Where do I start with Photography?: Beginner Tips

Where do I start with Photography?

Every photographer started with little knowledge. There are secrets that can propel your work very fast. One is to shoot and shoot. Shoot photographs as much as you can. The more you shoot the faster you will learn. There are shortcuts though. If you focus one some key aspects about the craft of photography, they could improve your skill even further. Eventually, you will land into one of these topics in your journey. These are not rules (although some do tens to use the word “rule” when mentioned), photography should be a free form of expression like any other art. However, these tips will help many in their journey to start polishing their work.

Many, but not all, of the following topics can and should be put in practice with whatever camera you have at hand. Like many photographers say, “the best camera is the one you have”. This is very true. Even with a smart phone you can take amazing images that will put people in awe. You just have to learn to control two main things: light and composition. The following tips will help you move closer to that. All of the following can be done in almost any DSLR but things to do with light and composition can be done with any camera. Here are tips and key topics every beginner should consider and pay close attention to.

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Get Your Hands on a Camera That Lets You Do This.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t push you to spend crazy amount of money on a camera. You don’t NEED that. What you do need however is any DSLR, or any camera that would do the following:

Lets you change camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, and/or ISO.

A great way to learn about the principles of photography and its technicalities is to shoot with a camera that lets you control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. All these three things are the main components of how a camera works and takes pictures. Each component has its own trade-off and all factor into the amount of light that the camera takes.

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Lets You Shoot in RAW Format

This is what I mean by get your hands on a good camera. A camera allows you to do this. However, having said that, you don’t really need to move into a DSLR. That being said, try and find a DSLR that is in your budget, people always sell their used cameras in great condition and shops sell cameras refurbished at a discount price. Just try and pay attention to the shutter count. The life of the camera is usually denominated in shutter actuations.

Learn to Shoot in RAW Format

In the digital age of photography, cameras are taking in light through their sensors and converting them to colored pixels. How does a camera (sensor) work? The light information in these pixels are then converted into a computer file format. Usually, DSLRs, take images in two formats, some RAW file format (.NEF for Nikon, .RAF for Fujifilm, and so on…) and a .JPEG file. There are pros and cons for both, but I will highly encourage everyone to go into their camera settings and to always enable shooting in RAW. Here’s why:

Why RAW?

RAW files tend to be much larger in file size. This is because the RAW file contains much more information about the light that is captured by the sensor. This means that the dynamic range of the sensor in the image is preserved, which lets you recover more shadows and more highlights. Allowing you have more flexibility when editing. To learn more about dynamic range, shadows, and highlights go here What is Dynamic Range? What is it good for? Absolutely Everything?. We will cover a little bit more of editing in the coming section, and even if you’re not interested in editing yet I would recommend you shoot RAW anyway, your future photographer self will thank you. One thing to note though, it might be that your computer does not know what to do with a RAW file. A lot of platforms would not accept a RAW file as an upload, hence you have to process it in editing software in order to export as a JPEG and then upload to your favorite social media platform.

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Why JPEG?

You could still do some editing on JPEG files, however, this is the lowest quality of an image file you can edit with, and hence, the flexibity as to what you can do with it diminishes. However, I wouldn’t say don’t shoot JPEG at all or ever, even though many photographers rarely do, but many photographers opt for JPEGs because of three main reasons:

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Higher Frames per Second

Shooting JPEGs allows the photographer to shoot at a faster output. This allows many people like wildlife and sports photographers, who are mainly interested in capturing the moment in a fraction of a second to freeze time at a higher rate and freeze that crucial moment in between shots. JPEGs therefore allow them to push their cameras to their specification limits. With RAW, however, the rate at which it can capture images in a second is a bit slower. This is mainly because JPEGs are a compressed file format, which means the file is much lighter than a RAW file and therefore looses some information on the image captured by the sensor. That means that the dynamic range and the ability to pull out information from deeper shadows and overexposed highlights is much more limited. Today’s technology has gotten so good, this really doesnt make much of a difference, and the FPS a camera can achieve when shooting RAW is more than enough, unless you really want to slow down time and get everything you can from the moment. This you might see as you shoot, won’t be too necessary for the regular folk.

An Already Processed File

A lot of photographers have careers that cater to clients that require the photos on the spot. Many of these are photo journalists, sports photographers, etc, who cannot leave the stadium or premise without handing over the processed files to their contractors. Even some weddings or events require pictures to be sent on the spot because it needs to be put in a magazine that same day, see Pedro’s story about the day the photographer that didnt have a way of transfering his files to the publishers. Some photographers also want the ability to give clients pictures on-location (for whatever reason) because they are somewhat “edited” already by the algorithmic processes in the camera itself. The photos already have some processing done on the color vibrance, contrast, and sharpness. However you may want to learn to control those things yourself. The point of going from beginner to advanced is to be able to take most, if not full control of your image quality.

So… Why Not Both?

This is the way I would suggest everyone who is starting out with photography to do. Eventhough you are filling up your card a bit faster by shooting two different files at once, the beginner photographer who has not yet moved into using editing software can have posession of a JPEG file to be able to post in social media while they improve their skills to take the RAW file and process it themselves at a later time. Personally, I prefer solely shooting in RAW and saving it so that I can come back at any time and process the image differently, creating something quite different everytime.

Try to Stop Using In-Camera Flash!

Do yourself a favor and stop using flash. Leave that to when you move to external light sources. Flash blows out the subject and takes out the color of the image. The camera rarely knows what to do in these situations. It will usually overexpose the image and that doesn’t look nice. If you have a DSLR you can easily do this by switching from automatic to a manual setting.

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Get Out of Auto and Into Manual

There is a feeling of disappointment sometimes when and image does not turn out how you envisioned it at first regardless of how amazing the scenery or the subject is. This is probably because the image is not exposed correctly, or the way you intended. This is because you are letting your camera do the decision for you as to what aperture, shutter speed, or ISO settings it should have for what the light meter thinks the conditions are. It is good practice to start relying more on yourself and take control of the light.

You know that small gear on top of your camera that has letters on it? Those letters have meanings, and no, they don’t hold the secret to life. They do hold the secret to becoming a better photographer though! Start learning what they mean. Many photographers would agree though, that the one that you should strive to becoming an expert in is the Manual (M) mode. This is because you will have a better control and understanding of the exposure triangle the exposure triangle: mastering light , and therefore will get you closer to mastering light. Learn what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO does when you try to expose for an image. All of the three have different trade-offs, which we can get into in a later post. Also, we will discuss what it takes to create better compositions.

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