Photography Tips – Getting to Know the Basics

Want to know how to get started with digital photography, but don’t know how? Here are a few Photography Tips to get you started.

Photography Tip # 1: What equipment do you need to get started?

The first thing you need to do when starting out as a photographer is do an equipment check. What type of things will you need to do photography as a hobby or professionally? If you are just starting out and doing photography as a hobby, you probably don’t need much.

Here is a list of things you may need as a hobbyist:

  • Quality, but less expensive Digital Camera, at least 4-6 mega-pixels. (Check out Sony Digital Cameras)
  • A memory card. (You can find these cheep 512MB or 1G is the standard)
  • A camera bag, for extra items; lens cleaner, lens brush, filters, extra memory cards, etc.
  • A small tripod. (Totally optional unless you plan on doing a ton of knight photography)
  • A computer or photo printer
  • Software for digital imaging (Usually you get a free program with your camera software)

For professionals you may need a few more things:

  • High-end digital camera 6 mega-pixels or higher (Check out Canon, Sony Cyber-shot series, or Nikon)
  • A memory card that holds 1-2 GB of images. This will allow you to have a couple 100 images on the highest quality settings.
  • A lighting kit (Check out eBay, there are some really great deals)
  • Reflectors (Again, eBay has loads of this type of stuff)
  • A good high-power flash. I bought a Canon 550EX a few years ago and it is still going strong.
  • A few photography books on Lighting Setup and Working with Models.
  • A studio to shoot or a couple good outdoor locations. (Studios can range from $500 to $2000 a day)
  • A computer with lots of storage. I use a 300GB external hard-drive.
  • Professional imaging software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Photography Tip # 2: Getting to Know Your Camera

With just the basics you can get started in a matter of minutes. I highly recommend you read the manual that came with your camera before you start taking photos. Some digital cameras are not user-friendly and can be tricky. Generally when you are beginning, you can use the automatic settings that your camera provides. The auto settings are usually on a dial on the upper right-hand side of your camera on most consumer based cameras.

The most common auto-setting options are:

  • Close-ups
  • Portraits
  • Landscapes
  • Action
  • Slow Shutter
  • Bright Light

Refer to your camera manual for what each of these settings do. Once you understand the auto settings and feel comfortable going into manual mode, your camera will have settings for this also. Once in manual mode you will need to understand how to set your aperture and shutter speed. This will be important for correct exposure. Generally in low light settings you should use a slower film speed. Most digital cameras these days have settings for your ISO. This is your film speed. In low light you should set your camera to 200 or lower if your camera is capable of doing so. This will ensure the least amount of grain in the final photo. In brighter settings you can set your ISO to 400 or above. If you are shooting action shots like sports, you may want to try out higher settings like 800 ISO. This will ensure you capture the action.

Photography Tip #3: What to take pictures of?

When starting out, it is good practice to take photos of things around the house. I suggest using a variety of objects, with different size, color and shape. I’ve even gone to yard sales and picked up interesting vases, antiques, old books, dolls, and much more. Fruit is also an easy subject because there are so many varieties and colors. Once you have a decent amount of objects to practice with, try making some nice arrangements. Once you are satisfied, setup your camera on a tripod or hand-held is okay as well. Don’t worry about lighting at this point, just make sure you have enough light to see the setup well enough. Position yourself about 3-5 feet away from you subject. Try taking a few photos at several different angles.

Here are a few angles to try:

  • Close-up
  • Medium zoom
  • No Zoom
  • Bird’s eye view (high and angled
  • Straight on( directly toward center with no angle)
  • From the Left
  • From the Right
  • From the bottom looking up (ant’s eye view)
  • Rotate your camera 90 degrees
  • Rotate your camera to 45 degrees (straight by slightly turned)
  • Zoom in to an object, but focus on the background
  • Zoom into an object, but focus on the foreground
  • Zoom into an object, and focus on the object.

Doing these actions will help you become more familiar with your camera and help you begin to understand how to be more creative with your shots. If you don’t feel like taking photos of garage sale junk or fruit, try going outside and doing the same exercise with natural objects. If you have an animal, cat, dog, or bird, you can do the same with them. Pets are great because when they move around, it will train your skills to be quicker. If they are more casual and sit still, it allows you to experiment a bit more with your camera angles and settings.

Photography Tip #4: Lighting your subject.

To impress anyone with a photograph, make sure you have good lighting. There is nothing worse than taking a family photo only to have shadows on everyone’s faces, or dark spots under their eyes from improper lighting. If you have a basic consumer camera, the flash isn’t that powerful and usually only works for closer images. Your flash may work better in darker settings, but during the day most basic built-in flashes are not capable of removing shadows from over 7 feet away. The best way to avoid heavy shadows is to be aware of the time of day if you are shooting outside. Time of day and lighting can vary per state and country, but generally at high noon the sun is the highest in the sky, so that means your subjects will be lit from directly above. This causes harsh shadows in the eye sockets and under the nose. It’s generally not an attractive look. Late at night with a basic flash is not the most pleasant thing either because it is straight on. Your subjects will have the “Deer in the Headlights” look, not so good either. The best way to avoid these situations is put yourself in the place of the subject. How would you want to look? Like a superstar, right?

The best times to shoot photos of people are late in the afternoon when the sun is warm, glowing and almost down. In California where I am at, this is usually around 4 or 5pm. If you are an early bird, you can get up early in the morning as the sun begins to rise, you can get the same soft glowing effect. If you don’t have a choice, and you have to shoot in the middle of the day try to find a good shady spot for your subjects. If it is a tree you find, ensure there are not any random bits of light sneaking through the leaves onto your subjects face. Having blotchy shadows on your face is not attractive either. If you are taking photos of people, try to get close enough that your flash does work. Most people like upper body to close-up shots anyway. A good way to get better with your lighting is to buy a foam head. You can get these online and sometimes at wig shops if they have extras. This way you have a foam person to practice with and won’t insult anyone. You don’t have to get a fancy kit for this. Grab a couple lamps from around the house and position them a bit differently around the subject to find the most attractive light.

Photography Tip #5: Focus is key to good photography.

Have you ever seen a photo that could have been really great, but the focus was all wrong? Bad focus is fairly common and sometimes completely ignored. There is nothing worse than a really good photo with bad focus. You may not know this but focusing on the right subject in a photo can dramatically change the emotion of the photo. When you are getting ready to fire your camera, stop and think about what you are actually trying to capture. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a beautiful forest only to find out in the actual photo it just looks like a pile of sticks?

Or maybe you have tried to take a picture of a friend in a crowded place and they don’t even stand out. Focus is a major part of the photo and should be carefully crafted like the rest of the photo. When shooting photos of people, you can zoom in about 30 or 40% and get in a little closer, about 3-5 feet away. This will cause the background to blur a bit, making the focus on the subject. If you are standing too far away and do not zoom, the entire composition will be in focus. Depth of field is important. You want your photos to have a foreground, mid-ground and background. You won’t always have a foreground especially if you are doing close-up photos, but making sure your background and subject are clearly defined.

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