It's Christmas, you finally got that camera you wanted, and you are ready to dive into the world of photography. How do you get the best pictures possible immediately, though?
This seems like a straightforward article for beginners — and it is to an extent — but there are a number of caveats that need to be made. Firstly, I'm going to assume you know very little about photography at present, but aren't such a staunch Luddite that operating the device in any capacity is alien.
The next caveat is that there is a wealth of information that underpins this advice. While it can be temporarily avoided, you will need to learn it at some stage to have any real control of the images that come out of your camera. But presuming you have charged the batteries, inserted the memory card, and fired up the camera, let's work on getting you some great images of the festivities.
1. Light Is Everything
One thing that, for all intents and purposes, you can't control with the camera is light. The importance of light cannot be overstated, and even if you don't have big studio strobes, you can manipulate light to your liking. Christmas time is often all about the soft, cinematic lighting with sparkly fairy lights in the background. As pretty as that is to the human eye, it's not great for your camera. When photographing a subject, try to put them in a well-lit area. If that's not possible, see if you can move a light to them. A well-lit subject will be the difference between an unusable image and one of the first you're truly proud of.
2. Which Mode Should You Choose?
I don't believe you should ever use the Auto mode. I might come under fire for that, but it's a mode that teaches you nothing and seldom ever gets you the image that was in your head. I would recommend initially using Aperture Priority (A or Av on the dial). This will give you control over the depth of field, then you just have to figure out the light. As it's your first camera, you're unlikely to be able to have incredibly wide apertures, so set that f-stop number to as low as it goes. This is probably f/4 or f/5.6, but if you can go lower, then by all means, try it, bearing in mind that less of the frame will be in focus. See tips 3 and 4.
3. Blurring Out the Backgrounds
There are two key influencers of whether your background is blurry and just how blurry it is. They are aperture (that f-stop number like f/5.6) and how close you are to your subject. So, if your subject is nice and sharp, but your background isn't blurry enough to look interesting or separate the subject from the background, try lowering your f-stop number to as low as it will go (see tip 2) or getting closer to your subject.
4. Not Blurring the Subject
Using A or Av (Aperture Priority mode) has a drawback: the image could be blurry. This will most likely be the case for one of three reasons: you missed focus, it's too dark (so, your shutter speed was too low), or the subject was moving. If you're using the lowest f-stop number as suggested, you're going to need a way to increase the shutter speed. By selecting Aperture Priority, you are choosing to let the camera decide which shutter speed is best, so you have two options: either increase the brightness of the scene any way you can, be that turning on lights, opening curtains, or even having someone point a torch at them or increasing your ISO number. This goes a little off the course of "absolute beginner," but I would recommend watching a quick YouTube video on it if you can't add any more light.
5. Move Around
One habit of beginners is that they will stay still and take photographs from one spot. This could be a lack of confidence, this could be concentrating on the settings instead, but whatever the motivation for staying stagnant, it's removing one of your chief areas of control. Walk around with your camera, experiment with vantage points, distances, angle of shooting (high to low); put your camera in as many places as possible, and see if a great image idea pops up. Remember, the background of your image is almost as important as your subject.
6. Aim for the Eyes
Depending on the camera you have, the autofocus system might not be too smart. As a result, when you half press your shutter button and the green box flashes to confirm focus, it could be focusing on a person's nose and not their eyes. Depending on your aperture (the f-stop number like f/2.8 or f/5.6) and how close you are to your subject, this could mean the eyes are anywhere from a bit fuzzy to completely out of focus. So, get that green box on the subject's eye.
7. Shoot Now, Admire Later
This is your first introduction to a concept known as "chimping." This is when you are spending too much time looking at the back of the camera at the shot you just took and not enough time actually taking photographs. Once you have got your settings right and are happy with how the photos are coming out, just keep shooting and don't miss a crucial moment!
8. Get Creative With Composition
The default framing for a photograph is to have the subject in the middle. This can work wonderfully, but it can also lead to uninteresting images. Similar to tip 5 of moving around, try putting your subject in different areas of the frame. It's also worth trying to shoot through things or use different items to obscure some of the lens or use reflections. Experiment with everything you can find; a simple room will hold far more ways to create interesting images than you might first think.
9. Don't Understand Something? YouTube It.
Googling terms you don't understand and difficulties you encounter is a great way to demystify aspects of photography, and you will likely find yourself on articles like this one. However, for more intricate problems or for learning techniques, YouTube is a great resource to quickly have something shown to you.
10. Capture What You Love
It seems a bit of a fluffy tip, but I'm suggesting it for a practical reason. Whether it's your child opening presents, a pet, or the flowers in the garden, whatever you love you have insight into and will want to (and likely know how to) capture it in all its splendor.
Bonus: Avoid the Pop-up Flash
If your camera has a pop-up flash on top of the body, it might seem like a great solution to the problems outlaid in tip 1; it isn't. Ok, it could be, but for a beginner, it isn't. It will give flat light, harsh shadows, and isolate your subject in quite the wrong way.
Do You Have Any Questions?
Leave any questions in the comment section below and I (or a member of our fantastic community) will chime in as soon as possible. Happy shooting!