Photography for beginners

Photography for beginners can be daunting when you get your hands on a DSLR camera so follow this quick-start guide to photography for beginners!

Photography for beginners can be a little daunting the first time you get your hands on a DSLR camera, but not to worry! Skip the expensive photography workshops and get straight to capturing beautiful photos by tackling part one of my photography for beginners series.

1. Understand Light

To start off, first things first: lighting is everything. After all, photography literally means drawing with light, so it’d be prudent of you to understand what you’re drawing with. The most advanced camera and lens simply won’t matter if you don’t nail the concept of light and how it effects your photos. Do you know the difference between diffused and direct light? Or the difference between light temperatures throughout the day? Or what time of the day is best for shooting outdoors?

hollywood by Dan Marker Moore

A great way to observe light temperature and diffusion change throughout the day is to set up a tripod and take the same exact picture every hour, from dawn to dusk. The photo above, shot by Dan Marker-Moore, shows the view of L.A. from the back of the Hollywood sign at different times. You’ll notice how warm (yellow) the light is at dawn vs. how cool (blue) the light is near dusk.


In the photo above by George Simian, you can see the difference that a simple diffuser above the model makes when shooting in the middle of the day. Direct light is harsh and unflattering for models, causing deep and unflattering shadows to form. Picture Correct has an excellent blog post that dives deeper into the differences between direct and diffused light.


When working with models, it’s especially critical to figure out what lighting will benefit your model and the mood of your shoot. This isn’t true for all cases of course, but men typically benefit from broad lighting, exaggerating jawlines and making their faces appear wider and more masculine. Female models benefit from the flattering butterfly or the slimming short style of lighting. This article covers the six most essential lighting styles you should get a good grasp on before photographing models, as every face is different.

Once again, taking the same exact picture with different lighting styles will be the most effective way of teaching yourself. While having these lighting set ups in your mind before heading into a shoot is important, being able to look at a models face and decide which style would suit them best is equally important.


2. Master the Exposure Triangle

Back in my early days of photography, before school, I lived my life shooting in Auto mode and spending hours in the editing bay correcting and tweaking every photo until my eyes bled. I was very afraid of Manual shooting, until I learned about the Exposure Triangle! With this simple diagram burned into your brain, you will never, ever, have to shoot in Auto mode again.


A great way to check your exposure in camera is through your view port with the exposure meter (see photo above).  You want to aim for as close to perfect (middle) as possible.

The exposure triangle consists of three points: Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed.



Aperture (f-stop) effects the depth of field in a photo, which means how much of the photo is in focus. The higher the aperture, the more everything in the photo will be in focus, which is something you would want for landscape photography. The lower the aperture, the more important it becomes that you land the focus point of your lens on your target focal point (for example, a model’s eyes). Todd Terry covers some great exercises in figuring out aperture for beginners. This is where I start out when calculating my exposure, as the depth of field really decides how the photo looks and feels.


Shutter Speed


After your aperture is decided, move on to dialing in shutter speed. Shutter speed is the amount of time that your shutter (it acts as a curtain to your camera sensor, letting in light quickly or slowly) is open counted in seconds, or more commonly, a fraction of a second. The more time your shutter is open, the more light is let in, increasing exposure. The longer the exposure, the more still your subject will need to be to remain in focus. Is your subject moving quickly? If so, you will need a faster shutter speed to freeze their motion (for example, sports photography). The photo above, taken by La Brisa Photography, shows the difference between the shutter speeds of 1/30 and 1/200. Most people can’t keep a camera steady set at lower than 1/30 without a tripod, so keep that in mind also when deciding on shutter speed.




Lastly in the Exposure Triangle is ISO. ISO is the amount of sensitivity a camera has to light, and each time you double your ISO (for example, from 100 to 200), the camera will now only need half as much light, so you could go from 1/30 shutter speed to 1/60 (provided that your f-stop hasn’t changed). Pictured above, thanks to, shows the differences this setting makes in a photo. ISO is something I almost never mess with, unless it’s absolutely the only dial left I have to turn. The only time I’ve had to adjust my ISO is when I’m indoors, especially at a sporting event or any time I need to capture fast motion.


The downside to ISO, pictured above, and the main reason I almost never adjust my settings, is that the higher the ISO, the higher the amount of noise and grain you will get in your photo. Noise is one of the hardest things to remove in Lightroom, leaving the photo with less clarity.

photography for beginners - younity

The photo above demonstrates Lightroom’s noise reduction feature on an image basically ruined by a high ISO setting. Although Lightroom did reduce the noise, it also reduced the clarity to the point it almost doesn’t even resemble a photo anymore.

3. Learn Lightroom

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Nailing the shot in-camera is always the goal, but as we all know, it isn’t always the case. With the Adobe Photography CC Package, now is the perfect time to master these programs, especially Lightroom. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh Maven, I already know Photoshop, why would I want to learn Lightroom also?” Believe me, you don’t want to learn Lightroom, you need to. Photoshop has countless uses from editing photos (poorly) to UX/UI design to even gif editing/creating. It’s also an important tool if you do lots of photo compositing (combining multiple images into one). Lightroom, however, was specifically designed for photographers in mind and for one main purpose: editing and organizing photos. Lightroom excels in photo editing not only because you can edit more than one photo at once, but especially in that all edits are non-destructive and anything you do can be reversed. The interface of Lightroom is easy to master if you’re familiar with Photoshop, but to get the basics down, check out the countless Lightroom tutorials at Adobe. Once you’ve got the basics down, dive into presets as it’s key for mass editing, and can cut your editing time to almost zero once you’ve nailed the first image in a series.


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