16 Basic Photography Tips You Need To Know

Between ISO, DOF, and DSLR, it can be difficult to make sense of photography jargon. The good news is that “difficult” doesn’t have to equal “impossible.” If you’re ready to try your hand at non-smartphone pictures, here are just 16 basic photography tips that will clear up any confusion revolving photographic equipment or basic techniques.

1. Get Digital

While some people swear by old-fashioned cameras, the majority of modern photography is done with digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras that produce digital image files. They come with all kinds of settings, features, and controls, and they can be modified even further with special lenses and filters. You’ll need to splurge for a DSLR if you’re serious about your new hobby.

sony cybershot vs sony alpha
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 (left) vs Sony Alpha 6000 (right)
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2. Adjust Your Aperture

The aperture of your camera determines how much light comes through the lens. It’s measured in something called “f-stops” or “f-numbers” that are rendered as f/2, f/4, f/6 and so on. One truth that you’ll see in all basic photography tips is that aperture is a tricky thing, so you might have to do some experimenting to figure out the best aperture levels for your particular brand of photography.

3. Find an Anchor

The best photos always have something to anchor them in terms of depth and focus. If you’re photographing a castle, for example, you might frame it against a brilliant blue sky; if you’re shooting an anthill, you might emphasize its small size by contrasting it with a tree in the background. Anchoring is a common piece of advice in basic photography tips, but it’s a the cliche for a reason, so don’t forget about it as you point and click.

boat anchoring in port
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4. Shoot in “Raw” Format

If your camera is set to “JPEG” format, it’s automatically processing your photos and giving them to you in a ready-to-share JPEG format. While this can be quite convenient, it’s also taking away your control of the final product. You aren’t correcting your own colors or adjusting exposure levels to your own specifications; the camera is doing it for you. Shoot in “raw” format so that you can make customized edits.

5. Test Different Shutter Speeds

Your shutter speed controls how long your lens is open to the light. It’s measured in fractions of a second like 1/10th, 1/100th and 1/1000th, and it’s an adjustable setting on your camera. Slow shutter speeds are used for still and low-light photography while high shutter speeds will capture motion-filled subjects like cars and animals.

windflower depicts ISO change
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6. Learn About Lenses

Lenses are cut and measured in complicated ways that involve things like sensor sizes and focal lengths. For basic photography, all you need to know is that wider lenses have smaller measurements, so a 14mm lens is very wide while a 250mm lens is very narrow. It’s a confusing system, but you’ll need to understand it for effective lens shopping.

7. Stage Your Own Lighting

One of the first things that you’ll learn from basic photography tips is that flash is not your friend. For high-quality, professional-looking photos, you’ll need to arrange “off-camera” lighting in the form of lamps and light kits. You can also purchase special things like polarizer filters that can be added directly to your camera to reduce glare and soften sunlight.

silver umbrella and flash stand
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8. Stabilize Your Shot

Unless you’re taking deliberately fuzzy photos to convey speed and motion, you’ll want to keep your camera as still as possible to prevent motion blurs. Investing in a tripod is the easiest way to do this, but there are special camera-holding grips that you can try as well. You can also experiment with “shake reduction” filters in photo editing software.

9. Change Your ISO

Changing the ISO on your camera will make its sensors more or less sensitive to light. The higher the ISO, the greater the sensitivity. This can be helpful in low-light situations like nighttime sky photography, but it can also be hurtful if you’re trying to reduce noise or take pictures in bright noon sunshine. Since cameras have ISO ranges from 100 to 10,000, you’ll need to fiddle with them to find the right settings for you.

busy New York street
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10. Mind Your Backgrounds

A busy background can detract from the true subject of your photograph. On the flip side, a busy background can also disguise or hide the weaker components of your shot. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to backgrounds, but you’ll want to pay attention to the moment to ensure that you have no regrets during post-production.

11. Embrace the Rule of Thirds

If you’ve been reading basic photography tips, you’ve probably already come across “the rule of thirds.” It involves superimposing a real or imagined 3×3 grid over your picture screen to help you make better alignments of people and objects. It’s a useful trick for beginners who aren’t sure of their composition skills, so don’t be afraid to use it until you’re more comfortable with your own judgment.

animated rule of thirds
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12. Get Creative With Your Viewpoints

Eye-level photography gets boring after awhile. Why not stand on a chair or ladder and take a bird’s eye view of your subject? Or why not lower yourself to the ground and let your subject loom over you? There are many angles, inclines, and perspectives that can completely change the aesthetics of your photos.

13. Turn Off the Autofocus

Autofocus is fine for amateur photography, but if you’re ready to take your images to the next level, you’ll want to at least familiarize yourself with manual mode. It will give you greater control over angles and viewpoints, and it allows you to experiment with things like depth of field (DOF).

dandelion fluff
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14. Learn From Your Mistakes

This is easier said than done, of course, but instead of throwing out bad photos in a fit of pique, examine them to figure out what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening again. This kind of self-scrutiny is what separates the hobbyists from the professionals.

15. Play With Photo-Editing Software

This isn’t always mentioned in basic photography tips, but one of the secrets of the industry is that most images undergo post-processing to make them look better. Your raw photos will be different from the sharp, clear and colorful ones that you’ve seen on the Internet. Photo editing software can make all the difference.

foggy mountaintop forest
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16. Make Copies of Your Copies

You don’t want to lose an entire day of photographs because you dropped your camera in a puddle at an inopportune moment. Always back up your files at regular intervals during your photo shoots. You can do this manually with flash drives or wirelessly with special apps and cloud-based programs, so there’s no excuse. Make copies now or regret it later.

These are just a few ways to make your mark in the world of photography. Whether you’re aspiring to a professional career behind the camera or just looking to improve your own family portraits, these basic photography tips can help you reach your goals. Do you have any questions or suggestions for other beginners? Sound off in the comments!

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