9 Basic Photography Tips for Absolute Beginners

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Photography is essentially a camera, light, and composition.

I'm not going to overwhelm you here because this article is for those who just want to understand some important fundamentals about photography, what it is and how it's all put together.

9 Basic Photography Tips for Absolute Beginners
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Let's Get Some Basic Photography Tips Down

basic photography tips for beginners

Image by Ram Kumar

So, Where Do You Even Begin?
Let's Look at Some Basic Photography Tips for Beginners

1. Composition

Composition is the part of photography that you can learn without a camera. However since almost everybody on this planet has access to a camera or smartphone, it's a good place to start for us here.

Correct composition is responsible for the placement of the subject (or point of interest) and proper placement of other elements in such a way that they will guide and aid the viewer into perceiving the photograph properly.

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Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

There are several rules for composition which you’ll need to learn. Of course, art doesn’t require rules, but you need to know them in order to know how to break them.

2. The Rule of Thirds

Simple as the name itself. You separate the image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The intersecting points are the points of interest. If you are shooting portraiture, you would be placing the eyes along one of the points of intersection, preferably the top ones.

However, if you're shooting landscapes, you would separate sky/earth with the thirds, and place the point of interest (imagine a sunset, in this case, the sun) at one of the points of interest.

Also, even smartphones can show you the grid as an overlay, to make it easy for you until you get used to the framing – of course, this can be activated on DSLRs and Mirrorless systems.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski. Note how the image is separated in thirds. The sky is roughly one third, the layering in the mountains is roughly one third, and the rest of it is the city.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski. Note how the image is separated in thirds. The sky is roughly one third, the layering in the mountains is roughly one third, and the rest of it is the city.

3. Symmetry Within Your Composition

If you don’t fancy the rule of thirds for certain composition, you’d probably want to do it symmetrically. However, symmetrical composition is quite tricky.

Firstly, you'll have to place the subject in the center, the light must guide the eye towards the center, and all the lines must be straight and symmetrical. It takes both a lot of attention to detail and getting used to having everything straight and parallel in your frame.

You can use the rule of thirds guidelines to align the image properly and symmetrically – so both techniques go hand in hand nicely.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

4. Guiding (or Leading) Lines

This rule can be used in conjunction with the rule of thirds or the symmetrical approach. The goal is to have lines (either real or simulated with light and trickery) to guide the eye toward the point of interest in the photograph.

This applies to both portraiture and landscape (to choose two contrasting photography interests).

However, in portraiture, it should be subtle, while in landscape it can be quite direct. Of course, you can break the rule, but you need to be careful about it. The lines should act as a guide, not to remove attention away from the point of interest.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

5. Selective Focus

This depends largely on what type of camera you're using, as although it is harder to achieve with a smartphone, you can still try it out by focusing closer (i.e. performing a macro shot with your smartphone).

On the other hand, with a DSLR you can achieve this quite easily. Selective focus will create blur in the background and foreground of the picture, thus shifting the attention of the viewer on the element in focus.

The out-of-focus elements on the other hand, should be decorative and pleasing, but not distracting. If this is the case, you might have to reconsider where you are framing your subject (if we're talking portraiture).

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski. Of course this isn't a smartphone example, but a more extreme example was necessary to demonstrate the effect.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

6. Your Light

Light is the crucial factor in photography. Photography itself is essentially capturing light, therefore, no light = no photo. However, the quality and position of light is absolutely imperative too.

The end goal of using light is to add depth to the image, to make it pleasing to the eye and bring out your intended elements.

7. Shooting Angle

Often when you're photographing portraits, you’d want the light to be slightly angular and avoid having it top down. This is the primary reason why photographers avoid portraiture at noon.

The sun is high up and creates shadows that aren’t flattering. The same applies for landscapes, there is no depth in the image when it is evenly lit with harsh shadows, essentially making it messy.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski.

The easiest light setup for portraiture is the “Rembrandt” type of light. It is easy since it requires only one light source, it doesn’t require too much softening in the light source itself, and it can be easily achieved. The results are often always pleasing.

8. Diffusion

Light creates shadows, that's how we perceive depth.

However, on a picture, which is 2-dimensional, (rather than the 3-dimensional vision we have), you need some more trickery to be able to induce depth.

Harsh light often stimulates the 2D look more, making the image look more like a drawing rather than a photograph – if that makes sense?

With harsh light, the shadows lack tonal changes, thus making it look like something out of a comic book. Which of course, isn’t a bad thing. However, softer light creates depth and makes portraits look more natural and pleasing.

Shot with Helios 44m-4 vintage lens. Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski. All rights reserved.

Photo by Dzvonko Petrovski. All rights reserved.

9. Color Temperature

As you might have noticed by now, not all light is created equal. Thus different light sources have different color temperatures, and if you don’t use the proper white balance the image can be too blue, too orange, or get pulled towards green and magenta.

Check out the link above for a more in-depth tutorial about this.

Summary

Whatever your camera, the basic principles of photography \ apply. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t own a DSLR or mirrorless camera either, conversely, don’t get too confident in the “smartphone is as good as DSLR” idea.

In photography quality is everything, and you increase the quality of a photograph with improvement in all aspects, starting from light and composition, to sharpness and dynamic range.

And believe me, if you get started into photography, and you really start loving it, your smartphone will likely become just a secondary tool as a photographer.


Basic Photography Tips For Beginners – Top Takeaways

  • By now you've probably been photographing everywhere and at any time you can. This is great! In between shooting consider brushing up on some fundamentals like the Exposure Triangle, ISO and the Rule of Thirds.
  • Check out one of the links below about gear before rushing online to grab a camera you perhaps need to know more about.
  • These 9 tips are not exhaustive but certainly will help you on your way, try and apply a new one each time your head out with your camera – this could be doing Street Photography, Landscapes or Group Portraits of your family.

Further Resources

Further Learning

Understanding how to create better B&W images could well be the next step for you? Luckily for you, we have a fantastic course here by none other than Lightstalking contributor and professional photographer Kent DuFault.


About the author

Dzvonko Petrovski

Photographer who loves challenging and experimental photography and is not afraid to share the knowledge about it.

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