Updated: Feb 9
Camera Purchase & Photography Tips for Beginners and Amateurs!
‘I spent a huge chunk of my first salary / my first big saving to buy that attractive techno beast that I always wanted! My first Camera! Only to realise soon that it could not provide me with any of those coveted perfect pictures, because of my ignorance about the basics of good photography. It was like I was the proud owner of a red Ferrari parked in my doorway, neighbour’s envy…owner’s pride….just that I didn’t know how to drive it!’
Is this your story too? We have Rachel Rose from www.boothsphotography.com with us today to explain to us the basics of good photography. In this conversation, Rachel is answering some of the most common questions an amateur would ask about how to buy a suitable camera & basic photography skills to use the camera effectively. So next time you don’t just show off your expensive digicam, but get some excellent shots from it too.
What is the best camera I can get?
How to select a good camera for amateur photography?
Let’s start with the thing that I get asked the most often: ‘What is the best camera I can get?’
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this as photography is not always about having the best camera going. There are many different brands of camera including Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Leica and more. Each brand or camera has its own strengths, so the camera choice you make needs to be based on what you intend to use it for. If you are a commercial photographer, you must have a high resolution. A high-end commercial photographer may wish to use a camera from the brand Hasselblad. If you are a wildlife photographer, you will need to find the quietest camera on the market, maybe something like a Canon with its silent electronic shutter option. But if you are a beginner, I would start with whatever you have or look into buying a simple (and not top end) DSLR camera. There are 3 important factors (aperture size, shutter speed & ISO) that decide the quality of a picture and should be decisive factors while purchasing your camera. We will learn more about it in the next paragraphs.
Is a ‘digital camera’ the same as a ‘DSLR camera’?
All DSLR cameras are digital cameras – but not all digital cameras are DSLRs.
A DSLR camera is a digital single lens reflex camera. The kind of camera you see most photographers have and the digital evolution of the SLR camera which was used with film. Single lens reflex is the mechanism inside the camera which allows the photographer to see the image. Light enters through the lens and bounces off a mirror to allow the photographer to see their desired picture in the viewfinder. Digital cameras now even offer a mirrorless version. A DSLR camera is a preferred choice for professional-like photographs, instead of other forms of digital camera (such as small compact cameras or phone cameras that you may carry around) because DSLR cameras have a faster shutter speed and take photographs with higher accuracy – which is needed when it comes to creating professional images.
When you first buy a camera, or want to learn about photography, the thing we all do is open the internet and search ‘how to use a DSLR camera?’. And here is where we lose a lot of people! The overwhelming search engine response, pages upon pages telling you what you should do, using words and phrases you’ve never heard before, and a plethora of diagrams of triangles and thirds…and suddenly, your dreams of taking incredible photographs seem further away than ever.
Let’s take it right back to basics.
What are the basic principles of photography?
Photography has been around since the early 1700s, and although our technology has improved since then, the basic principles remain exactly the same. I will say that once again…no matter your equipment, the basic principles of photography remain exactly the same. These principles are centred around the idea of exposure. Exposure is the amount of light we use to take a picture. If we use too much light, we say a photograph is over exposed, and too little light we call under-exposed. Photography comes from the Greek for drawing with light, and light is the single most important element within photography. Everything we do is about controlling light – either through the settings in our cameras or by adding and removing external light sources to create a balanced exposure.
What camera settings do I need to learn to control exposure?
The exposure is controlled by 3 main settings on the camera to allow light in, or minimise the light that enters through the lens, these are:
● Shutter Speed
I will break these down a little more below:
This is the size of the hole that lets the light into the lens. A wide-open aperture (low number) means the hole is big and a lot of light can enter your camera, making your photos brighter. A narrow aperture (high number) means the hole is small and little light can enter your camera, making your photos darker.
The amount of time that light is allowed into your camera, is measured in fractions of a second. Think of your shutter like a curtain behind the lens, the longer it is open, the more light can enter. The shorter it is open; the less light can enter. Photos will be brighter when more light is allowed it, but it also allows for more movement to be captured. That is why in sports photography we use a fast shutter speed to allow minimal light to get in and capture minimal movement (freezing the object in the photo)
ISO is the sensitivity level of your camera to light. A high ISO may be needed for night photography as it makes your camera sensitive to light, making your photographs brighter. And a low ISO can be used when you are in bright light to reduce the brightness in your images.
These 3 settings are a great starting point to narrow your research. These settings need to be mastered as the basics in photography before moving forward.
What sources of light can be used in photography?
Light can come from anywhere – there is natural light, indoor house lights, lamps, coloured torches, fairy lights, firelight, or studio lights. For fashion and commercial photographers, studio lights are used, these are usually LED lights that produce white light, to keep colours true to real life – but you don’t need to break the bank to get this effect, you can start off with some white LED torches or even a selfie ring light.
If you are just looking to experiment with different lights, open your eyes to what light sources are around you, and how these can be used. Think outside the box!
What kinds of lenses are there? And how do I know what they do?
A DSLR will usually have interchangeable lenses. When you purchase a camera, it will often come with a standard zoom lens. There are different types of lenses including zoom lenses and prime lenses. A zoom lens does what it says on the tin and allows you to zoom in and out while remaining in a fixed position. These are very versatile lenses, and if you get a good one it can limit the need for multiple different lenses. A prime lens has a fixed focal length, meaning it cannot zoom. These often come with a bigger range for aperture and can be beneficial when used for portrait or landscape photography. If you are new to photography, I would recommend going for a zoom lens. Your camera will most likely come with an 18-55mm lens or somewhere in that range. There is also a range of specialty lenses that can do effects like a fisheye, but for a beginner, I would stick with something simple until you feel more comfortable.
All lenses have a defined focal length, which is marked on the barrel on the lens in millimetres (mm).
The mm is not how big the lens is but is the length within the lens at which light rays converge to form an image of an object. The focal length and the magnification will also determine how wide or narrow the field of view is.
The shorter the focal length the more you can see or the wider your field of view is - something like a 15mm lens could see a full 180 degrees. The longer the focal length the narrower the field of view and the higher the magnification, so you are basically zoomed in! Something like a 400mm lens could only see a small portion of what's Infront of it, but will be very zoomed in.
How do I take a ‘good’ photo?
How to click professional-looking pictures?
Guiding tips for beginners in photography?
Good photography is made up of a few different elements including good technical skills and appealing composition. We’ve already looked at the technical skills you need to practice to master your camera’s control of light, so let’s think about an appealing composition.
Composition is the process of how we arrange things within our frame. Composition is a word that transcends many visual arts and has the same meaning in all.
Photographers often talk about shooting what they see, but in reality, there is always a form of in-camera editing that takes place in the decision of how to compose a photograph. Your composition is what can take your photograph from just being a ‘snap’ to a ‘professional photograph’.
Composition is a huge topic, but here are three easy compositions for you to practice to get you started:
1. The rule of thirds:
The rule of thirds works by splitting your frame into 3 horizonal and 3 vertical thirds. This grid can then be used to position your subject, either by placing your subject in one or more of the thirds, or your main point of interest at the intersections where these lines meet. This grid aims to support you in starting to form interesting and eye-catching compositions.
2. Leading lines:
Leading lines happen when you use things in your photograph to lead the viewer’s eye to a particular viewpoint or subject. Think about a row of trees leading up to a large castle, or a long winding road leading to a beautiful sunset. The lines take the viewer on a journey, so really think about where you are placing things in your frame before you take a picture.
As humans we find repetitions and patterns interesting, and visually they can have a huge impact. Think about a row of birds sitting as perfect replicas of each other on a rooftop or overlooking a Mediterranean city and seeing the same shapes and colours repeated in the buildings. These patterns draw our eyes and are easy to find in any environment. This is the perfect composition tool for a beginner to get creative!
So, what do I do now?
Hopefully you have gained some new knowledge from this article, but my main aim was to help you to navigate your way through the vast amount of information available at your fingertips about photography. To help you move forward I have put together an easy reference sheet to give you some guidance as to what you should start to learn as a beginner, intermediate and advanced photographer.
And if you want help diving into these topics a little further, you can join my online course
https://boothsphotoschool.thinkific.com/ where we will go through all the topics in the first column of the beginner checklist, broken down into camera, settings and shootings. The course comes with practical tasks and challenges to get you practicing your skills.
About the Author: Rachel Rose
Rachel is a photographer and owner of Booths Photography (www.boothsphotography.com) and has been working as a photographer for the past 14 years. After completing her degree in Photography with the University for the Creative Arts (Farnham, 2011) Rachel began a 12-year career in photography leadership and education, and now heads up the Community Learning department for the London Borough of Hounslow.
Specialising in portrait and event photography she continues to work with both companies and individuals to offer creative and natural photography. To contact Rachel please email email@example.com
Photographer and Owner at Booths Photography (www.boothsphotography.com)
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