New To Photography:Learning to take photographs

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This page is a chapter in the book Learning Plan Overview.


This is the study guide; it outlines a learning plan that you can follow to get the basics of photography.
The learning process is simple: Read and re-read each section, use the knowledge you
have gained to take some photos and post your results for feedback.

You can find detailed information on each subject in this forum and elsewhere on AP.

If you take a week or two on each of the study sections below it will take you from 2 to 4 months to complete your study.
We are assuming you will have two 1-2 hour sessions in the field per item and about the same time doing post processing
and another couple of hours on the forum discussing your results.

Don't rush - it takes time to absorb the information and then apply it effectively.
Work through the sections in order as each concept builds upon the previous learning
and assumes the previous ones have been mastered.

Tip: Read and re-read your camera manual.
There will be things in the manual that don't make sense at first but as your progress through this learning plan they will become clearer.

[top]Start by using Automatic or Green mode

Goal: To become familiar with your camera and use it to take well composed photographs.

Before you go off and try to learn all the technical features of your camera,
start taking photographs in the default settings of your camera (i.e. automatic or green mode).
Start by setting your camera on ISO 400; we will deal with ISO later, but suffice it to say
ISO 400 is fast enough to generally ensure a fast shutter speed and avoid camera shake
with the focal lengths we will be using at first.
Also ensure your camera is in the highest resolution JPEG mode and not in raw mode at this time.

The things you are learning in this first stage are:
a) Getting a feel for your camera
b) Holding your camera properly
c) Framing your subject with an understanding of:
- Filling the frame
- Focus correctly
- Rule of thirds composition
- Watch out for background and other item that you don't want in your photo
- Keeping your horizon straight
Please read the following articles in detail. Initially you will need to refer to them often.

And this Understanding the elements that make up a photograph puts
  1. Subject
  2. Light
  3. Composition and
  4. Camera Settings

together into one post.


Goal: To become familiar with your lenses and use them effectively.

If you have a DSLR you will have one lens and possibly more.
For this guide we recommend that you take photo's for study purposes on the range of 40mm to 100mm focal length;
and in fact stay in the 50mm to 80mm range if you can.

Tip: Remember! You can zoom with your feet!

The reason for this recommendation is to avoid certain issues that arise in using longer focal lengths such as
blurring due to shutter speeds not being fast enough or insufficient support (tripod); also image distortion with shorter focal lengths.

Terminology: Lens (singular) and lenses (plural) and never lense !
Using different lenses

Once your are taking some photos that you are somewhere happy with, post them here on AP for comment.
How to post and link your photos into forum threads
Its the best way to learn! Tell us what stage you are up to so the constructive critique (CC) will be appropriate.

[top]Use Aperture Priority (Av or A) mode

Goal: To become familiar with how aperture affects the depth of field (the range of distance to which things appear in focus).

After having learned the basics of your camera and you are taking photo's the next step is to
understand the process of changing a 3-dimensional subject into a 2-dimensional image.

We do this by controlling Depth of Field using the lens Aperture Control.
Experimenting with Aperture
Do the challenge! Take a series of photos at different apertures and see what happens to the background.
Post your results for feedback.

[top]Use Shutter Priority (Tv or S) mode

Goal: To become familiar with how shutter speeds controls
the appearance of motion and also relates to the exposure when combined with aperture.

The shutter speed let you control the movement and action in a photograph.
A fast shutter speed will tend to freeze action whereas a slow shutter speed will allow blurring which can be done very creatively.
At this stage please leave your ISO setting on a fixed value of 400.

Please read the following articles.
Appendix A - Explanations of Shutter, Aperture, ISO etc
Experimenting with Shutter Speeds

Get creative, try a shot of something moving on a bright day - eg. traffic or people - and try speeds from 1/4, 1/15, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500.
Post your results!

[top]Creative Exposure (adding ISO to the mix)

Goal: To become familiar with the effects of changing
the sensor's sensitivity to light (ISO) and then how that combines with aperture and shutter speed to give us the exposure triangle.

The exposure triangle is the balance between ISO, Tv and Av.
Please read the following articles.

You have already done work on both Av and Tv so you can now add in ISO which we had you set at
a fixed setting at the beginning of this learning plan. Once you have mastered the exposure triangle your
ability to be creative will have almost no bounds.

Tip: The classic advice is, "Expose for the highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves."
Most camera's have the ability to set a exposure value, usually as an offset. Typical values are +/- 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 1.0 etc.
This setting is where you tell the camera to over (+) or under (-) expose the photo in Auto, Av, or Tv mode.

Many of AP members use this to help tame the whites in bright situations by dialling in some -ve Ev
(Many of us leave our camera's with an Ev around -0.3 by default, only setting other values when needed. Eg. Night work).
We are trying to avoid the problem of blown highlights (i.e. when the bright parts of an image are just white with no details whatever).
You then correct the exposure in PP.

Post your latest work - we think by now your will be very excited about your images.

[top]Going Mad with Manual (when you need to)

Goal: To become familiar with controlling the exposure triangle long hand.

Many members on AP tend to take photographs in Av mode and occasionally Tv mode.
But when doing special work such as night or other situations we use Manual mode.
In Manual mode you set the ISO, Av and Tv yourself.
You have complete control and therefore can get amazing results when done creatively.
So when you have mastered the preceding concepts start using Manual mode for effect.

Please review all of the work you have done above and then be creative,
find situations and subjects that need you to completely control the light using Manual mode.
As usual - show us your results for feedback.

In practice most photography is done using Av or Tv mode; manual is usually only used for special reasons.
Some photographers use manual all the time (and usually made a big noise about this fact) but it is not necessary.

[top]Raw mode and White Balance

Goal: To become familiar with the raw vs JPEG and the ability to manage the white balance of an image.

Now we start getting a bit more serious.
You will need to use a raw converter (software) which will probably have come with your camera
or is part of your Post Processing software (eg. The GIMP or Photoshop).

What does raw give you that JPEG does not?
Very simply raw gives you much more control of the image you will process.
You are getting the raw data from the camera sensor without any processing done by the camera.
In this mode you can control the White Balance which is the colour temperature!
Read this again: Appendix A - Explanations of Shutter, Aperture, ISO etc

Simply: White Balance allows white items in your image to look white in the light the photo was taken.
Don't be afraid - This is a big subject and you will pick up more about this over time.
Read this NTP article to get a basic understanding of raw mode Appendix B - Raw (and White balance)

Now try shooting some raw images as play with their white balance using the software you have on your computer.
Think about the colour temperature - what is a warm image? what is a cooler image?


Goal: To become familiar with adding light to a subject.

A flash is used to add light to a scene.
Often you can use it on a bright day to fill in shadows (eg. on peoples faces when taking happy snaps in the sun light).
Flash is also used to provide light when your subject is in the dark.
All about Light

A flash can used very creatively with diffusers, bouncing light and with coloured gels.
AP has a forum dedicated to flash photography :Flash - Strobist:

Use the on-board camera flash until you lash out on an external unit. The pop-up flash on your camera is not very good as it gives a direct harsh light from a small source.
An investment in a good off camera flash is really essential for good results.

Your own research (Google is your friend): 'Camera Flash Rear Sync', 'Camera Flash Dragging the Shutter' and 'Camera Flash Bounce'
- these are important techniques you will need to get great results with your flash.

Post your results for feedback!

Tip: You can diffuse the on camera pop-up flash using a piece of supermarket shopping plastic bags.

Its a toss up as to whether an external flash or tripod is the most important accessory for your camera.
In the end you will most likely have both.

[top]Support and stability (Tripods, monopods)

Goal: To become familiar with reducing camera shake, and taking long exposures

Proverb: Old photographers don't die - they just need more support.

Camera tripods are almost mandatory for anyone who wants to take the best pictures possible.
They are useful for many different situations by helping to minimise camera movement which can cause an image to blur.
Stability - Why use a Tripod (or monopod)

Exercise: Try some long exposures at night (5, 10 or even 30 seconds) at your lowest ISO and a aperture of f/5.6 thru f/22 .
Here are some tips for Night photography and long exposures

Guess what? Yes! Please post your results for feedback!

[top]Tack Sharp Images

Goal: To put all the elements together to ensure sharp images.

There is nothing worse than a great picture (composure, exposure etc.) that is blurry.
(unless the blur is deliberate for effect)

There are three main things to control to ensure tack sharp images.
  1. Focus - make sure the main subject has the best focus and that in the case of people and wildlife that is the eyes (not the nose)
  2. Camera shake - by using a fast enough shutter speed and/or support (tripod) this can be controlled
  3. Subject Movement - again using a fast enough shutter speed this movement can be frozen

You can find our more here: Appendix E - How to obtain tack sharp images

Exercise: Try some portraits at a shallow DoF and ensure the eyes have the best focus.
Please post your results for feedback.
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