Absolute Beginners: Five Essential Tips for New Photographers

Think photography is something other people are good at that you’ll never be able to master? Think again!

Whether you’ve recently treated yourself to a new camera, or your photography knowledge is a little rusty, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you gain confidence and grow your expertise.

Follow our five simple tips and you can go from absolute beginner to enthusiastic amateur in no time. Plus, we’ve asked some of our favourite photographers to share the things they wish they knew when they started out – invaluable advice for any newbie to the world of photography.

1. Get to know your camera better

Whether you have a new camera or it’s been a while since you used it – or you never really got to grips with how your camera works – it’s a good idea to spend some time getting to know your camera better.

Reading the manual is always a good place to start, but it can also be handy to have a play with the different settings, and take a few practice shots using each setting to see what your camera can do.

It may also be useful to look for a good book about your camera. Often books will explain things in a much more practical and easy-to-digest way than manuals.

The better you understand how your camera works, the better photographs you’ll be able to take. Feeling more comfortable with your kit will help to improve your confidence, which in turn will make you want to take more photos.

What I wish I’d known when I started out

“The sooner you move away from the comforts of auto setting, the sooner you will explore the opportunities to create beautiful images through manual control of shutter speed and aperture.

Also, the quicker you move away from JPEG and on to RAW, the better. I have thousands of images I can do nothing with because I spent my first 2 years as an SLR owner shooting in JPEG. The resolution is tiny and none of the images are fit for post-editing.”
Miguel de Freitas

“I would have liked someone to point out to me that it is not a vain advice to first get to know your camera technically in and out before even thinking of taking a good picture.”
Alexadra Lavizzari

2. Always keep your camera with you

You can never predict when inspiration might strike or a photo opportunity might crop up, so keep your camera close to hand at all times. Whether you’re on your lunch break or a long woodland walk, you never know what you might find to take pictures of. The more often you have your camera on you, the more photos you can take, and the more photos you take, the more your skills will improve.

A strap is one of the most useful accessories you can have for your camera. It will be particularly handy when you’re out and about sightseeing or on holiday, as you won’t miss any photo opportunities whilst struggling to get your camera out of the case.

If you’d prefer not to carry your camera on display, invest in a camera bag or rucksack with a dedicated compartment for your camera. This will help keep your hands free and your kit safely stored away where it won’t get damaged.

A flat battery can soon put an end to your photographic plans, so make sure you carry a spare or have a charger with you.

What I wish I’d known when I started out

“Engage with people and with your destination. Pictures are not just found things lying around in the streets: they are moments that are created by the way that you as the photographer interact with the world around you.”
Steve Davey

Explore a selection of Steve’s favourite photos he’s captured, or learn his top tips for improving your travel photography.

“I remember holidays fondly; sitting on the beach, drinking cocktails and generally lazing in the warm sunshine, however as soon as you enter the profession of travel photography you no longer go on holidays – even the smallest trip is filled with work, and although enjoyable it is in fact work. You may fully intend to take a break and just relax, but everywhere you go you see a photograph and it consumes you, so much so that you simply end up shooting for your entire trip and then wonder why you’re so tired after what was meant to be a holiday.

So if you’re thinking of joining me and becoming a travel photographer – get one last holiday booked and don’t even pack your camera, there’ll be plenty of time for that once it is your job!” 
Kimberley Coole

Learn more about Kimberley’s work as a travel photographer here.

3. Learn to consider composition

One of the main differences between average photos and awesome photos is composition. Instead of just pointing and shooting, take time to compose each shot before you start snapping.

Quite simply, composition is how you choose to frame your picture. One of the easiest photographic rules to learn and remember is the rule of thirds, which can instantly improve your photos.

Rule of thirds exampleImagine your image is divided by two horizontal and two vertical lines, creating a three by three grid. Place important elements within the picture close to one of these lines, or near to one of the four intersections of the grid. Positioning your subject off-centre looks much more natural than placing it in the middle of the frame, and will result in pictures which are much more pleasing to the eye.

If you’re taking landscape photos, position the horizon above or below the middle of the frame, rather than in the centre, as again this will look more natural.

If you’re photographing people or animals, have them looking into the frame, with more space on the side of the frame the action is heading towards. This looks less posed, and adds interest to the image.

Bridge leading to beachLook for leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye through the picture, or towards a focal point. These can be either natural, like a line of trees or a hedge, or man made, such as a wall or staircase.

Once you’ve mastered composition, don’t be afraid to disregard these rules from time to time. If stepping outside these guidelines makes for a better photo, go ahead. Rules, after all, are there to be broken – and you never know what results you might see if you rebel a little!

What I wish I’d known when I started out

“Many of my images are ‘frame filling’ shots, giving detail and interest to the image, and you will no doubt have been urged to get closer, fill the image! However, try experimenting with the opposite and consider zooming out as far as possible to tell the story of the animals in the image.

This could be the lonely steps of a polar bear, a chick facing a vertical drop on its first flight or a leopard basking in the early morning rays. Wildlife photography is about more than photographing animals, but also about photographing their world and how they interact with it. If you achieve both ends of the spectrum you will hopefully produce a varied and rich body of work.”
Harry Skeggs

4. Find the right lighting

The right lighting will add depth and mood to your photo. Natural lighting is always preferable when taking photographs, so make the most of any nice weather and get out and about with your camera.

Cows in the golden hourAvoid taking photos around midday, as the light will be too harsh. Instead, aim to be out with your camera during the golden hour – which is the hour around sunrise and sunset. At this time the light is soft, golden and more flattering.

If you are taking photos indoors, position your subject close to a window, or improvise a DIY reflector from a white piece of card or white bedspread to reflect light back on your subject.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with flash. Even outdoors, a good flash gun or reflector can emphasise the foreground, and will brighten deep shadows on a particularly sunny day.

What I wish I’d known when I started out

“I had always thought that the famous ‘golden hour’ for photography was a sort of myth and I would go out taking landscape pictures in the early afternoon – which turned out bland and totally uninteresting and for which I mainly blamed my lack of skill.

But then, someone told me to wait for the golden hour and I listened and found out that it is actually true; these magical moments before sunset do have a wonderful positive impact on the overall atmosphere in landscapes and even other kinds of photography. So now, I don’t waste my time anymore by taking pictures at the wrong time of day.”
Alexadra Lavizzari

5. Change your perspective

Shooting from different angles can help you capture more varied shots. Don’t just stand and shoot where you are: get up high, crouch down, lie on the floor – whatever you need to do to create a more interesting angle!

DogWhen photographing people or animals, get down (or up) to their eye level to capture a more engaging portrait. If you’re taking pictures of landmarks, find a more unconventional angle to avoid a predictable, postcard-style shot.

Whatever you’re capturing on camera, be creative with how you angle the shot to provide a different perspective to the viewer. This is your opportunity to capture something unique, so play around with different shots and see what results you get. You can always delete any not-so-good shots.

What I wish I’d known when I started out

“Successful wildlife photography is about creating images that instantly connect the audience with the animal subjects. Shooting at our eye level not only gives an unexciting viewpoint we have all experienced (going to the zoo for example), it also means we are often looking down on the animals, which implies a sense superiority, breaking any form of connection.

To create an engagement between subject and viewer, I have found getting down to shoot at the eye level (or lower!) of your subject helps bring you within their world, to place you as the prey through hunters eyes, or make you the hunter yourself.

There is an added benefit that, when you shoot at their eye level, you also help position the sensor parallel to the most important plane of your subject (the eyes and as much of the body as possible), creating sharper images.”
Harry Skeggs

Keep all of this advice in mind and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more confident and skilled photographer. And remember, everyone has to start somewhere – so why not make today the day you begin your photography journey?

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