natural light is best generally, but play with other forms of light too. Be aware of how shadows are falling. Keep light sources behind you unless you want the silhouette effect of back lighting. Indirect light, side lighting, and sunlight at different times of day or during different weather conditions all create different effects. Again, experiment and learn.
Learn From the Best
Opinions will vary, but keep an eye out for photographers whose work you like and emulate their style. There are many books which catalog a variety of techniques used by professionals, and of course you can browse the work of millions of amateur and high-level photographers online.
Watch the Sky
Overcast skies tend to soften the tones of your subject. You’ll also find that an overcast day is the perfect setting for spectacular black and white shots. On those clear and sunny days, take advantage of the natural light to contrast color. Experiment with filters and polarizing lenses under different kinds of sunlight.
Get a Tripod
Yes, they can be a pain in the butt to haul around, but the argument for a tripod is simple: it eliminates camera shake, and allows you to use slower shutter speeds. Many professionals will tell any amateur that a tripod is an indispensable tool if you want to take your photos up a notch or two.
Have Fun With Action Shots
Capturing motion frozen in time can be challenging, but nothing beats a great action shot. Sporting events offer lots of opportunities to try taking action shots, especially if you can get in close. The key point to remember is to move the camera with the action, otherwise you’ll have a blur racing across your photo. Action shooting is bordering on advanced technique, but beginners can get the hang of it with practice.
Beware of Hot Spots
Hot spots occur when the light hitting your subject is too strong, causing part of the image to be overexposed. This can happen when you’re shooting at high noon on a cloudless day, or with artificial lighting that is not well balanced. Your subject will appear flat, lack detail, and have too much contrast with its surroundings.
Don’t Leave Home Without It
The true photographer is marked by always carrying his camera. You never know when something photo-worthy is going to happen, so be ready when it does. Even if you don’t get any extraordinary pictures on an average day, having the camera handy means you can take advantage of as many chances to practice as you have time for during the day. Ultimately the most important element of teaching yourself anything is giving yourself opportunities for regular practice.
With practice and and a bit of determination to teach yourself photography you can have a fun and rewarding experience taking great pictures even if you are a beginner. Be patient, practice often, and enjoy seeing your surroundings in a new way.
Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.
Top image by Jordan Parks