Have you just recently purchased a brand new camera and you were excited to get out there and start taking photos, but upon reviewing the photographs you snapped, you were disappointed to find that they perhaps didn’t look as slick as you’d have hoped? Don’t worry. It happens to most beginners. Photography is a skill — a skill that must be learned. Too many beginners seem to think that it’s all about the equipment. That a better camera means better looking photos. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. A camera is a tool. And, like any tool, it can only produce work as good as the skill and talent of the one who wields it will allow.
If I gave you the best set of woodworking tools on the planet — the best set that money could buy — would you be able to pick them up and build me a high-quality set of cabinets that looked exactly like they were built by an expert craftsman if you had very little experience working in wood? Of course not. And, photography is the same way. You can give the absolute best, most expensive photography equipment in the world to a beginner and his or her photos will not come close to comparing to those of a skilled, talented and seasoned pro shooting with an old, hunk of junk camera. Photography is a skill that you must learn and develop a talent for.
With all of that in mind, however, here are four quick tips that beginners can use to start improving their photography:
Experiment with various exposure settings:
Get off of automatic mode! By experimenting with the exposure setting on your camera, you can easily make your images appear more interesting. Most pros don’t use automatic mode unless they need to capture an image very quickly at a ‘good-enough’ exposure. By experimenting with exposure you can create different moods in your images. In the right circumstances, underexposing an image by 0.5 to perhaps as much as 2-stops under what your camera’s meter is telling you can create an image with a heightened sense of mood or drama. Or, overexposing an image in the same way, under the right conditions, can add impact, lightness or clarity. But, you’ll need to experiment and practice to develop an eye for when to over, or underexpose any given image and to what degree.
Keep your camera in aperture, or shutter priority mode. Look at what the camera’s meter is telling you about what it thinks a proper exposure is, then experiment with dialing in your own exposure. If the scene is quite bright, you might want to underexpose by a bit, if it’s a dark scene, you might want to overexpose. Experiment and practice. Developing an eye for, and the ability to use creative exposure well is one of the best things you can do to give your photos a professional look. But, you need to know what you’re doing first — you’ll need to practice and develop your ability. Otherwise your images will come out looking like they’ve just been over or under exposed.
Spend time with manual mode on your camera
Similar to the above tip, dedicate yourself to putting your camera in full manual mode. When taking pictures, simply read the camera’s meter and manually dial in your aperture and shutter speed yourself. Ask yourself, when doing so, if you what it is that you’re taking an image of needs more or less aperture, or shutter-speed — then dial in the compensation yourself.
So, for instance, lets say you start with your lens at f/8 and the camera is telling you to expose the scene at 1/250 second. Ask yourself what the image needs. Would the image look better if you isolated the subject a little more by blurring out the background by using a wider aperture? If so, open the aperture up by, say, three full stops, from f/8 to f/2.8 in order to really get a shallow depth of field and blur out the background. In doing so, however, in order to maintain good exposure, you’ll need to adjust your shutter-speed — otherwise, you’ll overexpose your image at the new, wider aperture. If you added three stops of light by opening up the aperture by three stops, you’ll need to take away three stops of light by shortening your shutter-speed by three stops. So, with your new aperture of f/2.8 dialed in, manually adjust your shutter-speed from 1/500 second, up three full stops to 1/1000 of a second.
Spending as much time as you can in manual mode, doing the sorts of things described in the previous paragraph, will train your brain. You’ll just passively learn to see the image and instinctively know how to control aperture and shutter speed to improve your images, and how to dial in what you need quickly. And, you’ll learn your camera and equipment — and operating it efficiently to make it do what you want it to will become second nature to you. If you instead always leave your camera in manual mode, and let the camera make all the decisions and do everything for you, then these sorts of things (which are the sorts of things you need to know to take awesome photographs that don’t look amateurish) will always remain a mystery to you.
Take photos of nothing
Stop trying to find objects to act as subject matter — think differently. Look around and try to simply notice interesting patterns, shapes, lines. Look through your camera’s viewfinder at them and try to frame them in unusual ways. When doing so, try not to think so much along the lines of taking a photograph of something, but instead as making an image — an entire image. Try to notice interesting patterns, lines or shapes that occur in common things, and frame the shot at a zoom and angle that is likely to produce an image wherein a viewer might have trouble telling exactly what it is they’re seeing at first — even though it’s a common, everyday thing that they’ve likely seen a thousand times before. In these images, make an effort to show people stuff in ways that they’re not used to seeing them.Well… almost nothing. Beginners often look for ‘things‘ to take photographs of. Or, in more precise terms, they look for ‘objects’ to take photographs of. Any idiot with a camera, however, can point it at an object that’s lying around and press the shutter button. And, what they’ll end up with, usually, is an image of that object — boring. The world is so much visually richer than that. And there’s so many great photographs waiting to be taken that you probably have never thought of.
If you make an effort to spend time doing this, you’ll exercise your creativity muscle, and you’ll learn to see interesting photos all around you in the most unlikely of places — photos that you never noticed before. Do it enough and the world will become a different place to you visually. You’ll start to become astounded at all of the amazing things you begin seeing all around you and you’ll wonder how these things were just entirely invisible to you in the past — even though they were always right in front of your eyes.
Go where no man has gone before
I see this all too often with beginners: They’re excited about photography, so they spend time going out with an intention of taking photographs. And, where do they go? They head straight out to all the places in their area where everyone else always goes to take photographs. They’ll go to all the most popular tourist destinations and sites around their city or town. They’ll go to all the local, well-known scenic vistas, look-out points and attractions. And, that’s fine, I guess. But, if you’re a beginner, know this: If you’re somewhere where people are normally snapping photographs fairly constantly, many talented and skilled pros have already been there and they’ve already photographed it. And, as a beginner, your images are not going to be anywhere near as good as theirs — they just aren’t. If you’re a beginner, you haven’t yet developed your skill and talent like they have. So, why spend too much time doing something that’s already been done, and worse, something that’s already been done much better than you (at least for the time being) are even capable of doing yourself?
If you’re heading out to those sorts of places for other reasons then, by all means, make sure you bring your camera along and try to get some good, interesting photographs. But, if you’re taking time out specifically to go to those places with the intention of just taking pictures, your photographic time could be much better spent.
Instead, make an effort to try and think of places where people never take photographs. Find such places and go there. When you’re there, look for the interesting photographs that exist in that place. I promise you, wherever you happen to find yourself standing — any place at all — there are interesting photos all around you waiting to be taken. You just might not be able to see them yet, because you haven’t developed your eye. But, they’re there — believe me! Going to places where people don’t normally take photographs, locating the interesting photos that exist there, and capturing them will hone your creativity, your photographic eye and your skill.
And, what’s more, people will find your photos interesting and they’ll enjoy looking at them. If you show them photos that you took of your big, local tourist attraction — big deal. They’ve seen it. They’ve seen a ton of photos of it already. They’ve probably seen the actual places with their own eyes. You’re not showing them anything different. Your images of the big tourist attraction are boring. They just are. They’re stale and uninspired — they’re just more of the same old, boring thing. People don’t want to see that sort of stuff. And, if they ever do, they don’t need you — there’s a ton of photos of such places made by a ton of people. And, except for the ones taken by talented, imaginative and skilled pros, they’re all the same — yours included. Instead, show people what they’ve likely never seen before and they’ll love it. Your photos will be new, fresh and interesting. So, go where no man has gone before, and take pictures!