Starting Out in Photography

Starting Out in Photography

Written 14 years ago by Mark Evans

When I first started taking photos, I had a ‘point and shoot’ Pentax film camera, was really focused on getting vivid colours (and still am), and was blissfully unaware of any ‘rules’ associated with taking pictures. A while later I moved on to a Pentax A1, began experimenting with landscape photography, and slowly became aware of this thing called ‘the rule of thirds’.

Being entirely self taught, I had no idea that such a thing existed or indeed could revolutionize my picture taking so dramatically; suddenly I began looking at scenes in a completely different way.

The Rule of Thirds

The main subject at the intersection of two lines with the Horizon along another

The main subject at the intersection of two lines with the Horizon along another

The rule of thirds is not really a rule as such but more of a great idea that makes your pictures look more balanced. Basically to get a more balanced composition, you split the scene you are looking at through your view finder into thirds, vertically, and horizontally, so that you have an imaginary grid pattern overlaying your scene. You then compose your image so that the main features in your scene (horizon etc) lie roughly along one of these lines or at an intersection of two of these lines. The result being that you have a picture that is more pleasing to the eye. Now generally this seems to work most of the time in various forms of photography, but as with all ‘rules’ there are always situations where they dont tend to work so well. So maybe it should be called the ‘Guide of Thirds’! Use it more as a guide than a hard and fast rule. If you are in to landscape photography, then in general, you will want to compose your images in this way, but you will find that certain situations require something a little different, and stunning images can still be got, even when not using the rule of thirds. Really its a matter of knowing when to compose in this way, and that will only come with time.

Introduction to Camera Basics

EOS 30 set to Av Mode

EOS 30 set to Av Mode

You dont have to have an SLR type camera to take good photos, but SLRs generally have an advantage over point and shoots when it comes to getting more creative in your photography, and will provide the user with a broader range of functions that allow a beginner to learn a larger skill set, which in turn will lay the foundation for becoming a better photographer.

Getting your first SLR is quite exciting, but can also be quite daunting. SLR’s are usually armed to the teeth with an overwhelming array of buttons, dials and functions, so its often hard to know where to start when it comes to taking pictures.
A good mode to begin shooting on is ‘Av’ mode (or ‘A’ on Nikons). Aperture Priority mode will allow you to dial in what aperture you require for the scene, and the camera will decide on the best shutter speed. Changing the aperture will cause the camera to change the shutter speed, so that the correct exposure is achieved for the scene. This is a great mode to start in; it lets the photographer focus on composition and aperture, leaving one less thing to worry about, although you should be aware of one more slight rule before shooting.

A Note on Shutter Speed

The general idea is that to avoid camera shake (and hence blurry photos) when hand holding your camera, you shouldn’t shoot at a shutter speed that is slower that 1 over the focal length of the lens you are using. Confused? For example, if you are using a fixed focal length lens, lets say its a 50mm, then at any time when you are hand holding your camera (not using a tripod), you should not shoot at shutter speeds slower than 1/50s, so in reality on your camera this would be 1/60s. If you’ve got a 100mm lens then don’t shoot at slower than 1/100s, and so on. There are ways of getting around this problem, so if you’re in ‘Av’ or ‘A’ mode as mentioned above, you’ve selected your aperture, and the camera has selected a shutter speed slower than required, then either make the scene brighter (flash etc) , increase the aperture (smaller f number), or increase the ISO. Of course if you have a variable zoom lens, then the same thing applies, just take note of what focal length you are on before shooting.

As always there are exceptions to this rule and you may find you can shoot at slower speeds, but I find its a good one to adhere to in most situations, unless of course, you have Image Stabilization on your camera or your lens, then you will be able to hand hold at a few stops slower than the rule states.

Armed with this knowledge, you should be in a good position to go out and shoot some pictures. I think you will be surprised how fast some of these things become second nature, and before long will be getting some good results.

Starting Out Summary

  • Align features in your images with imaginary thirds lines for a more balanced photo
  • When starting out, use your SLR’s ‘Av’ or ‘A’ mode
  • To avoid blurry photos, use a shutter speed faster than 1 over the focal length of the lens
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Chaten  13 years ago

Great article, very useful and well written for a possible beginner like myself.

Tom  13 years ago

This is very good information to refresh you memory or if you are learning photography for the first time. Great Post!

Phil  12 years ago

Really useful article and very well written as above comment. Many thanks.

Buff  11 years ago

Gosh, I wish I would have had that ifnomtraion earlier!

Briana  11 years ago

Thanks for providing this very detailed info.

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