The Photographers Beginners Guide – Essentials

Cameras

There are 6 different cameras I’m going to introduce you to in our beginners guide to photography, before we begin I would recommend choosing one before diving into the essentials of photography.

1. Smartphones:
A smartphone is a photographer’s secret weapon, allowing you to automatically adjust most of the settings and allow you to enjoy a vacation without having to lug around a heavy camera.

2. Point and Shoot Cameras:

Often exceptionally reasonable in price, offering an astonishing number of features such as size. This camera is great for aspiring photographers, without any kind of commitment.

 

3. Bridge Cameras:

Just as the name suggests, it bridges the gap between DSLRs and point-and-shoot camera. This camera is economical and employs you to buy fewer parts (lenses are often built in). Nonetheless, this comes at the cost of quality.

4. Mirrorless Cameras:

Designed to take away all the confusion behind DSLRs. Rather than having a viewfinder that you look through, mirrorless cameras show you what the camera’s sensor sees instead. This redesign enables mirrorless cameras to be portable. They are also easier to use, since you can see the exposure settings of your camera in real-time. There are still a few downsides to these cameras, but as time goes by they are getting more advanced.

5. DSLR’s:

A DSLR is that large, heavy, and expensive camera you see professional photographers hauling around. Offering the best of the photography world, but pay the price in convenience and affordability. Requiring you to buy a lot of other things, such as lenses and filters, to use them to their full advantage.

6. Full Frame Cameras:

A full frame camera is a type of DSLR that has a larger sensor than most. This is because the sensor inside the standard DSLR is actually a crop sensor. Having a full size sensor enables one to take better quality photos. They are very expensive, so you might want to do some research before buying one.

Lenses

Lenses are the eyes of a camera, allowing the photographer to change the perspective of the scenery. There are 3 different ways to categorize lenses Range, Focal Length and Ability.

1. Categorizing by Range

One huge factor that influences buying decisions is convenience. Instead of having to own a dozen lens that all have different focal lengths, you can own a single lens that can zoom in or out. Nevertheless, this might not be the bargain it appears to be. Personally, I use a zoom lens simply for the convenience. But if you want to specialize in, portrait photography, you might want to invest in a single prime lens.

  • Zoom lenses
  • Prime lenses

2. Categorizing by Focal Length

Lenses can be further sorted by their focal length. Focal length determines how zoomed in or out an image looks to our eye.

  • Fisheye Lens 5-15mm
  • Wide Angle Lens 10-42 mm
  • Normal Lens 43-50 mm
  • Telephoto Lens >100 mm

3. Categorizing by Ability

There are several lenses that are designed for a specific purpose or feature. These can be used to achieve special effects or just make it easier to take certain types of pictures.

  • Telephoto Lens
  • Image Stabilization Lens
  • Tilt-Shift Lens

Often the best thing for a beginner is a starter’s kit which comes with a camera and lenses, batteries, etc. all specifically designed for a certain camera. When purchasing lenses, make sure that they are specifically designed for your camera. Otherwise, they might not fit on your camera or might produce photos at a reduced quality.

Filters

Filters can have a variety of purposes, from protecting your camera to allowing you to take certain types of shots to improving the aesthetic appearance of your photos.

The good thing is most filters are cheap, so you can afford to experiment with them. Here are some of the most common filters that you should try out:

UV Filter: Protection from UV light and from the environment

Polarizing Filter: Used for reducing glare from reflections and regulates color saturation

Neutral Density Filter: Used for long exposures and bright environments

Tinted Filter: Used for special effects

Stabilizers

When are taking a photo, you want

to hold your camera as steady as possible. This is to avoid blur. It is also very important in that it lets you position your camera upfront instead of having to re-adjust after every shot. This is where stabilizers come in.

Purchasing Stabilizers

There are a lot of great products on the market that are used to stabilize your camera and hence improve the quality of your photos. Here are 3 of the most common ones.

  • Tripods
  • Monopods
  • Flexible, Portable Tripods

Using Your DSLR

It can be fairly easy to figure out how to use less advanced cameras, like phone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras. DSLRs are a bit trickier, and they have some additional things you need to know about them.

These skills might translate over to some other types of cameras, but they are often most commonly found in DSLRs.

Mode:

  • Automatic: Everything is fully automatic in this mode. Your camera will determine what it thinks is best for the surrounding environment, and all you have to do is aim your camera and press the shutter.
  • Program: In program mode, the camera will automatically calculate the right exposure by evaluating how much light is entering the sensor and then adjusting for the ISO (which can be manually set). In this mode you can also control things like flash.
  • Aperture Priority: This mode is like program mode, except the only value the camera will calculate is the shutter speed, based on the aperture and ISO you are using.
  • Shutter Priority: This mode is like program mode, except the only value the camera will calculate is the aperture, based on the shutter speed and ISO you are using. This is what I use the most, since shutter speed can make a huge difference when photographing different things.
  • Manual: In this mode, everything is set by you, the user. This can be good and bad – if you happen to see something cool and want to quickly photograph it, you might not have gotten the settings right and the moment is gone. What you can do in these situations is take a photo in manual if you have the time and switch over to automatic and take a shot just in case.

When I first starting out, I would recommend using automatic mode. However, after taking a lot of photos, you will be able to see what your camera does wrong. You might realize that it shouldn’t have turned on flash or shouldn’t have used such a slow shutter speed. Then you can slowly start experimenting with other modes.

Saving Your Photos:

You obviously want to take the best pictures possible. This means that you want to save your files at the largest size possible so the least amount of information is lost. If this means you have to buy another $15 SD card, so be it. It will be well worth it.

The next question people always have is if they should be shooting in RAW. When light hits a camera’s sensor, the camera has to convert this information into a JPEG. But then the camera discards all of that sensor information to save storage space. What if you were to instead keep the information so you could choose how to process your photo?

That is the essence of a RAW file. When put a RAW file into a software like Adobe® Photoshop® software, you can edit the file to your liking and then save it as a JPEG.

Initially, you should be shooting in JPEG form, as you might not have the time or will to process every single photo you take. As you start getting better at photography, you should start using RAW more to truly unlock its capabilities.

Auto Focus vs Manual Focus:

Auto focus should be your friend. Most lenses have an auto focus feature, which lets your camera decide when it thinks the image is as sharp as possible. This can be more reliable than trying to manually focus yourself.

The reason people use manual focus is when the camera chooses the wrong thing to focus on. Say there is a really prominent foreground in your photo. The camera might choose to focus on that instead of the subject.

Another thing is cameras don’t do too well at the extremes when it comes to auto focus. When photographing something that is closer or farther away than your lenses’ range, you might want to use manual focus to get better results. When there is a lot of depth to your photo, your camera might not know which “layer” to focus on. Also, if your camera moves, it might try to re-focus, losing time in the process.

Flash:

Flash helps illuminate your subject with a quick burst of light from your camera. I use flash whenever it is too dark and I don’t want to worry about exposure settings or whenever I need to light up some element of my photo (such as texture).

There isn’t really any hard-and-fast guide to when to use flash. After you really start practicing photography a lot, you will get a feel for when to use flash and when to just adjust your exposure settings.

One thing to be weary of is that many places don’t let you use flash, since they don’t want you to distract the audience or performers. In these cases, you should switch over to program mode, so your camera doesn’t accidentally choose to use flash.

Lighting

At a very generic level, photography is all about recording light in the form of photos. When don’t have enough light, your photos won’t turn out very well. Luckily, there are many light sources you can use to make your photos brighter.

In this step, I will also teach you how to make a light box and a reflector, so you can take photos regardless of your surroundings.

 

Light Sources: Outdoors

Lighting is incredibly important. I always tell people that if they just can’t make it work inside, take it outside, where the lighting is more ambient and the temperature is more neutral.

One other cool side effect of photographing outdoors is that it can be pretty easy to work with your settings. Often your photos will turn out great in-camera and at a great quality, too (since you can easily lower your ISO on a bright day).

The Sun

 

There is only one main light source outdoors: the Sun. The sun lights up everything, and it is the reason why outdoor photos always turn out so well. Even when you can’t see the sun directly, it is still there behind the clouds, providing an infinite source of light.

One thing to be careful about is that the sun isn’t too bright. As we discussed in the “Filters” section, you can always put on a UV filter to protect your camera from the elements.

Light Sources: Light Box

When can’t take a photo outdoors, you should use a light box. A light box diffuses the light entering the box, allowing you to take a pristine photo of a product without any hard shadows.

Building A Light Box

Step 1: Crate

Step 2: Adding Backdrop

Start off by getting a large crate. Crates are great for making light boxes because they are sturdy, just the right size, and have holes which flashlights (and other lamps) can fit in.

Tilt the crate on its side. Attach a poster board to the inside of the crate using tape. Lightly bend the poster board at the seam so no crease is visible. This will be the backdrop for your photos.

Step 3: Adding FlashlightsStep 4: Finish!

Use tissues to diffuse flashlights, as described under “Light Sources: Indoors: Flashlights.” Then take the flashlights and put them in the holes of the crate, facing inwards.

You have finished making a quick and simple light box! These are great for taking clean, bright photos. You can even take these light boxes outdoors to get more light in the photo.

I generally use my light box setup and a tripod to take photos of products. In my opinion, it works way better than any other place indoors and consistently provides a clean place to photograph, regardless of time of day.

Light Sources: Indoors

You don’t necessarily need a light box to take good photos indoors.

Here are some other ways you can get the light you need anytime you are indoors.

Windows

Windows are perfect diffusers. They always seem to let in the perfect amount of light, not too dark or too bright. Windows can also be very interesting points in a photo, bridging the gap between the indoors and the outdoors.

Artificial Lighting

Using lamps and other sources of artificial lighting can really help set a mood in your photo. They are also very convenient, since you don’t have to build your photos around a single window, but you can rather take a photo anywhere where there is a lightbulb nearby.

Keep in mind that most artificial lighting has either a warm or a cool temperature that you need to know about. We will talk about this in depth in the “Color” section.

Flashlights

Most people try using flashlights as a light source initially. After trying them out for a while, you will most likely end up being unsatisfied because they result in very bright highlights and very dark shadows.

Try attaching a tissue to the end of a flashlight using a rubber band. This will result in a much more even lighting, similar to the ambiance of the sun.

 

Reflected Light

In the photo the left, light bounced off the reflective surface.

You can also use a store-bought or homemade reflector like a mirror, to reflect light in the direction you want it to go.

Making A Reflector

Step 1: Folder

Step 2: Cutting Folder

I made my reflector using a manila folder. This makes it easy to store (simply fold it in half) and helps you control how you reflect the light. I cut off the edges of the folder to make it a rectangle. This makes it easier to fit your reflector inside a camera bag.

Step 3: Adding Aluminum FoilStep

4: Finish! I then cut aluminum foil to the right size and taped it inside the folder, with the shiny side facing out. You can also use glue for a more permanent solution. Try to avoid too many creases in the foil.

You are now done with your reflector! You can use this reflector to better achieve a proper front / back lighting balance, both indoors and outdoors.

Reflectors are a great way of regulating light, regardless of your location. Many photographers use store-bought reflectors for portrait photography in order to better light up a person’s face, without having to point a million lamps at them.

 

Exposure

As we learned in the previous step, there are many sources of lighting – however, not all of them are equal. Depending on the environment you are in, the brightness of your photos will vary.

However, there is something you can do about this without compromising photo quality. Our eyes can adjust to different levels of lighting, and a camera is no different. You can fine tune exposure (or how bright a photo turns out) by adjusting three settings: shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO. We represent this visually using the exposure triangle.

The Exposure Triangle

The 3 sides of the triangle are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These are what they mean:

1) Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter is open for. The longer the shutter is open, the more light over time enters the sensor. However, too long shutter speeds often result in blur, either from the movement of the object you are photographing or from the movement of your camera itself.

 

2) refers to how much the aperture opens. The wider it is, the more light enters at a time. If your aperture is too wide, however, you will find you have a very shallow depth of field. Depth of field refers to how blurred an object is when it is at a different depth (distance from your camera) than something that is in focus. A shallow depth of field often results in a blurred background or foreground.

3) ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor is to light. If the sensor is more sensitive, it takes less light before your photo will be well exposed. The disadvantage is that the higher the ISO, the grainier your photo will turn out.

You should learn to vary each of these 3 settings according to the environment you are in. When taking a photo of a fast-moving subject, use a higher shutter speed. When taking a photo of a landscape, where everything should be in focus, use a smaller aperture. When taking a photo and can’t afford to compromise shutter speed or aperture size, increase the ISO.

Most cameras also have a light meter. This light meter refers to how exposed a photo will be when you take it. For a DSLR, if you press down the shutter button halfway, your camera will update the light meter. You should aim to be right in the middle, at 0, for proper exposure. Anything over 0 will be overexposed, and anything under 0 will be underexposed.

Bad Exposure Management

The photo right is an example of bad exposure management. The ISO was set too low, making the picture too dark.

Good Exposure Management

Exposure doesn’t determine how well a photo turns out.

Color

Color is how our eyes perceive light, and it is essential in almost every photo. Color helps make subjects stand out, can introduce tension, set a mood, and a whole lot more.

As such, it is essential you learn the basics of the color wheel. You don’t need to memorize any rules or color schemes, but it helps to at least know about them.

The Color Wheel

The most basic photography color wheel can be broken down into 12 slices. The color wheel is meant to help people decide which colors work best with others. More specifically, the colors you use in relation to each other can determine the mood of the photo and how other people react to it. I would group these into 2 main categories: similar color schemes and contrasting color schemes.

Similar Color Schemes

These color groups work whenever you want colors to mesh into each other / fit in with each other. Images with similar colors often feel very calm and relaxed. Similar colors are great at setting a mood or tone. There are 3 main ways to include similar color schemes in your photo:
 

    • Monochromatic: This is the simplest color scheme, where a single color (and its shades) are featured prominently. Black and white photos are a great example of a monochromatic scene.
    • Analogous: Pick two or three adjacent colors and feature them in your photo for an analogous color scheme. These work when a monochromatic color scheme simply won’t work because you don’t have enough colors to play with.
    • Diadic: Choose two colors that are spaced out by one color in the middle. This color scheme results in a slight amount of contrast due to the color you skipped, but don’t contrast so much as complementary colors.

Contrasting Color Schemes  

When want certain elements of your photo to stick out, you need to use contrasting colors. Contrasting colors are great when you have more than one subject or when your subject has multiple parts that you want the viewer to notice. There are 5 main ways to include contrasting color schemes in your photo: 

 

  • Complementary: Use two colors that are opposite each other for a complementary color scheme. This works so well because the colors contrast sufficiently without sticking out too much.
  • Split Complementary: Instead of picking two opposite colors, we are going to choose a color pair (specifically a diadic color scheme) opposite the main color.
  • Traidic: All you have to do is choose three colors that are evenly spaced out on the color wheel, and you will have a traidic color scheme. This is great for when you have multiple subjects and you want them to stand out individually. 
  • Square: This color scheme involves picking four colors that are evenly spaced out. Use these to convey mood by showing the viewer a very vibrant and vivid scene.
  • Tetradic: Select two opposite diadic pairs for a more subtle color scheme that still contrasts nicely.

Warm and Cool Colors

Warm colors are colors like red, orange, and yellow. Cool colors are colors like green, blue, and violet. Warm colors are always more prominent, or dominant, than cool colors. The way I like to remember this is that a flame (warm) will always melt an ice cube (cool).

You can use this to your advantage by having cooler colors around the subject and warmer colors for the subject. This also helps accentuate your depth of field, since the warm colors seem to pop forward and the cool colors seem to fade backward.

 

White Balance  

Photos naturally have a temperature. This temperature refers to how hot or cold (orange or blue) a photo is. Our cameras naturally try to counteract too much temperature through a process called white balance. Even if a photo doesn’t contain any white, it can be painfully obvious when things aren’t balanced right.

Luckily, our cameras can come to the rescue. Here are the most common presets your camera will have for white balance:

  • Auto: In this mode your camera will attempt to figure things out for you. Whenever there are many cool or warm things in your photo, your camera might not be able to differentiate these from white, so it might get things wrong. For example, in a photo where the sky is prominent, the camera might try to go for a warmer white balance to “counteract” the cool sky.
  • Tungsten: This setting is for shooting indoors under tungsten lighting (warm lighting). Your camera will counteract this by cooling down the photo slightly.
  • Fluorescent: This mode is for shooting indoors under fluorescent lighting (cooler lighting). Your camera will warm the photo slightly to counteract this.
  • Daylight: This mode is fairly normal, which is used when taking photos outdoors. I turn it on when I don’t want auto white balance to disrupt things, especially when I know I don’t need much white balance. 
  • Cloudy: This mode is for when there are many clouds about. It warms up your photos to counteract the absence of sunlight (since the sun is likely behind the clouds). 
  • Flash: This mode helps the camera adjust to low light conditions, especially when using flash (which is very cool) by warming up the photo. 
  • Shade: This mode will warm up your photo when there are lots of shadows around, since shadows tend to be dark blues, rather than dark oranges.
  • Manual: This mode allows you to choose your white balance. This is great when photographing very warm or very cool things that might confuse your camera. It also allows you to tailor the white balance to your surroundings.

But really, auto white balance is great. You can always go back in and change the temperature slightly in post-processing if needed.

Manipulating Temperature Using RAW

When you are taking your photos in RAW (and even otherwise, to an extent), you can also easily manipulate temperature in post processing, so you shouldn’t get too hung up on getting it perfect initially. Keeping your camera on auto white balance is more than enough for a beginner to get acquainted with their camera, since you will get good practice tweaking temperature using software.

Location

Most people talk about how you are supposed to take photos so they look good. I completely agree with this, but I also think that where you take them can be almost as important.

Most people just whip out their cameras and take a shot wherever they need to. However, investing some time in finding a good location (when viable, of course) can be the difference between good and perfect.

Find A Clean Area To Use

First things first – remove EVERYTHING that isn’t intended to be in your shot. Make sure that there isn’t any visible clutter (especially with product photography) and avoid things in the foreground that are in front of the subject. This doesn’t mean that your photos have to be perfectly clean, just that if they aren’t make sure it is intentional.

You can also get a clean photo of the same location by waiting. This is especially true of tourist spots, where there will be swarms by day and few by night.

Find The Right Background  

Not only should you find a background that looks nice, you should find one that makes sense for your product. For example, a computer probably won’t look good perched precariously on a tree branch, but a bird feeder would look great in the same environment.

 

Find A Wide, Open Space  

This part is two-fold. First of all, make sure the entire subject is visible. This is especially important in product photography, where you essentially have to sell someone on a product in a handful of images. How many times have you been intrigued by an Instructable but didn’t take the time to read it because of a terrible cover image?

The second part of this is that you have to be taking your photo in the right location. Trying to take a photo of a car in a small garage won’t work out. Taking a photo of one on a driveway or in a parking lot will work a lot better, and if you take a picture of a car on an open road, you pretty much can’t go wrong.

This also ties into clutter. The key word of this section is open spaces – you need to give your subject room so the audience isn’t distracted by other things in the shot.

Timing

You’ve set up your shot perfectly; you’ve chosen a good location, you’ve accounted for lighting, and you’ve even taken the time to work out the settings. But when you snap a shot, it looks terrible. Dark, deep shadows fill the scene and nothing looks right.

You most likely have a problem with timing. Timing refers to when you take your photo. Often, if you don’t like how your photo turned out, you can come back at a later time of day (or even later in the year!) to take it again.

Timing by The Sun 

It matters when you take your photo. Obviously a photo in the dead of night will look a lot worse than a photo at golden hour. There are several different “slots” of time to know:

Golden hour refers to the hour after the sun rises and the hour before it sets, when the sky is filled with all sorts of oranges and yellows and reds. Golden hour results in very beautiful photos, since the sun isn’t harsh enough yet to create any deep shadows. It also happens to be when a lot of wildlife are out and about.

Blue hour is the hour before the sun rises and the hour after it sets. This is very similar to gold hour, except instead of a golden tone to your photo, you will have a more bluish tone.

Afternoon is an okay time to photograph things. While some people can pull off afternoon photos phenomenally, it can be quite hard to counteract hard shadows and bright highlights.

Night is also a generally a very hard time to photograph most things. You are going to have to mess with exposures a lot, and you will most likely have to use flash or another lighting source.

That being said, a lot of night photos are simply stunning. Since there is so little light entering the camera, you can also lower your shutter speed to capture the motion of the stars, among other things.

 

Timing by Motion  

When there are moving elements in your photo, timing is key. Often if you wait a split second too long, the moment will be gone and your hard work will be lost. This is why people spend days in a blind – they are waiting for that perfect moment when an animal crosses in front of them.

 

Timing by Season  

When you start introducing seasons into the mix, things get tough. You can take good photos regardless of season, so most people never really think about it much. Plus, you don’t want to have to plan, say, vacations around your photography schedule.

Season helps set the mood for your photo. The weather conditions are different, the animals out and about are different, and even people act differently.

Composititon

Composition refers to how you take your photograph. Photographers use composition to distinguish their photo from everyone else’s shot, especially when they are in a location commonly visited and photographed. It is how, even when taken at the same exact location, photos can look so different from each other.

Composition “rules” are very loose. Often people break them on purpose (or on accident!) for a perfectly acceptable reason. This also means that sometimes rules directly contradict each other. Pick and choose which ones you want to apply and which ones you don’t.

 

Rule of Thirds

The most common composition rule is the rule of thirds – it basically says the prominent parts of your photograph should be along the lines of a 3×3 grid, namely at the intersection of the lines.

 

Blur  

One of my favorite styles of composition is blurring the background and/or foreground. Blur tells people that a particular part of your photo isn’t important, so the audience will naturally be drawn to the crystal clear, in focus subject.

Leading Lines  

Leading lines are more subtle – they are included in the photograph and guide the viewers to where you want them to look. If you take a photo of a tall building, the viewer’s eyes will naturally be drawn up along the sides (which narrow to a point), emphasizing the height and prominence of the building.

 

Perspective  

The perspective from which you take your photo also matters. Getting down low makes your subject larger than life, important, powerful, and prominent. Looking down on something diminishes the subject. Taking a photo at eye level results in a more personal shot, like you are looking through the photographer’s eyes at the subject.

 

 

 

Contrast 

Generally speaking, every photo should have some shadows and some highlights. Otherwise everything ends up looking very bland. The amount of shadows and highlights you have in your photo affects contrast, which is when your subject stands out against the background and the rest of the photo.

 

Space

You can tell a lot about something by the space surrounding a subject. It can even define the scene by providing a foundation that the subject builds upon.

 

Framing

Framing shows depth and also implies setting, similar to space.

 

 

Color  

Another way to make your subject stand out is to make it a different color (or more colorful in general) than the rest of the image.

Texture

Texture refers to how the surface of something looks. Examples of various textures include rough, grainy, smooth, etc. Textures help add depth and meaning to a photo. You will often see a lot of texture in black and white photography, for the removal of color forces the viewer to focus on the texture of an image.

 

 

 

 

Symmetry  

Symmetry results in very strong compositions. It occurs when something is mirrored across the center, either left / right or top / bottom. It also breaks the rule of threes, because the subject is generally in the center.

Pattern

Patterns can add a lot to a photo. Patterns can come in many forms, from repeating elements, to fancy swirls to patterns in nature.

Humans are naturally drawn to things such as symmetry and pattern. You can use this to your advantage by including it, or “break” a pattern to create tension.

Post-Processing

Post processing is something every photographer needs to learn. No, post processing isn’t cheating – it simply allows one to gain a firmer control over their photos.

The two big names people always think of when they are editing photos are Adobe® Photoshop® software and Adobe® Lightroom® software. These softwares are incredibly sophisticated and have pretty much every tool you could want when editing photos.

For those who don’t want to invest money in a good software, Microsoft Photos software is a surprisingly advanced photo editing software for Windows. It has all of the necessary tools to turn good photos into great ones without the learning curve or cost of other applications.

Cropping  

Cropping is probably the most used form of post processing. It is something everyone with a computer knows how to do. It is used mainly to cut out extraneous details and change the subject of the image when necessary

Straightening

Straightening can be used when you accidentally took a photo at a slight angle and want to correct it in post-processing. You can rotate a photo and crop it to make it a rectangle again very easily – Microsoft Photos software will automatically do this using the straighten tool.

Exposure

You can also of course make slight changes to exposure, white balance, highlights, shadows, contrast, and other brightness related issues after taking a photo. A lot of photographers will take photos normally and then mess with the exposure later so they gain more control over the process.

I generally increase brightness and mess with shadows / highlights so they look closer to what the scene looks like in real life. I also try to leave contrast alone, so the image doesn’t look overly dark or overly light.

Saturation

Saturation is how much the colors of a photo pop. I almost never like to increase saturation, as resulting images look like a hot rainbow mess. People will be able to tell if your photo is unrealistic, so be careful! You might even want to consider reducing saturation to set a mood. When you take out all of the colors from a photo for black and white photography, the audience pays more attention to texture, mood, contrast, and other important elements. Use Photoshop and other specialized programs to control how your image is converted to black and white – high contrast, silvery grays, etc.

Temperature

Temperature relates to how warm or cold something looks – a room with cold, whitewashed walls will look more intimidating than a warm, luxurious room that invites you to unload your troubles around a fireplace. This helps set the mood of your scene.

Temperature is also related to white balance. White balance refers to trying to get your photos to look as natural as possible by adjusting how the camera processes the image in different lighting conditions – certain environments take on a bluish tone, and others take on a orangish tone, so the camera learns to compensate. While temperature can help with abstract shots, realism requires the strictest adherence to reality. You can tweak temperature in post processing to help achieve white balance if you don’t do so upfront.

Sepia

Sepia is a form of monochromatic photography. Similarly to how black and white photography only uses shades of gray, sepia only uses shades of brown. The difference is that black and white looks like something from the past, whereas sepia looks like it was taken in the past. I generally convert to sepia by first converting to black and white, and then converting to sepia.

Vignettes
Vignettes used to be a problem with cameras, where the center of the sensor received more light than the edges. After a while, this started being considered an effect rather than a problem, and now many people add vignettes to their photos in post-processing. The purpose of a vignette is to draw the reader into the photo.

You can also apply a white vignette to give your photos a more dreamy look, or to add a unique element to your image.

Don’t go overboard with vignettes, but a light one can go a long way to improving your photos.

Selective Blur

You can apply a surrounding blur for similar purposes as a vignette – blur helps draw people towards the subject.

The purpose of selective blur is that you can take crystal clear images and add blur in later.The idea is that if your initial image is blurred, you can only sharpen it up to a point, but if it is very sharp throughout, you can blur it in post processing as much (or as little) as you want.

I generally try to simply use wider apertures to get blur instead, since it generally looks more realistic. However, this might not be possible depending on the camera you have.

RAW File Editing

Raw files are necessary for good photography. What normally happens is the camera you own processes the information it receives from the sensors and exports them as a JPEG. But if you export as a RAW file, the camera will store all of the data it receives. You can then use software to process these RAW files.

Adobe® Photoshop® software offers my favorite selection of RAW processing. It lets you do pretty much all of the other post-processing techniques discussed above almost instantly, with no learning curve.

Review Your Photos

Up until this point, the information I’ve given you is about how to take the perfect photo, taking into account gear, timing, lighting conditions, composition rules, etc. This is rarely possible in real life, so every photographer worth their salt has to at least be able to sort out the bad photos from the good ones. Luckily for you, most of this stuff is pretty easy and builds on the previous information.

Purpose

What are you taking photos for? If you plan on printing out your photos, they need to be of very high quality and technically perfect, as any blemishes will be enlarged. This is especially true if you want to print your photos on a canvas – Prints should have at least 300 ppi (pixels per inch) in order to be of high enough quality.

If you are using your photos for the web, you can get away with lower quality photos, since web is only 72 ppi.

This is important because it means a photo on your blog doesn’t have to be as high quality as a photo you would put on your mantelpiece. This should in turn affect how picky you are with yourself when narrowing down your photos. Sure, you can sharpen your images in post-processing, but often this sharpening won’t hold up once you print it.

Another thing you need to keep in mind is what kind of photography you are taking. Landscape photography, for example, needs to:

Narrow It Down

Instantly discard any photos which are very blurry or very grainy. I often take a good mix of shots, so usually when I do have a blurry photo, I also have another that isn’t. If you only have a couple of photos that didn’t turn out too well, I would recommend not using them at all.

Take out any photos which have bad exposure to an extent that they are not able to be fixed. Often photos which are way too dark or way too bright can’t be fixed, simply because they don’t have enough contrast to make a photo or because if you brighten them or darken, them they will have grain.

Eliminate any photos which don’t adequately show the subject. This means that if the subject is really far away or so close you can’t see it well, the photo likely won’t turn out well. Note that this has varying meanings depending on your purpose – macro photos should be really close up, while city skyline photos should be really far away.

Select The Best

Often the “best” photo simply comes down to selecting the one which was closest to your vision. A dark, moody photo won’t look good as a cover image for your Instructable. A beautiful landscape would look perfect on the cover of a magazine. A photo that is bright and cheery, rather like a stock photo, would do just fine on a blog.

I also look at which photos that purposely follow or break the rules of composition. This means that you didn’t just stumble upon it by accident. Maybe you intended to break the rule of symmetry to create tension, or you used color to make your subject stand out. Whatever the case, you didn’t take a photo your way because it was the easiest way; you did it to convey meaning and purpose.

Using Your Photos

It’s time to enjoy your hard work. Now that you have great photos, you can use them. Here are some of the fun things you can do with your photos:

1) Print them out – You can print photos for a variety of purposes. You can make a photo album to store all of your good memories. You can print a photo out on a large canvas and hang it somewhere. You could even put your photo on a greeting card and send it to your friends.

2) Use them on the web – This is the easiest and most common way of using photos. For example, I used a lot of photos as demonstration in this Instructable. You could also put your photos on your own website or blog if you have one. A lot of photographers get well-known simply by frequently posting photos on social media.

3) Sell them – This one might seem a bit cheap at first – photography should be a passion, not a business! However, selling your photos can result in extra cash, which you can put to use buying new gear or saving up for a large photography trip. Plus, if people use your photos, it can help spread the word about your talent and looks great on a resume.

The most common ways of selling photos are by selling the license or by selling the rights to use that photo. However, lots of people also sell canvas prints of their photos or sell products with their photos on them (such as t-shirts or hats).

4) Enter contests – This method is a lot of fun. If you don’t win, it isn’t a big deal, since you didn’t lose anything. If you do win, you get accolades, awards, and even money (or other great prizes). The main thing I would be careful of is to make sure that the contest you are entering doesn’t require you to give them a license. Often these are scams to help the owners of the contest get lots of free photos.

I would also suggest not paying to enter contests unless you are sure you have an absolutely outstanding photo. Since often only a handful of people actually win, everyone else will end up paying a lot of money and won’t see any gain.

Long-Term Storage

I don’t delete many of the photos I take. I can almost always find a use for a photo later on, and if I delete it, I can’t ever get it back. What I prefer to do is, every so often, move all of my photos from my SD cards to a heavy-duty storage drive. This helps me keep all of my photos in one place, so I don’t have to keep track of a million SD cards.

I then move all of the photos I really like and put them in another folder. This way I don’t have to comb through thousands of photos just to find one I like, but I don’t have to get rid of those thousands of other photos, either.

I also try to keep a copy of every photo before and after post-processing, just in case I ever change my mind about how I’ve processed it. For example, if I convert a photo to black and white, I won’t ever be able to convert it back to color without investing some serious time (and even then it wouldn’t turn out that well).

I would also suggest having a backup (or several backups!) of your main storage unit, preferably in different locations. This way you don’t lose all of your photos if the drive gets corrupted or destroyed.

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What’s Next?

So what to do now? Information about photography is endless, and I’ve worked incredibly hard to include the things I felt were important for a beginner’s guide. It would be pointless to try to cram too much into one Instructable, so instead I’ll just leave you with some next steps to take.

1) Research – Some topics I would suggest researching now that you know the basics are more advanced photography techniques (bokeh, HDR, zoom burst, etc.) and photography disciplines (portrait photography, street photography, long exposure photography, etc.) Google should be your best friend in your pursuit of knowledge, as there are thousands of people who have taken the time to share their photography knowledge with the world.

2) Discover – Take a look at other people’s photographs. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel every time you take a photo – learn from other people’s successes and failures and use it to improve your own photography. Eventually you will start to develop your own style.

3) Practice – One of the most important things about starting photography is to just get out there and do it. As said by Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” If you finished reading this Instructable, go out today, take a photograph of something using your newfound photography skills (no matter how good or bad it might be), and post it as an “I made it!”.

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