Aperture. Depth of field. Exposure compensation. With so much to learn, what’s a beginner to do to get started in the world of digital photography?
Follow along as we answer this very question and arm you with a solid foundation of the fundamentals of photography.
You’ll be given simple tips on what to focus your attention on as well as what to ignore.
What’s more, here at IrisMasters we’ll do our best to give you actionable, realistic guidance. That way at the end of the day you don’t just know more about photography, you can see it in the photos you snap.
Photography All Boils Down to Two Ingredients
#1. Become a Technical Master
Digital cameras are jam-packed with settings and functions. Knowing how to manipulate them to capture awe-inspiring shots is critical to your success as a digital photographer.
#2. Channel Your Creative Impulse
Great photography is much more than equipment. It has to do with your eyes and how you use them.
Composition is the name of the game. And while many Pro’s say it’s a gift from god, we know otherwise.
Just like any skill on the planet, learning to compose great photos is something any beginner can pick up and master in no time.
Enough with the introductory babble. Let’s get to the fundamentals and give you a few actionable tips for both so you can get out shooting.
Becoming a Technical Master With Your Digital Camera
For most beginners, your camera is a maze. The first step to taking great pictures is to transform this maze into a simple map that you know like the back of your hand.
While cameras have dozens (or even hundreds) of settings you can use, there are three that you’ll use more than anything else – besides the focus barrel.
- Shutter Speed
These three terms all describe mechanisms in every camera. They control how light is let into your camera to create an image.
Photography is all about light and slight changes in how the light is dealt with have big influences on how the image ends up looking.
Aperture – The Light Hole
The aperture of our camera is an “iris-like” device that opens and closes. It controls how much light is let in through a tiny hole.
The larger the hole, the more light.
This is measured in F-Stops where f5.6 is a large opening whereas f16 is a small opening. You want a larger opening for darker settings and a smaller opening for very bright scenes.
The change in aperture size also influences your images depth of field.
Depth of field is the range of distance where your image is in focus. A large aperture creates a shallow depth, where a small range of your image is focused.
A small aperture creates expansive depth with details from foreground to background.
An easy way to get acquainted with your aperture is to use the Aperture Priority mode on your camera.
This will let you alter the aperture size manually and not have to worry about anything else. The camera will automatically change all the other settings to ensure your photo comes out right.
By experimenting with various aperture sizes and seeing the results, you’ll see how different apertures influence your depth of field.
You’ll also come to find that the larger apertures allow you to use a faster shutter speed while smaller apertures require longer shutter speeds, most likely causing blur for lower light situations unless your camera is mounted on a tripod.
What’s shutter speed?
Shutter Speed – The Timer
While aperture controls the size of the hole that light enters from, the shutter speed controls how long the light is let in, measured in seconds.
More light in usually means a brighter photo. And less light means a darker photo. Of course, this all depends on the amount of light where you’re shooting.l
Shooting in a very dark location may require a long shutter speed for a photo that isn’t even bright. And when shooting in bright daylight at the beach, a fast shutter can still produce a bright shot.
A small shutter speed of 1/500 will let very little light in whereas a longer shutter speed of 1/5 will let in much more light.
Using your camera’s shutter priority mode will give you a great feel for how shutter speed affects the images that you take.
You’ll find that fast shutter speeds freeze motion while slower shutters blur motion.
ISO – The Sensitivity of Your Film
The ISO controls the sensitivity of your “film” to light. For digital cameras, this is now the digital sensor.
Basically, this lets you control how your camera reacts to the light let in from the aperture and shutter stop.
Set a high ISO (very sensitive) and your camera will eat up light like it hasn’t eaten in days.
Set a low ISO and your camera will eat as conservatively as a monk in the 1300’s.
A higher ISO number will make your image expose faster and require less light than a smaller ISO. The drawback of using a larger ISO is that the higher ISO’s usually result in a detraction in image quality and grain.
example of low and high ISO and graininess
When to use a low ISO (ex: 100)
- At a sunny beach
- Surrounded by sand (Mohave desert?)
- Bright studio photo shoot
- Surrounded by concrete on a sunny day (concrete reflects light)
When to use a higher ISO (400+)
- In the shade
- Inside a building with low-moderate light
- At night
Putting the Three Together
Now that you know the three important digital photography tips your next step is to see how each setting influences your image and how they all interact together.
This interaction is what’s called exposure.
As you take more photos and become more acquainted with the three settings, you’ll start to get a better feel for which settings work for specific situations.
With three settings to juggle, each producing different effects, how do you manage all three?
Well if you’ve been shooting in Auto or Program mode, you’ve already been using them. The only difference is that your camera sets these settings for you.
The first step towards becoming a better photographer is taking the reins of these settings.
Don’t feel the need to rush straight into manual mode. Many beginners do and it’s actually a big mistakes.
You’ll end up with more blurry, underexposed photos this way and likely lose motivation.
Instead, get a strong familiarity with the semi-auto modes.
Depth of field is a top priority for your images. Aperture priority allows you to set the aperture while your camera figures everything else out.
If you want a shallow depth, use a large aperture of f3.5 or f5.6. If you have an expansive landscape shot and want lots of depth, use a smaller aperture of f16.
By focusing on the setting that matters most, aperture, you become more in control of your final result. You also avoid over bombarding yourself with everything all at once – like manual mode.
Shutter Priority is also an important mode to familiarize yourself with. You’ll use this mode to freeze action and prevent blur or cause blur.
When trying to capture a fast-moving bird or sports star, for example, shutter priority will allow you to focus on what matters most – a fast shutter speed. You simply set a 1/500 shutter, for example, and your camera figures out the rest.
Or if you find a mesmerizing waterfall and want to create a ethereal, blur-effect, just set a slow shutter of ¼ or less and your camera will deal with everything else.
Exposure: The Fundamental Skill Every Photographer Must Master
How you use your camera modes for exposure is a highly complex topic. Because of this, it’s important that you start out getting your feet wet instead of jumping all in.
This will allow you to develop your technical skills one at a time without being overwhelmed and stressed out.
With the basics of the technical side of photography covered, we now move on to the creative part – how to use your eyes.
Becoming a Creative Architect With Your Photos
Before you take a picture, what do you do? If you’re like most, you point your camera at your subject and snap away.
While you saw the subject and correctly placed it within your frame, what happened to everything around the subject? The background? The foreground? The space to the left, right, top, and bottom?
Ignoring these areas of your photo almost always ensures that your photo will come out mediocre at best.
Herein is where the art of photo composition comes to play.
By using a few tried-and-true composition tricks, you’ll find that arranging your photos is easier than you ever thought!
Composition Tip #1: Experiment a Little
Before placing your subject dead-center, experiment a little! Following a fundamental composition tip, the rule of thirds, make it a point to avoid placing your subject in the middle of the frame.
Instead, see how your shot looks with the subject placed to the left. Or the right.
There are no right answers to composition. Just guidance to help you find what works best for your situation.
If you don’t experiment and try different approaches, you’ll have nothing to work with.
Composition Tip #2: Clarity Is King
Think of your photo as an essay. The more topics you write about, the harder it is to keep your reader engaged. Focus on one topic and you’ll have no problem engaging your reader.
It’s easy to frame an entire scene within your camera and snap a picture. The breadth of detail captured, however, is often more than the average viewer wants to see.
Take proactive steps to simplify your image.
Instead of shooting at eye level and having lots of background details, try getting lower to get a clean sky background. Or climb a tree to get a green grass background.
Instead of using your camera fully zoomed out, why not zoom in and isolate your subject a bit more?
As with the first composition tip, experimentation is key.
Composition Tip #3: Use Invisible Guides to Lead Your Viewers
What happens when you’re walking down a street and you see someone in front of you look up at the sky? You probably look up too.
What about when someone points their finger somewhere? You likely move your eyes to follow the direction their fingers lead towards.
These are both examples of imaginary “lines” that literally force your eyes to follow along. These same “invisible line” principles apply to visual art.
By using both real and imagined lines, you can easily guide your viewers to focus on what’s important and ignore what isn’t.
Make it a point to carefully observe your area for lines, shapes, and imagined lines that you can use to create a powerful image.
Use these lines to guide your viewer to the most important subject in your frame.
Composition Tip #4: Challenge Yourself
You’ll find that as you start experimenting with composing, things aren’t as easy as they seem. Many times you can try over and over again to make a scene look good but will struggle to get the result you wanted.
Often times, however, you’re literally inches away from the perfect composition.
This is where the difference from a beginner and a PRO is. The beginner accepts average photos. The Pro doesn’t.
The pro keeps fishing around, playing with their camera angles and perspectives. They won’t give up until they find a great shot. It’s just what they do.
As you compose, a magical thing happens. You begin to open your eyes to the light, patterns, and world around you that you’ve been oblivious to before.
It starts a self-perpetuating cycle.
You suddenly start paying attention to lines and shapes even while you’re not holding your camera. And then when you do have your camera, you already know where all the beauty lies.
So as a beginner getting started in photography, the most important thing you must do is just get started.
Experiment. Challenge yourself. Before you know it, you too will have started this cycle and will find yourself unable to stop. For nothing is more rewarding than seeing spectacular photos that you can call your own.