Updated: Feb 15
Whenever I think of a useful photography tip, I always write it down for later. Most of them are forgettable, but a few are so important that I try to tell them to as many photographers as possible. This article contains 6 of the best. These bite-sized photography tips are easy to understand, covering everything from beginner camera technique to creativity and composition. If you’re learning photography, this list offers some wisdom you may find helpful along the way.
1- Use the Camera You Already Have
There are countless cameras, lenses, and other accessories on the market today. We spend a lot of time reviewing them at Photography Life, and it’s true that some are better than others (or better suited for a given job). But once you’ve tested enough of them, the real takeaway is that pretty much everything today is excellent. The differences are almost always minor, especially at a given price.
So, use the camera you already have, and don’t look back. In almost every way, today’s entry-level DSLRs are better than the top-of-the-line film SLRs ever were. Yet somehow those film photographers managed to capture beautiful, iconic photos that still look great today.
Taken with a NIKON F55 (Film Camera back in 2005 in Vietnam)
2- Work with Your Composition
To take engaging photos, you need to be engaged with what you’re doing. Don’t just fly by on autopilot. Instead, put thought into your composition and try to make your photos as good as possible.
That starts with knowing the basics of how to compose good photos. Don’t cut off important parts of your subject with the edge of your frame. Keep your horizons level, and try to eliminate any distractions in your photo by adjusting your composition. See if your photo has a sense of balance and simplicity. And if the photo doesn’t look good on your first try, keep experimenting until you get it right.
Photo Taken in China in 2010 in Beijing
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3- Learn the Basic
Let’s quickly review a summary of the Exposure Triangle as a refresher:
Shutter Speed – the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. Slow shutter speeds allow more light into the camera sensor and are used for low-light and night photography, while fast shutter speeds help to freeze motion. Examples of shutter speeds: 1/15 (1/15th of a second), 1/30, 1/60, 1/125.
Aperture – a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. The larger the hole, the more light passes to the camera sensor. Aperture also controls the depth of field, which is the portion of a scene that appears to be sharp. If the aperture is very small, the depth of field is large, while if the aperture is large, the depth of field is small. In photography, aperture is typically expressed in “f” numbers (also known as “focal ratio”, since the f-number is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens). Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0.
ISO – a way to brighten your photos if you can’t use a longer shutter speed or a wider aperture. It is typically measured in numbers, a lower number representing a darker image, while higher numbers mean a brighter image. However, raising your ISO comes at a cost. As the ISO rises, so does the visibility of graininess/noise in your images. Examples of ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600.
4- Know When to Use a Tripod
Tripods are one of the greatest inventions in photography. They all but eliminate one of the trickiest problems there is – a lack of light. With tripods, you can shoot multi-minute exposures and capture details so dark that they are invisible to the human eye. Even in a brighter scene, tripods improve the stability of your composition and help you take sharper photos.
So, when should you use a tripod? If your subject is stationary, almost always. That means landscape photographers, architectural photographers, and still life photographers better have a good excuse if they aren’t using a tripod.
Event photography and action are a bit different, because it’s true that a tripod can slow you down. The same is true of travel photography; as much as you may want to bring along a tripod, it might not be worth the hassle.
Borobudur Indonesia 2010
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5- Clean Your Camera Lens
I’ve seen too many people walking around with the front element of their camera lens dirty, dusty, and smudged. That’s the easiest way to get blurry photos 100% of the time.
Of course, a little bit of dust won’t do any harm; it won’t even be visible in an image. There are small particles of dust inside every lens, which are impossible to clean without taking apart the lens – and they have no impact on a photo whatsoever.
Instead, I’m talking about lenses that have never been cleaned, with grime and fingerprints that haven’t been removed in ages. Do yourself a favor and get a microfiber cloth and lens cleaning solution. Bring them along on trips and use them at least once a week.
5- Meet other Photographers
Meeting other photographers and joining Forums is one of the best ways to keep learning and improving, either for inspiration or for advice.
You’d be surprised how much people enjoy sharing their tips and techniques with other photographers. You’ll rarely encounter secrecy or disdain; even the great Ansel Adams wrote several books explaining his photographic techniques.
If you’re the type of person who prefers self-guided learning in photography, this still applies. Ask questions on online forums, email photographers whose work you admire, and otherwise save resources you find valuable. No matter what, don’t stop learning. There’s always more to learn.
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