When I was just getting started in photography, like most beginner photographers, I read as much as I could about the art, and absorbed as much information as possible. During that time, experimenting with different methods and techniques was one of my favorite things to do. It taught me countless invaluable lessons, making me a stronger photographer in the long run.
Though I’m not considered a beginner any longer, I still love the challenge of doing something differently just to see what happens and think it’s an important aspect of being a photographer regardless of your skill level.
To help you get started on a curiosity fueled photography journey of your own, here are a few of the techniques I had most fun experimenting with and learned the most from when I was still new to the world of photography:
Many beginner photographers start out using the Auto mode of their DSLR’s. It’s a natural place to start since you’re just getting started and may not know exactly how things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all work together to create a perfectly exposed image. But, since you’re eager to learn, one of the most important steps to take is to break away from auto mode so you can increase your creative control over how your photo turns out.
Aperture priority mode can help you achieve nice bokeh in the background, while ensuring you have the correct shutter speed to properly expose the subject matter. Shutter priority mode is perfect when you need to freeze the action or create motion blur, but aren’t sure how wide of an aperture you should be using. Think of priority modes as training wheels!
Once you’re comfortable shooting in the different priority modes, the next step is to start shooting in full manual mode. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it may seem! Once you’ve mastered the priority modes, you’ll probably already have a pretty strong grasp of what kind of effect different apertures and shutter speeds will have on your photo.
Depth Of Field
A great way to learn how aperture comes into play with depth of field is to run a little experiment of your own. Find yourself some sort of inanimate object to photograph (like an action figure, an apple, a book, anything really). Put it in a evenly lit area with at least four or five feet between it and the background. Now, switch the camera to aperture priority mode and open up the aperture as wide as it will go (the smallest f number). Take a photo of your subject, then without moving the camera or your subject, change your aperture to the next available aperture setting making sure this is the only thing that is changed. Continue doing this until you’ve taken a photo at every available aperture.
Upload the photos to your computer and scroll through the collection taking note of how much the depth of field decreased with each aperture adjustment. Use the photos to refer back to anytime you want a specific amount of bokeh–or background blur–in your image so you know about where your aperture needs to be to achieve the look.
Don’t be afraid of low light, even if it means venturing into the world of long shutter speeds and high ISO. New photographers are often told not to shoot on higher ISOs like 800 or even (gasp!) 1600 because the amount of digital noise will destroy any hope for a decent photo. When shooting on film and some older DSLRs, this is somewhat true, but the reality is modern technology has come a long way and noise is becoming less and less of an issue. My rule of thumb is to increase the ISO as a last resort, but I’ll never not take a photo because I would have to use an ISO greater than 400.
Additionally, shooting in low light will give you ample opportunity to try your hand out at using slow shutter speeds and introduce you to motion blur as a creative tool.
One of my favorite photography quotes comes from Robert Cappa when he said, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” For me, the first time I read that quote, it was like a light had been switched on. Of all of the experiments I tried up to that point, I guess it never occurred to me that getting better shots was as simple as walking forward a few steps. It really is the small things that make the biggest difference.
For example, imagine what a photo of this bee collecting pollen would look like from five or six feet away and compare it to the composition we see below–which would be more compelling?
Sometimes cropping out some of the clutter (in camera, of course) can take a photo to the next level, so don’t be afraid to get in there and fill the frame!