photographer capturing image of a person on the beach

Photography Guide for Beginners: Essential Terms & Tips to Get Started

Are you searching for simple photography tips to help you elevate your skills? Want to get better at digital photography or have more confidence experimenting with different camera settings? Whether you do portrait photography or landscape photography, this post is for you. 

Below you’ll find 15 tips to help you enhance your photography skills and get one step closer to becoming a professional photographer. 

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10 Must-Know Photography Terms

hands holding an old film camera with painted blue nails

Now that you’ve decided to immerse yourself in the vast world of photography, one of the most basic photography tips we can offer is to become familiar with photography terminology. Doing so will help you take better photos and speak the language of other photographers. Below are 10 essential terms to learn as you begin your photography journey. 

  1. Aperture – the size of the opening in the camera’s lens. The aperture is measured in f-stops with wide apertures having small numbers such as f1.8 and narrow apertures having large f-stops such as f22
  2. Depth of field – a term that refers to how much of any given image is in focus. For instance, portraits with soft-focused or blurry backgrounds and sharp foregrounds have a shallow depth of field. 
  3. Exposure – refers to the overall image quality and how much light the image was exposed to. A dark image may be considered unexposed while a brightly-lit, high-key image is considered to be over-exposed. Exposure is controlled with the camera settings for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO – also known as the exposure triangle. 
  4. Focal Length – the distance between the lens and the image sensor in a digital camera. For film cameras, it is the distance between the lens and the film. Focal length is measured in millimeters and can be fixed or adjustable depending on the lens. For instance, a 50mm lens has a fixed focal length while an 18-55mm zoom lens has an adjustable focal length. 
  5. Hot shoe – the slot at the top of digital and film cameras that allows for accessories such as a flash or speed light to be attached. 
  6. ISO – measures the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Changing the ISO settings can help you capture details in daylight and nighttime scenes alike. Small ISO numbers indicate lower levels of sensitivity to a light source. For example, ISO 200 is not very sensitive and can be well-suited for taking pictures during daylight hours. Larger ISO numbers, on the other hand, are better suited for low-light settings
  7. Manual mode – is a camera setting that allows the photographer to control the exposure. Unlike auto mode which allows the camera to automatically adjust for exposure, manual mode gives photographers the freedom to change the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO as they see fit. 
  8. Noise – refers to the visible graininess of an image, usually noticeable in photographs taken at high ISOs. 
  9. Shutter Speed – the length of time that the camera’s shutter stays open. Shutter speed is described in fractions of a second, i.e. 1/125th, 1/60th, or 1/8th of a second. Faster shutter speeds can be used to capture motion in perfect stillness, while longer shutter speeds allow for motion blur to be captured. To capture a focused image and use a long shutter speed, a tripod typically needs to be employed. 
  10. White Balance – a camera setting that can be adjusted for different light sources. Using incorrect white balance settings can result in images that are too blue, too red, or too yellow. On the contrary, finding the perfect white balance can simulate the real-life lighting situation in any given scene. While most cameras have auto white balance settings, it is recommended to manually set the white balance using a gray card or another white balancing tool. 

15 Essential Photography Tips 

girl smiling with a camera in hand and a picnic beside her

Now, let’s get to it. This is what you came here for, right? You want to get better at taking stunning pictures and need a photography tip or two to do so. And we’re here to help! Keep reading to discover 25 essential photography tips for beginner photographers such as yourself. 

Tip 1: Become familiar with your photography equipment. 

Whether you shoot with a DSLR, full-frame mirrorless camera or your smartphone, it’s important to get to know your equipment and its capabilities. If you truly desire to elevate your photography skills, learning your equipment inside and out is a great place to start. 

Tip 2: Practice photography every day or as often as you can. 

When it comes to digital photography, the only way to get better is to practice. So, shoot as many pictures as you can and as often as you’d like. Going for a walk? Bring your camera along. Attending a family event? Consider grabbing your camera before you head out the door. You never know what photography opportunities await you or what stunning shots you can capture when you practice often. 

Tip 3: Get comfortable with manual focus and manual mode. 

There’s no denying that different scenes call for different camera settings. However, if you want to shoot like a professional photographer, it’s highly recommended that you become comfortable with manual settings, which offer much more control than auto mode. Not only will shooting with manual settings help a beginner photographer familiarize themselves with digital cameras, it offers the opportunity to experiment with different ISOs, apertures, and shutter speeds. 

Tip 4: Shoot in RAW for higher-quality images.

When it comes to file formats in digital photography, you have a few options. But for those wishing to take their photography skills to the next level, we highly recommend working in RAW. Unlike jpeg, RAW files do not compress the image data from your camera’s sensor – allowing you to easily adjust exposure, white balance and contract using photo editing software. 

Tip 5: Learn the difference between aperture priority and shutter priority modes.

To truly learn your camera, you’ll need to experiment with different settings, which includes aperture priority and shutter priority modes. For amateur photographers who are slowly venturing out from auto mode, working in either shutter priority or aperture priority modes can help establish a bit of confidence and control. 

Aperture priority mode allows the photographer to select their desired aperture setting, while the camera works to adjust the shutter speed for the whole scene. For example, if you are photographing an animal and wish to have a shallow depth of field, you can set your camera to aperture priority, select a wide aperture setting and begin taking photos. 

Shutter priority mode, on the other hand, allows photographers the opportunity to control the shutter speed while the camera sets the aperture automatically. 

photographer shooting from staircase using a tripod and telephoto lens on camera

Tip 6: Invest in a sturdy tripod.

Throughout your learning process, you may be tempted to try different types of photography. From fashion to portraiture, landscape, macro and more; there is so much to explore as you learn photography. And while each genre of photography will call for different equipment, most will benefit from the addition of a sturdy tripod – which will allow photographers to capture sharp images and long exposure shots with ease. 

Tip 7: Check ISO before taking pictures, especially when shooting event photos. 

If you want to avoid image with noise, be sure to check the ISO settings before you begin shooting. While great photos can be captured with even the most basic equipment and some shots can be redone when improperly exposed, when it comes to event photography, it can be nearly impossible to recreate shots. So, it’s imperative to check your ISO. Remember that these settings control the light sensitivity of your camera’s sensor and can lead to grainy photos or overexposed images if set too high in the wrong lighting situation. 

Tip 8: Experiment with high ISOs in low-light situations.

While it’s certainly important to check your ISO before shooting, for the budding photographer, experimenting with high ISO settings can be just as important. This is especially true for those who wish to become better at shooting night-time photos or long-exposure shots. 

While high ISOs are known to impact the image quality, they can used to capture a clear picture in a low-light setting. And post-processing software can be used to remove most of the noise. 

Tip 9: Test out interesting compositions. 

What makes a good photo? What is a composition mean when it comes to photography? Well, simply put, photography is an art form and can be interpreted in myriad ways. And composition is how a photographer arranges the elements in photos – what they choose to include or exclude from each shot. 

While there is no one defining thing that makes a good picture, there’s something to be said about photographs with dynamic compositions. So, if you’re just beginning your photography journey, one of the most basic tips we can offer is for you to experiment with various image compositions within a given scene. Photograph objects close up and far away, capture the whole scene or just parts of it, follow leading lines or use the framing composition technique – keep testing different things until you find what you like. 

Tip 10: Always carry a spare battery or two. 

In terms of photoshoot preparedness, we can’t emphasize the importance of batteries enough. After all, cameras require a source of power so a battery is absolutely essential. So, to ensure that your photoshoot, photo walk or spontaneous photo session doesn’t get interrupted, it can be beneficial to keep a spare, charged battery or two. Having a battery charger handy can also keep the momentum going – although pre-charging batteries tends to be more hassle-free than finding an outlet and waiting for things to charge. 

photographer in the woods

Tip 11: Practice with natural light first. 

Photography is a vast field with many areas to tackle. For those just getting started, it can be a bit daunting to intake so much information. So, we suggest starting off with natural light first. Honing your skills using natural light will offer a fun and more-beginner-friendly way to get familiar with camera settings as opposed to starting off in artificial light. 

Tip 12: When comfortable, experiment with artificial light and practice adjusting white balance settings. 

For those who practice portrait photography, artificial light may be unavoidable. So, it is important to become comfortable with various light sources and the light temperatures that they emit when you become comfortable. From daylight-balanced strobe lights to warm-toned continuous light sources, there are plenty of things to learn. Start off with the equipment that is available to you! And don’t forget to adjust the white balance accordingly. 

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that light sources with the same color temperature will be much easier to adjust the white balance for versus using various light sources that emit different color temperatures. 

Tip 13: Don’t get caught up in the hype over new cameras. 

Photography is an art form that can be practiced using an instant film camera, entry-level DSLR, expensive mirrorless camera or even a phone; so don’t feel pressured to get the best camera on the market when you’re just starting out. A good photographer – one who has an understanding of lighting, composition and camera settings – can use any camera to capture images. Albeit, nicer cameras lend themselves to higher quality images; they don’t automatically lead to good photos. 

For those wishing to capture stunning shots and take their photography to the next level, learning technical skills and employing various imaging techniques will do more to help than simply shelling out the cash for a fancy prime lens or new camera body. 

Tip 14: If you wish to photograph people, practice using folks with various hair types and skin tones. 

One of the most impactful portrait photography tips we can offer is to practice photographing people often and that look different from one another. Doing so will improve one’s understanding of lighting, color temperatures in various light settings, exposure and how it all impacts the subject differently depending on how they look, what they’re wearing and where the light is positioned. 

With photography’s endless variables, it can be hard to figure out where to focus one’s attention. However, for those wishing to photograph people for a living or for pleasure; learning how to photograph various types of people will help them go far and create memorable portraits in the process. 

Tip 15: Get familiar with photo editing software and different post-processing techniques.

Do you know how to use Photoshop? What about the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite? What does your photo editing process entail? For beginner photographers, it can be hard to decide what software to use or which steps to take first. So, it’s important to experiment with the resources that you have available – even if that is just a basic version of Photoshop express or a less-well known software platform. 

Become familiar with the photo editing software at your disposal and use it to enhance your images as you see fit. Not every image requires heavy editing or any editing at all; however, honing skills in this area will help you throughout every stage of your photography career. 

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