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Photography for Beginners Guide with Basic Photo Tips

Female hands taking picture of breakfast table set up using gridlines from beginners photography tips

Photos are one of the best ways we capture memories, tell stories, and share life’s joy. Whether you’re a new mom looking to ways to capture the best photos possible of your baby growing up, looking for creative Instagram photo ideas, or you’re planning a trip to a picturesque location with plenty of photo opportunities – there’s many different reasons to pick up photography. But if you’re new to DSLRs or not quite used to your smartphone camera, your camera may feel a little intimidating. If so, we have you covered with our guide on photography for beginners. We’ll help you figure out the camera and photography basics along with providing some of our favorite photography tips for beginners.

Camera Basics

Before you dive into taking photos, you need to understand how your equipment works. Learning about the features and mechanics of your camera – whether that’s a point-and-shoot, smartphone, or DSLR – is vital.

For example, knowing how to turn off the automatic flash, change the shutter speed or aperture, or even understanding the zoom function, can make or break your final photos. It’s always best to refer to your camera’s manual when understanding the specifics, but you can also refer to our resource on how to take good pictures with your smartphone for phone based photography basics.

Camera Features for Beginners

  • Viewfinder (and grid mode): You can use the viewfinder to help strategize the composition of your photo. Grid mode turns on a helpful planning grid within the screen.
  • Zoom: While it’s generally recommended to stay away from zooming, as this reduces quality in pictures, it’s important to understand the limitations and benefits of your camera’s zoom.
  • Focus: Most cameras come with auto focus, but you should also figure out how to change this setting to manual once you get comfortable with other photography basics. This will help you take more visually interesting photos.
  • Color Balance: Adjust your color balance settings depending on the lighting to help make sure your photos don’t come out in undesired colors.
  • Aperture: Adjust your aperture settings so you’re better able to control the light in your images.
  • Shutter Speed: Too fast a shutter speed and your images come out dark, too slow and they’ll come out blurry. Try to find a balance.
  • Flash: While most photographers try to stick to external light sources, you still need to understand the basics behind your camera’s flash.
  • Manual Mode (and additional modes): Modes such as sport, portrait, landscape and more help you automatically adjust for the subject of your photo. Taking your settings off of automatic will give you more control in your photography.
  • Light Balance/Exposure: Adjust this depending on how much light you want in your images before you take them.
  • ISO: Your ISO, or the sensitivity of your camera to light, will affect how much photo grain appears in your images.
  • Histogram: Your histogram is the graphical representation of color values displayed in your camera. Make sure those values are where you want them to be when shooting.
  • RAW vs. JPEG: These files types dictate how much space you’ll have in your memory cards along with how advance your editing will be post photoshoot. If shooting in RAW, the larger file type, plan to bring extra memory cards

Photography Equipment For Beginners

  • Camera Body (or camera phone): Your camera body needs to be able to handle the size of images you want to take and come with any features you feel are essential. For example, you may not want a point-and-shoot if you want to change your depth of field or exposure.
  • Lenses (and cover): Lens come in all shapes and sizes and these are one of the most long term investments you’ll make as they last longer than camera bodies. Spend time picking the right lens with the focal range and functions you’ll want most.
  • Tripod: Tripod need to be sturdy, reliable, and as light right as possible. This is an especially important investment for photographers with shaking hands.
  • External Light: External lights help erase harsh shadows on your subject. This makes them a great long term investment, especially for portrait photographers.
  • External Hard Drive: Finding a way to reliably store your photos is essential. Don’t wait until all your hard work is erased to get one. 
  • Memory Cards: Always have at least two in your camera bag. That way if your photoshoot runs longer than expected, you won’t have to go back and delete images to make space just to keep photographing.
  • Bag/Carrying Gear: You bag and carrying gear should be lightweight enough to not hinder you while traveling to and from locations.
  • Cleaning Supplies for lens and camera: Dirty lens decrease photo quality. Worst case scenario, dirt can damage your lens, so always make sure to have proper cleaning materials. 
  • Rechargeable Batteries: Extra batteries means you can keep your photoshoot going for much longer, and they’re ideal for long trips.

Photography Basics

Once you’ve taken the time to get to know your equipment, it’s time to start practicing. Begin by seeking out examples of photographers you admire and planning out the type of photography you want to do. Save your favorite example photos for reference and plan out locations for your photoshoots. Then, once you’re ready, refer to the steps below.

How To Photograph

  1. Research and find photo inspiration.
  2. Read your camera’s manual.
  3. Make sure you understand the language. Refer to our photography terms glossary for help.
  4. Find your location and set up your equipment.
  5. Frame your photo through the lens, and make sure the light and color are balanced.
  6. Hold your camera carefully.
  7. Take your time.
  8. Take many photos, and try not to check each one as you take them.
  9. Edit your photos post photoshoot.
  10. Keep practicing!

Photography Tips For Beginners

There’s plenty of tips and tricks in photography that can help elevate your skills and take to you the next level as a photographer. From sticking to the golden hour for portraits to understanding the rule of thirds, check out our favorite photography tips for beginners below:

Basic Photography Tips

  1. Get in close. Zoom decreases your photo quality, but your feet don’t. As long as it’s safe, physically move closer to your subject for a better photo.
  2. Practice every day. Practice makes perfect and photography is no exception. Get out there and start taking photos.
  3. Check for even lighting. Harsh shadows or lack of light will severely impact the look of your photo. Get an external light source or schedule your photoshoot for the right time.
  4. Keep an eye out for composition. Photo composition, or the arrangement of visual elements, is key to telling your whole story.
  5. Keep your batteries charged. Nothing puts a stop to a photoshoot faster than dead batteries.
  6. Plan out your depth of field. How far away is your subject? Is you subject clear and in focus? These questions all have to deal with your depth of focus.
  7. Watch for the golden hour. The Golden hour is the time when natural light is diffused and even. This time occurs in the two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset.
  8. Stick to the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds will help you compose your photo so that nothing is dead center or framed in a visually boring way. Keep your subject or composition filling two of three grid lines for this trick.
  9. Experiment with filters. Filters can help you take your photo and make it something special. Check out our resource on the best photo filter apps for more information.
  10. Learn how to work with motion. Read our guide on how to take action photos for help with this.
  11. Edit your photos. After your photoshoot make sure to take the time to edit your favorite photos. Often this will be the step that makes them outstanding finished projects. Look to our guide on best photo editing apps for help.
  12. Keep your photos organized. Our digital scrapbooking tips will help make sure nothing is ever lost.

Nature Photography Tips

  1.  Focus on perspective. Sometimes a new angle is all you need to make your photograph instantly better.
  2. Try micro or macro photography. Appreciate the little things in life, and photography. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal.
  3. Don’t overpack equipment. Nothing weighs you down in your efforts like weight. Seriously ask yourself before setting out if you need that third lens or heavyweight tripod.
  4. Plan ahead. Read more about this and other travel photography tips from our hub.

Portrait Photography Tips

  1. Be aware of your background. Nothing ruins a planned portrait photoshoot quicker than someone putting up bunny ears in the background.
  2. Check your exposure. You never want your subject to be either under or over exposed in the photo– or you’ll risk losing key features. Check this ahead of time.
  3. Make sure your subject is relaxed. If you subject is nervous or upset, it’ll show through in the photograph. Try having a normal conversation with them or distracting them between photos to help put them at ease.
  4. Try to include some variation. Whether this means changing up the scenery, their outfit, both, or something else entirely – variation is interesting. And interesting photos will always top plain photos.
  5. For family portraits, stay organized. There’s a lot that ties together when going for a family photo session. Keep everyone on track so you get the best photo outcome.

Photography Classes For Beginners

One of the best ways to learn better photography skills and get plenty of practice is to take a photography class. These classes can range in price (and many are free) and some can be taken online, from the comfort of your home. Types of photography classes and locations to find them may include:

  • Online Courses
  • Community College Courses
  • Private, Instructor led Courses
  • Community or Civic Center Courses
  • Camera Store Programs
  • Local Club Programs

Photography Blogs For Beginners

Like photography classes, photo blogs enable you to hone your skills, but at your own pace. Focus on one area in photography, such as portrait or wildlife, or diversify your learnings and become a jack of all (photography) trades. Additionally, even as you mature as a photographer, there’s usually new postings every month that apply to different skill levels. Check out some of our favorite photography blogs for beginners below:

  • Shutterfly Photo Content Hub
  • Borrowlenses Blog
  • Digital Photography School
  • DIY Photography

Resources Related to Photography for Beginners

Whether you use this photography for beginners advice for your blog, food instagram, or to help fill the pages of your free photo book, we hope you found it helpful.

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Photography for Beginners Guide with Basic Photo Tips

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