Take Your Photography to the Next Level for Beginners
If you have some experience in photography already but you’re struggling to get those epic shots that the pros seem to take with ease, then you’re probably wondering what the secret is that they’re all keeping from you. But the good and bad news is there aren’t any secrets and instead it takes a lot of experience, skill and knowledge, and with a bit of hard work you’ll be there in no time. So hopefully I can give you a head start to get you on your way to that professional level status.
Choose Your Subjects Carefully
You’ve probably already decided on the types of subjects you want to shoot, but if not I’d recommend you choose something that interests and inspires you, because from experience I can say this will really help keep you motivated to continuously improve.
So here’s a few tips to help you with choosing a subject:
-To make the process easier try shooting something you have experience with, for example you could shoot behind the scenes at your workplace and get unique photos of areas that most photographers don’t have access to.
-Perhaps you play or watch a sport, have an interesting hobby or have a friend that could model for you.
-Another idea to try is documenting something that’s rarely seen in day to day life, for example a war or someone with an interesting story to depict.
Less is More
Cluttering your photo with everything you can fit in is a common mistake made by beginners. You might think the more subjects in your photo, the more interesting it will be, but this will only distract the viewer and leave them confused and unable to focus on anything in particular.
One way to fix this is by picking only subjects that are essential and then zooming in to fill the frame with only these, cropping out subjects that don’t add any value to your photo. Another couple of ways to declutter your photo is by moving around and shooting from different angles to include different subjects, but if all else fails you can pick a new location.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of photography the next skill to work on is composing your photo, but if you’re not sure where to start with this then I would recommend looking up some composition techniques such as “the rule of thirds”, “leading lines” and “balance”.
Here’s a few things to play around with for more creative shots:
-The angles you shoot from, for example you could try setting your camera on the ground or finding a higher viewpoint.
-Include different subjects in your foreground and background.
-Play around with your camera settings such as using wider apertures or changing your focus points to blur out different subjects.
-Try some artistic techniques such as shooting the whole photo out of focus, use long exposures to add some blur, or give HDR photography a try.
Lighting is Key
Lighting is probably the key element for a dramatic photo and is often overlooked by beginners. If you’ve noticed some of your photos look boring, dull and lack color and contrast then more often than not this is a result of bad lighting. Light has many positive effects including bringing out color, contrast, shadows, texture, shape and form.
If you’re shooting outdoors then you’ll come to learn that sunlight is incredibly important. If you’re shooting on an overcast day with no sun in sight then your photo will likely lack any impact and drama and this applies especially to landscape photography. But on the other hand cloudy days can work well with gaps in the clouds and visible sunrays, or with dark storm clouds. And another exception to this rule is for portraits because the clouds act as a giant, natural softbox which will give your model softer and more even skin tones.
If you’re shooting indoors then studio lighting is probably the best option for professionals, but as a beginner this isn’t necessary and probably not feasible. An alternative is using a flashgun with diffuser which can give similar results. One thing you don’t want to do though is use your on camera flash, because it’s pretty much useless for any type of photography and will give a harsh light focused into one area, resulting in an overexposed subject surrounded with dark shadows. Another option that doesn’t require buying any gear and which can create some very dramatic light and shadows is by using natural sunlight from your windows.
Analyze Your Photos
Often you’ll find you’ve taken what you think is the perfect shot and then you get home and realize it’s out of focus, blurred, too bright or too dark. Some reasons for this is you’re not checking your photos on the camera screen after you’ve shot them, or you haven’t checked them properly. But this is also a problem with viewing them on such a small screen and often they just don’t look the same when blown up on a larger screen. One way to combat this problem is by using the zoom feature on your camera so you can analyze the smaller details such as sharpness, focus, blur and exposure etc.
Take Your Time
This is something I often do, I’ll quickly set my camera settings then shoot a few photos and move on. There’s no point in shooting loads of photos hoping for a good one, because maybe you’ll get one or two half decent ones, but if you don’t take the time to compose that epic shot you simply won’t get it without putting the effort in.
Start a Project
If you’re struggling for motivation or new ideas then starting a project can be a real help. There’s loads of project ideas online for example you could try out shooting Bokeh, choosing a theme or shooting with an old camera.
Browsing other photographers photos is a good way to learn new techniques and give you some ideas. The best places to do this in my opinion are on social networks for photographers, for example Flickr, 500px or Instagram although that last one isn’t just for photographers. These aren’t just useful for browsing other peoples photos though, they’re also a good way to get your work out there and get some critique.
Only Display Your Best Work
When you’re showing other people your photos you don’t want to show them every photo you’ve ever taken including all your mediocre ones because people simply won’t be interested in seeing them. Also showing loads of photos of the same scene, even if they’re all fantastic isn’t a good idea either because once again people will lose interest. So only show a couple of your best photos of each scene and people will love seeing your collection.
Get the Exposure Right
You’ll quickly come across the issue of an overexposed or underexposed image, but sometimes it’s hard to judge when this is happening and you might not even be aware of it. A wrong exposure is basically when areas in your photo or the whole of it are either too dark (underexposure), resulting in loss of details in the shadows, or too bright (overexposure), resulting in loss of details in the highlights. In landscape photography this is common when the sky is brighter than the ground and the camera has trouble exposing both areas correctly, so it will try to expose one area correctly and leave for example the sky a bright white.
Correcting a photo in which the whole of it is at the wrong exposure is easy and all you need to do is change the exposure compensation setting to increase or decrease the brightness, but if only parts of your photo are exposed wrong then this won’t do the job. There’s a few ways to correct this, but it’s not quite as simple and requires a bit more work.
-One way of doing this is by using an ND grad filter to darken part of the photo, but this is only really used to correct an overexposed sky.
-Another option that many modern DSLR’s have is using HDR mode which will capture a larger range of light.
-But the best option if you’re up for a bit more work is creating your own HDR photo, which basically involves combining a few photos at different exposures into one photo, but you’ll need to do some research to learn how to do this.
This is something you don’t want in your photos and it’s very important to prevent this because it will make them look really unprofessional and ugly. It’s not always easy to notice your photos are blurred unless you zoom right in after taking them, but other times it’s really obvious. The most common type of blur called handshake blur is from holding the camera and not using a fast enough shutter speed. Everyones hands naturally shake even if it’s only slightly, and this is a major problem in photography but which can easily be prevented if you follow some simple steps.
One thing to note before we get started is that many lenses come with image stabilization built in which helps to avoid some blur, but it won’t remove it all and you still need to take these additional steps. To start off it’s important to calculate the correct shutter speed and this will change as your focal length changes. As a minimum your shutter speed should be equal to your focal length or faster, for example a focal length of 60mm would need a shutter speed of 1/60th second as a minimum. To speed up your shutter speed you can simply increase the ISO setting or use a wider aperture if you have room for manoeuvre. One other option is not hand holding your camera at all, you could simply mount it onto a tripod.
Camera Modes for the Pros
If you’re relatively new to photography then you might not be familiar with all the camera modes and how they work. A lot of beginners use auto mode and scene modes because they’re easy and require little effort, and even some more seasoned photographers get lazy and use them occasionally. But if you’re serious about capturing professional level photos then it’s important to learn what all the other modes do and how to use them.
The main modes used by photographers are aperture priority, shutter priority and manual mode, and here’s a brief explanation of them all:
-Aperture priority allows you to set the aperture and the camera will choose all the other settings automatically for you.
-Shutter priority allows you to set the shutter speed manually and the camera will choose the other most appropriate settings.
-In manual mode you have complete control over all the settings to tweak as you please.
The Best File Format
Unless you’re a professional photographer you probably wouldn’t think of shooting anything other than JPEG. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good file format that is still the most commonly used by photographers, but if you want to get the most out of your photos then there’s a better alternative which I also personally use.
RAW is the format I’m talking about, and the reason why this is better is because it stores more image data including a higher dynamic range, and the camera leaves this mostly unprocessed, hence the name RAW. This format is only really used if you want to edit the photos yourself, and take complete control over your final photo. But you’ll need to at least open them in photo editing software to convert them to JPEG because most computers can’t open RAW files.
Gear Doesn’t Matter
Having to have the best and most up to date gear is something that tempts and bothers every photographer. I’m not saying you shouldn’t invest in some decent gear but if you have a fairly good DSLR then there’s no need for constantly upgrading it. If your images aren’t coming out great despite your best efforts then you might be thinking your gear is doing this. But more than likely you just aren’t using your camera properly or to its full potential. A skillful photographer can get an awesome image from almost any half decent DSLR, so really until you feel you’ve mastered using your camera and need more features then a basic DSLR is all you need.
Camera filters aren’t used as much nowadays as they were in the past before photo editing software appeared on the scene. The reason for this is apps like Photoshop and Lightroom can achieve some of the same effects that a filter can, but there are exceptions to this that editing just can’t achieve, so here’s a rundown of some useful ones.
UV and skylight filters are the most common filters used, while they won’t really have a noticeable effect on your photos they do filter some ultraviolet rays out which reduces haze. Most photographers attach one of these to their lens and don’t ever remove it, mainly for their benefit of keeping their lens scratch and dirt free, because if you scratch your filter you can simply buy a new one without the chance of ruining your lens.
Another good filter is the polarizer for increasing saturation and contrast but also for removing reflections in non metallic subjects.
One other option is the ND (Neutral Density) filter which will simply darken your image. This is useful if you need to reduce the amount of light going into your camera so you can use longer shutter speeds. Another similar filter is the ND Grad which only darkens part of the image, and this is often used to darken the sky to reduce overexposure.
The Benefits of Editing Your Photos
You may think that editing your photos is cheating, but almost all professional photographers tweak their photos to some degree. One reason for this is because the camera doesn’t always give you results true to how the scene actually looks, so some editing may be required to correct this. The most common things photographers tweak are the sharpness, lighting, color and contrast, and they also use a tool called the crop tool to remove unwanted subjects that might not be possible to hide when you’re shooting. But the more you change these settings, the more unrealistic your photos will look, but often this is the intended effect and can give great results.