Beginning Photography – How to be a Better Photographer Part 1 of 2

Beginning Photography
How to be a Better Photographer

Part 1 of 2

I am beginning photography and this is my first experience with a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. It all started on Thanksgiving 2009 and since then, I was determined to learn how to be a better photographer.

These articles are meant to show my path: what I’m doing and what I can suggest to those who are beginning photography. It is, in a sense, the beginner photographer point of view versus the photographer who knows everything you need to know about photography!

Jumping from a Point and Shoot to a DSLR could be intimidating for those who want to improve their photography. With the more advanced Point and Shoot cameras you can do similar things, but a DSLR camera gives you a lot more! More specifically: a choice of lenses from Macro to Zoom.

The camera itself will not make you a better photographer! I can shoot great photographs with my iPhone compared to the photos that my 9 year old son can shoot with a DSLR! So your goals on how to be a better photographer is to learn as much as you can about photography – as you learn as much as you can about your camera!

My hope is that those who have a DSLR in their hands immediately force themselves to get out of the ‘green zone’ (that green box on the dial) / auto-creative modes and shoot in “M” or manual mode. You are not getting the most out of your camera and the most out of your potential to be a better photographer by shooting in the green zone.

I may have clicked the shutter less than 10 times in the green zone since owning my DSLR camera. 99.9% of the time I’m in “M” as I’ve only dabbled in aperture priority mode only a few times to see what that was like. I like the full control and that’s what “M” gives you!

Here are some of the steps that I took that helped me learn more about photography, my camera (Canon Rebel EOS T1i), and shooting in “M” or manual mode. This is not a ‘how to’ guide but it will lead to my ‘how to’ guide on shooting in “M” mode for the amateur photographer.

In this 2-article set it is all about education. These are the few steps that I took that got me from a naïve photographer, to someone who actually is beginning to learn the key aspects of photography: composition and exposure, aperture, speed, ISO and white balance.

These are the 7 most important things that I did to propel me to my goal: to be a better photographer:

Part one will cover:
1. Join a support group (forums)
2. Purchase three books
3. Subscribe to newsletters

Part two will cover:
4. Find a friend
5. Shoot and keep shooting!
6. The ‘before you shoot’ checklist
7. What do all those words mean? I’m not smarter than a 5th grader!

The most important thing is education. Beginning photography means learning how to be a better photographer. It takes action. The action could be as simple as shooting a ton of pictures and finding the right shot through trial and error, or minimizing the errors by learning why a photograph is the way it is. Here is how you can get started:

1. Join a support group (forums)

I am active in a photography forum right now – it is all I have time for. It is catered for Canon digital photography but any camera owner can learn a lot from this forum. Most of the photographers/members are helpful; there is a lot of experience hidden within the forums, and a lot of new photographers. From Point and Shoot enthusiasts, to DSLR pros!

It is called: Photography on the Net (POTN).  To me, this is the best photography forum on the net – especially for Canon owners. There are a ton out there, but this is by far is the most educational and supportive forum and you can learn how to be a better photographer just by lurking the posts!

Be a member and just dive into it with everything you have. Be eager to learn. Ask questions, find similar topics you are interested in, and view as many of the photos that members have uploaded. You can spend hours on the POTN forums and you can learn so much if you want! Look for me: I am “HungryWriter” on the forums.

As you learn, submit your photos for critique. From exposure to composition, the advice is priceless! Discussing what you do and how to do it in an open forum like this is like going to a photography class every week – except this is at your own time. Learn as fast or as slow as you want – the main goal – learn from the experienced and strive to be like them!

2. Purchase three books (buy them here Amazon.com)

These are not the only books to purchase. But these three books helped me go from ‘afraid of the camera’ to, book me a job already! No, I’m not a pro – but I want to see a photograph and eventually say – I can do that! These books will get you started!

Book 1) “How to Photograph your Life” by Nick Kelsh

Nick Kelsh has a few great books on beginning photography. I also suggest “How to Photograph your Baby” because I read this book when my kids were born several years ago. It improved my Point and Shoot photography tremendously.

If you are a parent and want your photographs to stand out compared to other parent’s, “How to Photograph your Baby” is the priceless. “How to Photograph your Life” is exceptional and you will learn a lot about composition immediately!

“How to Photograph your Life” is my favorite book on beginning photography. Its main emphasis is capturing the moment and improving composition! When my sister’s kids were born, I handed the book to her and she immediately took better photographs with her Point and Shoot! It is one of the books where you skim through the pages and see great photographs and often wonder why yours isn’t as good – well, there is good reason and it is explained in this book!

Book 2) “Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera” by Bryan Peterson

This book was highly recommended in the Photography on the Net forums. I bought this book 2 days after I got my camera and couldn’t get through it fast enough. There is a wealth of information inside this book and within minutes of closing it I was outside, in the shade, with my son and daughter practicing what I learned.

This book will answer why some of your portraits turn out to be silhouettes and what you can do to force that or prevent it and a whole lot more! You will learn Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Light, Special Techniques and Filters, and the difference between Film vs. Digital!

If you are getting started, as I am, do yourself a big favor and read this book! Someday, you will look back and refer it to another photographer guaranteed!

Book 3) “Understanding Shutter Speed” by Bryan Peterson

Two books from Bryan Peterson and this one really supports the previous. Why is your photograph blurry? Are your kids running around? Is the waterfall washed out or too sharp? After you understand Exposure, understanding shutter speeds will be a piece of cake!

Once you understand how to adjust shutter speed and aperture on the fly, it gets to be second nature. You’ll suddenly know what shutter speed to use when you are in your living room without thinking twice.

If you are a sports photographer, or have wanted to capture your child’s outdoor soccer games or indoor basketball games, then you better read this book and understand shutter speed. It will make your life easier and your photographs a whole let better!

Some techniques will be really advanced, like putting filters on top of filters, etc. Some is way beyond my comprehension right now but the goal is to grow into it.

The three books above will definitely propel you into the world of photography and it is what I’ve discovered as I learned how to be a better photographer. The question is, do you really want to learn or do you just want to take snapshots? I believe this will break ‘your mold’ of the every day photographer, to someone who knows what they want to capture and going out to capture it!

3. Subscribe to 2 newsletters

a) Chris Robert’s Digital SLR Guide is one of my favorite newsletters to receive as an email. And I get a ton of newsletters (non photography). Step up and also purchase his “Beginner SLR Lessons” because if you do not know much about photography and you want to know how to be a better photographer, this series of lessons is an awesome start!  Most of what I’ve learned was through those lessons: from histograms to composition, Aperture, Speed and everything in between and outside the box. There are camera owners who, if they take these lessons, will immediately improve their photography!

It is a small investment and provides 5 great lessons on photography! Go at your own pace, one a week, or delve right into them as fast as you can! This is what I did of course, I couldn’t wait for one a week, I just downloaded them all and read them and am still rereading them!

b) Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School offers great tips for all camera owners. From tips and tutorials to assignments to get your photography on the right track! I love receiving the “New Photography Tips for your Weekend” newsletter. I learn something every single week!

These three steps are steps I took to get started. I can take a photograph, preview it, and immediately know what I need to do to get the correct exposure for my shot. I truly believe that if you take these three steps and eagerly swallow the information, your photography will be much improved! Taking steps on how to be a better photographer is always about the first steps and hopefully these 3 will get you on your way!

For beginning photography – the next 4 steps will also lead to becoming a better one! Stay tuned!

Order the above books here:  Amazon.com!

(How to be a Better Photographer Part 2 of 2)

About Glenn Magas