20 Photographic Tips for Beginners

Whenever I come up with a useful photography tip, I always jot it down for later use. Most of them are forgettable, but a few are so useful that I try to tell as many photographers as possible about them. This article contains a list of 20 of the best. These bite-sized photography tips cover everything from beginner camera techniques to creativity and composition. If you’re just starting out with photography, these should come in handy.

If you’re a visual learner, I’ve also created a video with a separate list of tips. It contains some more “advanced” tips (primarily some lesser-known photography techniques I enjoy using) that differ from the rest of this article. You can see it here:

Now, let’s look at some of my favorite beginner photography tips.

Work with Your Composition

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To take engaging photos, you must be fully immersed in what you’re doing. Don’t just cruise along on autopilot. Instead, consider your composition and strive to make your photographs as good as possible.

That begins with understanding the fundamentals of photo composition. Don’t cut off important parts of your subject with the frame’s edge. Maintain level horizons and try to eliminate any distracting elements in your photo by adjusting your composition. Check to see if your image has a sense of balance and simplicity. If the photo doesn’t look good on the first try, keep experimenting until it does.

Use the Camera You Already Have

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Camera equipment isn’t all that important.

Today’s market is flooded with cameras, lenses, and other accessories. At Photography Life, we spend a lot of time reviewing them, and it’s true that some are better than others (or better suited for a given job). However, once you’ve tried enough of them, the real takeaway is that almost everything nowadays is excellent. Almost always, the differences are minor, especially at a given price.

So, don’t look back and use the camera you already have. In almost every way, today’s entry-level DSLRs are superior to top-of-the-line film SLRs. Nonetheless, those film photographers were able to capture beautiful, iconic images that still look great today.

Your creative abilities and knowledge of camera settings are far more important. Concentrate your efforts on them rather than on collecting camera equipment.

Learn Which Settings Matter

There are numerous camera settings, and getting them right takes some practice, especially as a beginner. Even the most skilled photographers are not always able to achieve perfection. But it’s worth learning how to properly set your camera and which camera settings are most important, so you have the best chance of getting the photos you want.

To begin, experiment with camera modes other than full Auto. If your camera makes all the decisions for you, you won’t learn anything. It may be perplexing at first, but hopefully, our articles on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO will help you get started. Those are the three most important photographic settings.

Aside from aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, practice focusing with the various autofocus modes to learn how to focus properly. For stationary subjects, you’ll probably prefer single-servo autofocus (also known as One-Shot AF), and for moving subjects, you’ll probably prefer continuous-servo autofocus (also known as AI Servo). Unless it’s so dark that autofocus isn’t working, don’t use manual focus.

Finally, shoot in RAW if you intend to edit your photos or believe you will do so in the future. JPEGs look good right out of the camera, but they have much less post-processing flexibility. (If you’re not sure, shoot RAW+JPEG and save the RAWs for later.) For more information, see RAW vs. JPEG.

Don’t Overexpose Highlights

It is critical to avoid overexposing highlights in a photograph when selecting camera settings. What’s the reason? It’s simply impossible to recover any detail from a photograph’s white areas. Personally, I prefer the sky in my photographs to have texture and color rather than being a big, featureless blob, and I’m sure you do as well.
It’s fairly simple to keep your highlights intact. However, this is where shutter speed, aperture, and ISO come into play. These are the only camera settings that have a direct impact on the brightness of a photograph (ignoring flash settings, of course). Even exposure compensation, which is an important setting in and of itself, simply instructs your camera to change one or more of these three variables.

When taking photos, keep an eye on the camera screen to see if there is any overexposure. If there is, the first thing you should do is reset your ISO to its default setting (usually ISO 100). Use a faster shutter speed if it’s already there. That will solve the problem. Make sure your aperture isn’t set to a ridiculous value (f/32, f/45, etc.) and you’ll be fine.

Pay Attention to the Light

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Light is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of photography. If you take a photo in good light, you’ve already taken a big step toward getting a good shot. But what constitutes good lighting? It’s not just about the sunsets.

Often, the goal here is to balance the intensity of the light between your subject and the background. Even if you’re photographing an amazing sunset, a completely dark and silhouetted foreground can ruin the shot.

The simplest solution is to pay attention to the light’s direction and softness. If the light is too harsh, bad shadows may appear across your subject, which is especially problematic in portrait photography. If the light is coming from an unflattering angle, see if you can move the light source (in a studio) or the subject (outdoors) – or wait until the light improves (landscape photography).

Also, if you’re taking pictures with your hands, make sure there’s enough light. If not, use a flash or move to a brighter location. Shooting in low-light situations is the simplest way to produce dull, discolored images.

Take Your Time

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to make mistakes in photography. The best way to avoid this is to slow down and take your time whenever possible, especially when you first start learning photography.

To begin, double-check your camera’s settings. Something is seriously wrong if you’re shooting outdoor portraits on a sunny day but using last night’s settings to photograph the Milky Way. Slow down and take your time getting it right.

Then, apply the same logic to every other important decision. Is your composition as good as it could be? Did you use autofocus correctly? Have you done everything you can to improve the lighting?

Don’t believe anyone who tells you to avoid reviewing photos in the field. Sure, reviewing photos when something amazing is happening in front of you is a bad idea, but you’ll almost always have some downtime between shots. Figure out what’s wrong with an image in the field, not on your computer.

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Move Your Feet

It’s easy to become engrossed in one location while photographing. Don’t get caught in that trap. Instead, make as much movement with your feet (or your tripod) as possible. Climb on top of things, adjust your camera’s height, walk forward and backward, do whatever you need to do – but keep moving.

Guess what happens if you take a dozen photos from the same height, facing the same direction, and without moving your feet or tripod at all? They won’t be all that different. You’re missing out on some great photos if your entire portfolio is shot from the same height and without any experimentation.

The only way to change the relative sizes and positions of the objects in your photo is to move them around. Do you dislike the fact that your subject is too large and the landscape in the background is too small? Take a step back and zoom in. Do you want to fix a distracting rock? Move it around until it is no longer a part of your composition or is too small to be a bother.

Know When to Use a Tripod

Tripods are one of the most important photographic inventions. They almost completely eliminate one of the most difficult problems – a lack of light. Tripods allow you to shoot multi-minute exposures and capture details that are so dark that they are invisible to the naked eye. Even in brighter lighting, tripods help you take sharper photos by improving the stability of your composition.

So, when is it appropriate to use a tripod? Almost always if your subject is stationary. That means landscape photographers, architectural photographers, and still, life photographers must have a good reason to not use a tripod.

Because it is true that a tripod can slow you down, event photography and action photography are not the same. The same is true for travel photography; while you may want to bring a tripod, it may not be worth the trouble.

That’s understandable, but keep in mind that you’re missing out whenever you leave your tripod at home. If I had to choose between an entry-level DSLR and a tripod and the best camera/lens combo on the market without one, I’d go with the tripod kit every time.

Know When to Use a Flash

Flashes aren’t just for low-light situations.

Don’t get me wrong: they’re great for when you need a little extra light. Get an external flash, point it at the ceiling, and use a lens that is relatively long (50mm or longer). The quality of your event photos will astound everyone you know. It’s the simplest way to achieve good results without knowing what you’re doing.

However, flashes can be useful even in the middle of the day. This is why, if you’ve ever heard of “fill flash,” it’s so important. You can fill in ugly shadows on your subject simply by using a gentle flash – and most people won’t be able to tell.

It’s silly, but I like to tell people that the built-in flash on their camera is more useful on a bright, sunny day than in the dark. That advice is equally applicable here.

Clean Your Camera Lens

I’ve seen far too many people walking around with their camera lens’s front element dirty, dusty, and smudged. That is the simplest way to get blurry photos 100% of the time.

Of course, a little dust won’t hurt and won’t even be visible in an image. There are small dust particles inside every lens that is impossible to clean without disassembling the lens – and they have no effect on a photograph.

Instead, I’m talking about lenses that haven’t been cleaned in years, with grime and fingerprints that haven’t been removed. Get a microfiber cloth and lens cleaning solution for yourself. Take them with you on trips and use them at least once a week.

Don’t Use a Cheap Filter

The second simplest way to always get blurry photos is to use a cheap filter on the front of your lens.

My grandfather gave me an old, clear filter from his film camera when I was just starting out in photography. It fit my lens perfectly; I was so impressed that I kept it on my lens all the time, never worrying about whether or not the glass was up to today’s standards. It turned out that it wasn’t the case. All of my photos had blurry corners, and any mildly bright area in the photo (such as the sky or a lamp at night) turned into a wicked flare.

Learn Basic Post-Processing

Post-processing isn’t usually at the top of a photographer’s priority list, but it should be. A good photo can sometimes be transformed into something truly exceptional with the right post-processing.

It’s easy to overdo it when post-processing, so make sure none of your edits are permanent (also known as “destructive editing”). To save your original files, use the Save As command or, better yet, edit in software that saves your changes in a separate file rather than baking them into the image.

Post-processing is all about instilling a mood and directing the viewer’s eye in an image. You’ll get better at it with practice. What is my strongest recommendation? Be deceptive. You don’t want your images to appear over-processed.

Back Up Your Photos

Almost every photographer I know has misplaced some important photographs at some point in their careers. Do not allow this to happen to you.

To begin, make a backup of every single one of your photos. Your photos should never be stored on a single hard drive at a time because your hard drive will eventually fail. It’s not a matter of if, but of when.

At any given time, you should have at least three copies of all your photos. At least two different media types, such as an internal hard drive and a removable storage medium, should be included. And at least one backup should be kept off-site. This is referred to as the 3-2-1 rule. It’s the best way to ensure that you don’t lose any of your photos.

Personally, my photos are my most valuable possessions, and I don’t want to lose them under any circumstances. My hard drive is backed up in real-time online, and I also have several external hard drives with complete backups. It’s a bit much, but that’s the point.

Get Organized

Whether you’re a neat freak or a slob, it’s critical that your photos are easy to find. It’s not just about speeding up your workflow; if you don’t remember how you organized your hard drive, you might accidentally delete a folder containing important images.

My method is to create a new folder of images for each year, then divide each year into months (labeled “01 January,” “02 February,” and so on, in alphabetical order). The photos are then separated and organized into different collections in my post-processing software. This way, I can find images from a specific location or for a specific project.

However, this is only one of many options. Some photographers prefer to organize their images by year, then divide each year into specific events rather than months. It doesn’t matter what method you use; just do what you’re comfortable with. However, if you don’t establish good habits early on, you’ll run into a lot of problems later on.

Try Something New

The more you play around with photography, the more fascinating it becomes. It’s easy to get into a routine and take the same photos over and over, which is fine, but it’s also important to try something new every now and then.

Try your hand at macro photography or experiment with new lighting techniques. Experiment with different post-processing techniques. Drive to a location you’ve never photographed before on the spur of the moment. There are numerous ways to try something new in photography, and you will not be disappointed if you do.

Usually, you’ll discover something – whether it’s a new technique or a personal preference – that you can apply to your regular photography for improved results.

Meet Other Photographers

Meeting other photographers, whether for inspiration or advice, is one of the best ways to keep learning and improving.

You’d be surprised how much people enjoy sharing their photography tips and techniques with others. You’ll rarely come across secrecy or contempt; even Ansel Adams wrote several books explaining his photographic techniques.

If you prefer self-directed learning in photography, this still applies to you. Ask questions in online forums, email photographers whose work you admire, and save other resources that you find useful. Never stop learning, no matter what. There’s always something new to learn.

Fix Your Weak Points

If you’re still trying to figure out shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, it’s tempting to revert to Auto mode rather than practicing what you don’t understand. That is a huge blunder!

If you’re learning portrait photography and having trouble getting good light from your flash, it can be tempting to take all of your indoor shots next to a window for nice light. That is also a huge blunder!

If you’re trying to learn post-processing but your software is confusing, it’s tempting to shoot everything in JPEG just to get something good out of the camera. But, you guessed it, that’s another huge blunder!

Don’t try to compensate for your flaws. Repair them. The best way to improve your photography is to identify what you don’t understand and then devote the necessary time to learning it. This is especially true for beginning photographers, who have the most to learn, but even experts would benefit from following this advice.

Look at Your Old Photos

I’ve noticed that many photographers take photos, select the best ones from a shoot, and they rarely or never return to the others. However, there are a variety of reasons why your old, unused photos are among the most valuable in your portfolio.

First, they assist you in correcting your flaws. Simply ask yourself, “Why are your bad photos bad on average?” Perhaps you have a habit of focusing incorrectly, exposing too darkly or brightly, composing awkwardly, and so on. All of this is extremely useful information because it allows you to improve the problem the next time.

On top of that, you might come across an old photograph that truly sings – but you didn’t notice it the first time you saw it. This happens to me every now and then, and it feels like I’ve struck gold.

Have Fun

Photography is supposed to be enjoyable. Professional photographers, almost without exception, chose this profession because they enjoy photography. Don’t let that flame go out.

As previously stated, some of this is due to trying something new – as well as continuing to learn new skills. But it’s also about not taking photography too seriously or getting too caught up in camera gear to the detriment of photography itself.

I see a lot of people online getting into heated debates about their camera brand of choice, or a good/bad/opinionated review they saw from someone else on the internet. What does it matter? All of this contributes to the very thing you’re attempting to avoid: photography becoming just another annoyance in your life rather than a source of happiness or joy.

Instead, consider why you enjoy taking photographs. It’s meaningful; it’s an opportunity to see incredible sights and meet brilliant, creative people. It comes as no surprise that the best photographers I know are always the ones who are having the most fun with it.

Shoot a Lot and Experiment!

Practice, practice, and more practice. It’s a tip that applies to any skill, not just photography.

Cameras are difficult to use. Post-processing software is also important, as is (perhaps especially) the creative side of photography.

The more you experiment and take photos, the better your photos will become. It’s not just about the quality; it’s also about the quantity. Later trips and photoshoots will almost always have more winners than your earlier attempts.

That’s not to say your early photos will always be bad. The famous quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst,” is a little overstated. However, I must admit that there is some truth to it. You can take great photos when you first start out, but it takes some luck, and you’ll get better as you take more photos.

In short, the more time you devote to photography, the easier it will be to capture the images you desire. That is the ultimate goal of all of this: to translate the image in your head and the emotions you feel into a photograph that allows others to feel the same way.

Note: If you want to make some adjustments to the photo just let me know. I can do it for you at a very low cost. You can hire me to edit your photo.

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