So you’re interested in Photography but don’t know where to start? The breadth of cameras and lenses available out there can be daunting. I was in the same boat once myself, but after fifteen years as an amateur photographer I’ve learned tonnes. In this beginner photography guide, I’ve condensed some of that experience to help you out, you lucky so and so.
What Camera Should I Buy?
Easily the question I get asked most often. But the truth is it doesn’t really matter. Give me a camera and I will get you a good photo out of it.
You don’t need to spend your life savings on a camera to take good photos. In fact, you’re more likely to get so bogged down in all the options and knobs and which bit to twiddle you won’t actually get anywhere. There will never be a definitive answer to this question anyway because the camera that’s best for you will depend on too many factors.
Price, portability, learning curve, it all plays a part of the bigger picture (pun intended). Where and how you intend to take photos should be the biggest factor in your decision because it’s your camera. Let’s clear things up a bit by separating the market into three segments.
Small, light, all in one cameras designed to do one thing: point and shoot. There are no interchangeable lenses to worry about or detachable flash guns to carry around.
A good compact camera will give you great results in the vast majority of situations without having to fiddle with settings. You don’t even have to understand what they mean. Leave the camera on auto mode and snap away. Simple.
There are some outstanding mirrorless system cameras on the market now. Usually, they’ve got most of the features of a DSLR built in but are smaller and lighter.
They often have interchangeable lenses and impressive specifications. Speed and focus reliability has gotten better over the years. To get the best out of these more expensive cameras you’ll need to be learning more about how a camera works and how to configure it for your situation.
The big bad of the camera world. If you’ve seen a professional at work, there’s a 99.9% chance they were using a DSLR.
They’re bulkier, with large swappable lenses and a multitude of features. The learning curve is going to be higher here if you really want to get the best from your camera. However, the pay off is well worth it.
One of the great things about DSLRs is that the mirror and prism inside work in tandem to bounce light through the viewfinder to your eyes. You’re shown exactly what you’ll see in the final photo. Most models are also rugged and have outstanding battery life when compared to a compact or mirrorless model.
The major players in the DSLR world have lens systems going back decades and investing in that ecosystem can pay off for years to come. Canon and Nikon have beginner DLSRs in their ranges that start at three of four hundred pounds with a bundled lens. That really isn’t a lot to pay for a camera that will work well in just about every scenario.
The Little Things
The most important parts of photography aren’t about the specs on the camera at all. If the rise of Instagram has taught us anything, it’s that you can get beautiful images with nothing more than a mobile phone. And that people really like taking photos of their dinner and cats (but mostly cats).
Ask yourself what it is about your subject that’s most interesting? Where in the frame should you place your subject? It’ll take practice, but as a general rule try and make it off centre. It’s more interesting to look at and is pleasing to the brain. Take this image I snapped on a Manx beach as an example:
Think about movement. If you’re taking a photo of your kids running, having them slightly off to one side of the frame is inviting to the eye and gives a feeling of motion. Everything else from here on plays a part in achieving good composition in a picture. Think about each detail as you practice.
Sharp focus on your main subject is the name of the game. You can achieve pleasing effects by using the natural properties of your lenses (or editing software if you have a fixed lens) to blur backgrounds in portraits for example. As long as your subject remains crisp, the eye will be naturally drawn to it’s detail.
The mood of a photo can be completely changed because of the light. Take pictures of things in dramatic light, around dawn or sunset. See how the colours and warmth of light have a effect on the photo. Use a coloured lamp or filter to completely change the atmosphere in a room. Experiment with taking photos in dim conditions because with time you’ll learn to get the exposure just right.
How tall are you? Well I’m sure you agree most people see things from about the same height and that’s boring. Move around or lay on the ground. Climb up some stairs and change the perspective from which you see the scene because your photos will be much, much more interesting.
Get in close so your lens only just focuses. Use a zoom to get a snap of something in the dim distance from a position you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed it. If you do most of your photography standing still, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Edit Photos to Make Them Sing
You don’t need to buy Photoshop to make a big impact with a bit of image editing. Even the basic photo viewers on most modern computers (Certainly Windows 10 and OSX) have some built in tools.
You should play with the colour, contrast (the difference between the brightest and darkest point) and saturation (the boldness and strength of colours). Crop the image to make the position of your subject just right. Straighten the photo so the horizon isn’t at a weird angle. Look at an Instagram filter you like and try to replicate the effect yourself.
There’s also a free and open source editing suite called GIMP that you can download here.
Practise Makes Perfect
Get out and about and get to know your camera. Practice in as many different situations as you can. Anybody can be great at photography. All it takes is a bit of determination, willingness to learn and an inquisitive nature.
There’s all sorts of resources online to help you understand more about what your camera does and why. I’ve written a more in depth guide here, cutting through some of the jargon involved in choosing and operating a camera. I’ve also expanding on the settings and specs you need to be familiar with.
I hope this beginner photography guide has been useful! I’d love to see some of your work so post your best stuff on my social media!