A significant part of the mission of this website is to help reduce the friction for new photographers. I won’t do too many lists, but I will occasionally have a post with the quick tips I’ve learned to improve my photography/feel more comfortable shooting. Here’s the first installment!
5 Tips for New Photographers Summary
- Use aperture and shutter priority modes
- Join a community
- Read some books
- Take on a theme or project
- Shoot in RAW
1. Use aperture and shutter priority modes.
You’ve seen all the tutorials out there dissuading you from using the Auto function and encouraging you to learn how to shoot in full manual. And they’re right! But they often skip these intermediate modes, which not only serve as solid stepping stones, but have great real-world use, even for seasoned professionals.
Aperture priority tells the camera you need it to adjust for the f-stop you’ve set. This is useful when the requirement is bokeh, or you’re trying to stay in a lens’ sweet spot. The camera will adjust the ISO and shutter speed as appropriate to get the fastest exposure possible. Remember that if the light is too low, the shutter speed will fall, permitting blur, even if the image is properly exposed. The only thing you’re adjusting is the aperture.
Shutter priority is similar; it’ll adjust the ISO and aperture to hit a shutter speed. This can be useful in pretty specific situations, where perhaps you’re trying to time something, but I honestly don’t find myself using it often. If you’re shooting sports, it helps to use to shutter priority to reduce the variables you’re managing in such a high speed situation.
Both of these are great for the new photographer because they let you split the decision-making between yourself and the camera. After a time, you’ll start seeing how you want to change what you’re getting, and that’s when you should start working in manual.
2. Join a community
I mean this both virtually and physically.
Virtually, the most accessible communities are probably over on Flickr, but there’s a ton of different photography sites out there with active participants. One of the advantages to Flickr is that many of the sites that crowdsource their featured photos do so via Flickr pools.
Online communities will provide you valuable feedback, constructive critiques and will serve as a resource with loads of institutional knowledge.
As for joining a community in your region, search Google and find the groups in your area. Some are more active than others; I’ve found Meetup.com to be a great resource for quickly checking photography activity in an area. Your local photography groups will provide many of the resources of virtual communities, as well as group outings and equipment swaps.
Local communities are also a good way to build that group of friends who’ll lend you equipment from time to time.
3. Read some (beginner) books
This is probably the way I learn the quickest, but everyone’s a little different. Scott Kelby’s series is my first recommendation. His writing is accessible and funny, and the books are instructive without being condescending: Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Kelby provides a lot of great technical information, and that’ll make it easier for your practice and develop your “photographic eye,” but photography is about vision as much as it is about technical aptitude, so please give equal time to studying some art. Here’s some ideas (in book form) for doing that:
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment
- Magnum Contact Sheets
- William Eggleston: From Black and White to Colour
- The Open Road: Photography and the American Roadtrip
- Photographers’ Sketchbooks
4. Focus on a theme/take on a project/enter a contest
I would bet that the hardest thing a beginning or new photographer confronts is not being sure what to take photos of. If you’ve finished that big trip or the long family holidays, and you’ve loved using the camera and gotten much better at it, but you’re returning to “normal” life and you’re not sure what you should be shooting, try one of these techniques to overcome that frustration:
Focus on a theme
Recently, I was participating in a photography class that wasn’t totally holding my interest. We were exploring outside Union Station in DC, so I decided to start snapping photos of street signs. Great success! It’s a mundane subject, and exceedingly common, but I got two good photos out of it and my shooting cadence skyrocketed for the rest of the day, allowing me to work on technique. Other common suggestions are photographing doors, alleyways, cars, etc.
Take on a project
I’m thinking specifically of a 365 project, as I’ll probably start one of those soon. But there are plenty of other projects you can join, and most will have some sort of community aspect to them. For example, you can offer to document a series of subjects for a local nonprofit (such as foster dogs for your local foster organization) or take a series of photos that you process in new and exciting ways. Here’s a couple new project links:
Enter a contest
Contest are great ways to build your portfolio and skills, and they have the motivation piece built-in. Viewbug is perhaps the biggest contest site on the web, but look for local contests and even local calls for photos. To help find local contests, I just have a couple Google News alerts set for variations of “dc photo contest;” look for your local news sites to ask for you to add submissions to their Flickr pools. That’s a great way to build exposure.
5. Shoot in RAW
You’ll see this a lot as you start looking for photography resources, but, for the moment, keep it in RAW. You have so much more latitude for post-processing corrections that it makes it well worth it. I’m not a RAW-only guy; when the situation calls for it, I’ll switch to high quality JPG (that’s usually only in sports situations), but I also pair it with a semi-auto mode. Running in fully manual just introduces too many variables to manage in tiny amounts of time to guarantee I’ll hit the exposure I want, and that’s the risk with using JPG.