Every year aspirational photographers, both professional and amateur, invest in quality equipment before they forgo photography altogether because they failed to follow the photography 101 curriculum in some form. Many of these photographers could have avoided failure if they had simple guidance from an instructive, realistic point of view to help them understand their goals and a pathway to what those goals involved.
The process of developing as a photographer begins with a contradictory idea. You must appreciate how much you have to learn and simultaneously disregard your ignorance and try anyway, just for fun. If you can't first take joy in photography, your new hobby will not last long. You don't need much information to get out there and start taking good pictures even if they aren't going to adorn the walls of a contemporary art museum someday. Once you have found passion in your hobby, you will begin intuitively understanding the mechanics of your equipment and the technical aspects of photography. You can then use this knowledge to take those photographs and further your ability to achieve exactly the effect your prefer in each shot. Photography 101 is not a particularly complex course of study, but it requires patience and experimentation to fully master your newfound hobby or profession.
Photography 101: The Basics
Photography is a technical subject, and photography 101, while highly informative, can also be a dense set of information. Before we dive into any of the more technical aspects of photography, you should remember that enjoyment in your new hobby is the most important aspect of all. There is plenty of technical knowledge to dive into when it comes to photography. It's easy to lose sight of the simple enjoyment of taking fun pictures. The basics below should help you improve your pictures in simple ways without overburdening you with too many details. The following tips should be fun.
Learn the Rules Before Disregarding Them
As is the case with everything from the rules of grammar to the rules of golf, you have to know the rules before you break them for dramatic effect. This is true for students learning the principles of photography 101. You may admire many examples of work from photographers who boldly disregard the rules and create fabulous pictures in the process, but don't lose sight of the fact those photographers had to study these principles until they became part and parcel of life with a camera in hand. It's easy to disregard advice or information that seems puzzling at first glance but try not to get discouraged. Even the greatest photographers had to start with the basics. Once you excel at the basics, you can develop your skill at breaking the rules to create even more beautiful and daring pictures than you had before.
Never Be Caught Off Guard
During your initial efforts as an amateur photographer, you will probably find your brain is not yet wired to know exactly how to avoid the more mundane shots to get the fantastic shot you are aiming for. The best tool at your disposal to bridge the gap between the present, and the moment at which your practiced eye sees these ephemeral moments coming from a mile away, is being constantly aware of your surroundings. Try to anticipate what will happen before it happens so that you can be prepared. Fortunately, almost every contemporary camera has a quick start-up time, so you can be just a turn and a click away from snapping a picture that could be a once in a lifetime shot.
Whether your tastes send you deep into the outdoors for opportunities or keep you at home carefully rearranging the items on your kitchen table, you will soon discover the power of reflection in photography. If you prefer to photograph landscapes or cityscapes, you will find bodies of water and the exteriors of skyscrapers provide ample opportunity to use reflection in your work. For photographers with more minute interests, finding a well placed window or introducing a reflective material of your own can add layers to any shot. Either way the power of reflection is an important tool for students of photography 101.
Use the Golden Hour
Lighting is an essential principal in photography. This includes several technical aspects of the camera itself and it also applies to the light naturally available to you and how you use it. During the brightest times of day, outdoor pictures are often drowned in light that obscures the subject of the photograph. A photograph taken at night is likely to be impossible to make out, either due to darkness or shakiness based on increased exposure, which we will discuss later. For photographs taken in natural light, the best times are immediately after sunrise and immediately before sunset. At these times the suns rays are deflecting off the curvature of the Earth's atmosphere in such a way that diffuses the light to create a soft light that highlights contrast without overpowering the subject of your photography
Discover What You Love to Capture
While the photography 101 course includes a fair amount of information about the mechanics of a camera, this understanding is a stepping stone to helping you discover what your passion is in photography. When knowledge of your tools brings your work to life, you will be pleased you took the time to understand the camera's mechanics, but in the early stages, this information can be off-putting. It can be helpful to use your camera to remind yourself what it is you love to photograph. Finding your niche can be a great way for professional photographers to corner a market, but the practice is equally useful for amateurs who are just getting their feet wet. Your work will develop quickly if your passion is synonymous with your goals.
Fill the Frame
When you are first acquainting yourself with the principles of photography, it's easy to get lost in many strains of advice until intuition takes a back seat. Don't let any tip or rule about photography compromise your courage behind the lens. As a warning, photography can be awkward. Getting close enough to a subject to fill the frame of your camera with it can be a little uncomfortable, especially if the subject is a person, but you must be brave in every corner of your photographs. If you are going to take a portrait, don't waste space with a blank wall behind your subject, either put the subject in front of something interesting or get closer. This principal is equally relevant in landscape photography where a subject, be it a person, a tree, or a lake, cannot take up an entire landscape. Show the viewer what surrounds the subject. Show a subject ensconced in natural beauty.
All About Your Camera (And Other Useful Equipment)
Although it can strike some budding photographers as a bit dull, getting a full understanding of the different parts of your camera and how they interact is essential to improving the quality of your work. The basics of photography 101 can be explored with nothing but a lens and a sense of whimsy but the more demanding, productive information will require patient experimentation.
The aperture is the component of your camera that dictates the diameter of the hole through which your photograph will be reflected onto your camera's sensor. The aperture is one third of the elements that combine to constitute exposure. It is an essential principal for students of photography 101 and one we will discuss at greater length later on. The larger the diameter you use, the greater the scope of your photographs, and the more wide ranging detail you will be able to bring to your work. For a smaller subject, you can use a smaller aperture diameter to achieve a more intimate effect that obscures the background and brings all the attention to your subject.
The second component of exposure is shutter speed. The shutter determines how long the image will be reflected through the aperture and onto the sensor at the back of your camera. The longer your shutter is open the more light travels through the aperture to the sensor and the reciprocal relationship is true of a shutter speed that is relatively quick. Longer shutter speeds allow the photographer to let in more light for photographs taken in darker environments or to capture motion as blurs in a photograph. Quicker shutter speeds allow photographers to capture moments with greater exactitude, freeze-framing a moment in time with precision.
ISO, Light, and Exposure
The internationally established standard for measuring the speed of color negative film is commonly referred to as ISO after the International Organization for Standardization. We promise, the acronym makes more sense in French. In contemporary digital cameras, ISO is artificially recreated to give photographers maximum potential manipulation of exposure since ISO regulates the amount of light incorporated into your photographs by the sensor that is exposed and obscured by the shutter. ISO is measured on a scale of 100 to 6400. The lower your ISO setting the less light your camera will use, so when you are out in the sunlight moving the ISO above 200 will probably ruin your photographs. The higher ISO settings facilitate experimentation with motion and dark environments although for beginners these higher settings primarily waste time and ruin photographs.
In the age of smartphones, focus strikes old-school photographers as a lost art. Most phones perform the function automatically and well enough for the run-of-the-mill pictures we take in daily life because the software is prompted to focus on faces but, if you are interested in taking your photography to the next level and capturing a diverse set of subjects, you will have to experiment with manual focus. The focus feature allows you to set a distance at which your camera focuses that is static. This allows you to imbue your subjects with a powerful degree of specificity.
A Note on Manual Mode
Enabling the manual setting on your camera can be a daunting task for photography 101 students, but it is well worth trying, especially if you have taken opportunities to experiment with the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Manual mode allows the photographer to manage the relationship between these three things to take complete control of exposure. In a bright environment you should keep your exposure as close to zero as possible, any deviation upward and you will risk pictures drowned in light; in a darker environment you can experiment more broadly.
The utility of the tripod is often neglected by amateur photographers who find the mechanism too burdensome to carry or too nerdy to be caught with around town. Make no mistake, camera shake can ruin any picture. When you experiment with longer shutter speeds or greater exposure the tripod is the only way to preserve the quality of your work. It may seem like an obnoxious piece of equipment to keep in the trunk of your car but keeping one around is crucial to success in photography 101.
The Perfect Composition
Once you have developed a passion for photography and understand the functionality of your camera, you will be ready to hone your skills and take your work beyond the bounds of photography 101. The most important elements of composition are perspective and exposure. As we have discussed earlier and will discuss again momentarily, exposure is key to maximizing the potential of your camera, while finding the perfect perspective, often a counter-intuitive one, will take your work to the next level.
As we mentioned, balancing the interaction between the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, which together constitute exposure is a key principal to elevating your work beyond the basics of photography 101. Mastery of this principle can only be achieved through an understanding of the parts of a camera and extensive experimentation with what different settings and combinations of settings will yield. Regardless of your ambitions, using exposure to improve your photographs is an important step to success.
Use the Rule of Thirds
When you are crafting a shot that includes a subject and its background, use the rule of thirds to balance your shot and create interesting photographs. The rule of thirds states that a photographer should think about a photograph with lines dividing the final product into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The photographer can then pick any of the four intersections of lines within the frame of the photograph as the rough place for a subject. You can choose which point of intersection is best based on the subject of a photograph and its relationship to its surroundings. This principal will add layers to your work and signal a mastery beyond photography 101.
Don't Be Bound by Perspective
This may seem uncomfortable for beginners, especially in public places, but you have got to bend for your work. You spend the vast majority of your life looking straight out from your eye level. This is tremendously restrictive. When you are trying to get an interesting shot of something, try to change your perspective. Look straight up at your subject, or straight down. View your subject from an angle, or vertically. The possibilities are limitless and well worth a little public exercise.
Use Strong Lines
You can craft more impacting photographs by using the natural boundaries within the scope of your lens to frame a subject or suggest a direction in which the viewers' eyes can naturally wander. Experiment with natural and man-made lines that highlight the subject of your photographs or direct the viewer's attention with a purpose. You can imagine the emotional power of a lonely highway slicing through a harsh desert landscape or a woman caught framed in her bedroom doorway, still unprepared to engage with the outside world.
Software platforms can be intimidating before you have familiarized yourself with their functionality, but quality editing represents the finishing touches of the skills you acquire in your self-taught photography 101 experience. Adobe Dark Room is considered top of the line, but the range of software programs available means you can get something expensive or something for free depending on your level of commitment. Regardless, you can use an online editing platform to re-frame lopsided photographs, refine your framing of a subject, or showcase something you hadn't noticed at the moment. Like many of the principals we have discussed in this article, editing can be cumbersome, but investing time in the process will yield spectacular results long-term.
To complete your review of the information of photography 101, you must understand how to enjoy taking simple photographs, how to think about the mechanics of your camera, and how to demonstrate mastery of these principles after sufficient experimentation. Aspiring photographers can start their journey by simply finding the subjects that captivate their imaginations and experimenting with nothing more than a few simple guidelines. This experimentation naturally breeds curiosity about the instrument itself. Mechanical knowledge of the camera in turn yields a perspective that enables photographers to use their preferred techniques and create something special. No matter how vast or limited your knowledge of photography may be, this pattern and the body of knowledge that makes it work can be a useful tool for improvements to your work.