6 Helpful Tips for Beginning Photographers

6 Helpful Tips for Beginning Photographers

There are many things to consider in order to capture great photos. You need to know about exposure, composition, and how to operate the camera. It’s easy to get on the wrong track, which can introduce confusion and disappointing results. Here are some tips for beginning photographers.

For beginning photographers, it’s important to know about handling the camera. How is the menu set up and which functions can be found on the screen and under the buttons and dials? How can the exposure be measured and set, and what composition guidelines will work best for your photography? Most importantly, what are the limitations of the camera?

These aspects are often mentioned and important for beginning photographers. However, other tips are often overlooked. I have gathered six tips that may seem obvious at first but can greatly help beginning photographers.

1. Change Perspective

This can be considered part of making a good composition. However, its importance is often underrated and forgotten in the wake of other seemingly more important composition rules. Choosing the right perspective can change a mediocre image into an amazing photo.

Change the camera's height whenever you feel like it, or even more often. Don’t use it exclusively at eye level. Try out a low perspective, close to the ground, or raise the camera high above your head. Climb a tree, or stand on a table if possible. Just be careful not to find yourself in a dangerous or life-threatening position.

Another way of looking at a landscape. It gives a different perspective.

There are other, less obvious perspectives. Use a window to shoot through, or an opening in bushes. Hold your camera in front of a colorful flowerbed. Be creative and you may even surprise yourself by finding a unique view of a common location.

Whatever you choose, vary the different perspectives. This makes the set of photos more interesting. If you use one single perspective repeatedly, it becomes a gimmick.

2. Don’t Use Cheatsheets

Exposure and composition can be challenging for beginners. That’s why there are countless cheatsheets available. These sheets offer a variety of nice-looking drawings, and each one offers solutions to every photography problem.

The truth is, these cheatsheets rarely offer any benefit for photography. The information is often very generic and has almost nothing to do with the real world. Take exposure cheatsheets, for instance. These mention the well-known range of shutter speeds, ISO values, and apertures, accompanied by their effects on the image.

A simple search on the internet results in an almost infinite amount of different cheatsheets for photography.

Alas, in reality, the result always looks very different. It doesn’t tell anything about the effect of distance or focal length. It doesn’t tell you anything about achieving the correct exposure. If you’re not careful, such cheatsheets can work against a good understanding of exposure and the effects of shutter speed, ISO value, and aperture.

This also applies to cheatsheets that show general composition rules. They’re limited and don’t tell you anything about the best choice in a certain situation. You might even forget to look beyond the items mentioned on the cheatsheet.

3. More Expensive Equipment Doesn’t Make You a Better Photographer

“That’s a great photo. You must have an expensive camera.” You’ve probably heard this one before, or something similar. It’s like complimenting a gourmet chef on a great meal and mentioning the expensive cooking equipment he must be using.

An expensive camera or lens doesn’t guarantee a great image. It may help you capture that great image with more ease, but that’s all it does. A good photographer can capture a great-looking photo with any camera. The only problem is, he may run into the limitations of the camera at one time, making it more difficult to achieve the desired result.

Getting the latest or most expensive camera or lens doesn't guarantee better photos. 

In other words, don’t buy an expensive camera or lenses just because they are considered the best. Use the gear that you can afford and that enables you to capture the photos you want. If the result is disappointing, it’s most often not the equipment that’s responsible.

Learn to use the camera to its limits. Perhaps you won’t reach those limits, in which case the camera is perfect for you. If you reach the limits of your equipment, you have grown in your photography. In that case, you’ll know what to look for in an upgrade.

4. Don’t Exaggerate Post-Processing

If you have set your camera to the raw file format, which I recommend, you need to post-process the photo afterward. Whatever you do, don’t exaggerate. A good photo is captured on location and cannot be produced in post-processing.

It's an example of an over the top post-processing, in an attempt to maken it more special. Don't fall for this trap.

Post-processing is a tool to optimize the look of a photo. You can enhance the contrast, the dark and light parts of the image, and the general appearance. If you overdo the post-processing, the photo will become a caricature. Keep away from extremes. If the post-processing looks good, it’s good enough.

5. Keep It Simple

It can be tempting to include a lot of things in the frame. That’s not the recipe for a good photo. Keep it simple; that’s the best thing to do. If an element in the frame doesn’t contribute anything, leave it out if possible.

Less is more. Not always, but often it does.

This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. But think of it this way: it’s better to capture a series of photos from something instead of cramming everything into one photo.

6. Take Your Time and Enjoy Yourself

Whatever you do, don’t feel obligated to perform. There is no need to prove yourself to anyone. Don’t try to compete with others; just enjoy yourself taking photos. Photography is more than the end result; it’s the path towards an end result.

If you feel the obligation to perform, you probably won’t enjoy the process of photography. It will become a forced process that may result in frustrations. Nothing is more devastating than that. Remember, it’s no contest.

I'm fully enjoying myself. There is no need for performance. 

Listen to the advice of others, but don’t feel obligated to act accordingly. Use the things that will benefit you personally, and ignore the rest. Just keep an open mind.

Do you have any additional advice for beginning photographers? Please add it in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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Nando, I'm going to take a partial exception to point #2. I DO use a cheatsheet (spreadsheet) on which I have recorded how each of my custom setups is configured. The reason is very simple. If I ever need to re-create a custom settings stack and if I don't have my backup configurations SD card with me, I can do so on the fly. These are NOT generic settings, but settings for very specific usages, like astrophotography (with a different stack for moon shots), wildlife, landscape and real estate situations. This has been a life-saver a couple of times. There are even sub-sheets that detail how I've set up the body's function switches differently than as-purchased. It makes my life a bunch easier.

You and Nando are in violent agreement. He's saying (and I agree) that one should stay away from generic or pre-printed cheatsheets (see his illustration).

Whereas your cheatsheets are specific to you and your photography. Those are fine and yes, makes one's life much easier. I have a card in my bag that specifies what I have set for C1 through C4 on my Olympus. Same thing.

Indeed. Just like Steve mentions; it's okay to make your own. But don't call it a cheatsheet. It's a bullit list with steps to take for specific situations. I use a sheet with exposures for neutral density filters and I have a bullit list for startrail photography.
Just lkeep away from the generic sheets

Keeping it simple and enjoying the process are the most important things to keep in mind when you're taking your first steps in every creative field! There will be people you would look up at and sometimes you might feel disappointed because you haven't achieved their level yet or don't know as much as they seem to know, etc. That's when remembering you need to enjoy the process first is crucial. Go at your own pace and don't feel pressured to perform "better" or to outstand someone. Rely on the tools that are working for you and don't pursue the latest camera or a new sophisticated Photo-Editor-Pro-Max-Whatever, if you're happy with your current camera and Photoworks workflow. Burning out is very real and putting yourself under unnecessary pressure contributes greatly to it.

Good advice. Thanks

The first item, Change Perspective, is important. It reminds me of something James Popsys said years ago on his YouTube channel...Don't take a picture of something; take a picture about something.
I've been doing photography on and off much of my life, sometimes professionally, and I picked it up again about 5 years ago, mostly landscape/cityscape/astro/still life. Most of the times that people comment on how much they enjoy my work it's because it's a photo about something--from a perspective that most people don't see.
The other piece of wisdom I learned years ago is to stop as I'm walking and look behind me. That's a view that you won't see otherwise, and you haven't seen it even though you just walked through it. There is no back view of a rainbow.

I love the nuance. Take a picture about something.
I must remember that one. Thanks.