1. Know the basics of photography
One of the most helpful things I can suggest to new, budding photographers is for them to take the time to learn how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO affect their photos. When I got my hands on a DSLR for the first time, I knew embarrassingly little about these very important variables. I had limited experience with digital (and film) photography and absolutely no professional training (other than a History of Photography class in college that was focused more on people and dates than on modern photographic techniques).
The shutter speed variable determines the amount of time light is let into the camera. This has a direct impact on exposure. If your photo is underexposed (dark), you can adjust the camera to a slower shutter speed that allows more light to reach the camera sensor. Conversely, if your photo is overexposed (light), you can use a faster shutter speed to allow less light to reach the sensor.
Other than affecting exposure, shutter speed also affects how you capture a subject stylistically. A quick shutter speed (i.e. 1/500th of a second) helps freeze action. This is great for when you want a photo clear of motion blur. Most sports photography is taken with a high shutter speed. The quicker the movement you are trying to freeze, the higher the shutter speed you should use. You may want a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second if you are photographing a hummingbird, but only a shutter speed of 1/250 for a running dog. I used the maximum shutter speed on my camera (1/4000th of a second) to take this:
These photos also demonstrate how a high shutter speed can freeze motion:
You can do some very creative things with a moderately slow shutter speed: freezing stationary and slow moving objects while letting quicker moving objects blur. I hand held the camera (though I would normally try and use a tripod for this type of shot) and took this photo with a shutter speed of 1/6th of a second:
As you can see, the runners and the L train car in the background blurred as they moved during the 1/6th of a second shutter speed, but the buildings and trees and people who remained relatively still remain sharp. Unfortunately, the long shutter speed overexposed the sky.
Long exposures are great for night photography. If there is not enough light, you may need a longer shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure. I had to use a long shutter speed and a tripod for these night shots:
Photos of light trails, star trails, silky smooth running water (and sometimes lightning) are the result of long exposures, which can range from a couple seconds to hours.
Like shutter speed, aperture (or f-stop) also affects how much light enters the camera. Aperture is the hole through which light enters the camera. A larger aperture lets more light hit the sensor a smaller aperture allows less light into the camera. If your photos are overexposed or underexposed, you can adjust the aperture value. Aperture values can range from f/1.2 or lower (a large hole that allows more light into the camera) to f/46 or higher (a small hole that allows less light into the camera).
Aperture also affects another important composition factor, something called Depth of Field. Using an aperture of f/1.8 has a narrow depth of field and an aperture of f/40 has a wide depth of field. I will let the examples speak for themselves:
f/2.8 or less
The subject is in focus but not much else beyond it remains sharp. This is very good for isolating key elements in a photo and for portrait work where you want a soft background (sometimes referred to as bokeh).
A higher aperture keeps more of the shot in focus as demonstrated by the pieces below:
Depth of field is also affected by focal length and distance you are from your subject.
The final important value, ISO, doesnt affect the amount of light that is let into the camera. Instead, it adjusts how the sensitive the cameras sensor is to light. I typically use the lowest ISO possible while still being able to achieve the shot want. A lower ISO (like 100 or 200) minimizes the amount of noise in a photo. A high ISO (like 3200 or 6400) may introduce unwanted noise into your photos. However, advances in CMOS sensors and noise reduction technology are allowing photographers to use high ISO settings while still retaining image quality.
Low ISOs are great for photographing still objects like landscapes or when trying to get longer exposures in bright lighting. High ISOs are normally used in low light settings or when it is imperative to maintain a high shutter speed. For those of you who remember 35mm cameras, ISO is like film speed!
2. Know your equipment inside and out
When I first began shooting with a DSLR, I used an Olympus E-20N, a terribly obsolete camera when judged by todays standards. Its limited options, long start up time, and small buffer (I could take about three photos in succession before I had to wait for the camera to write to the memory card which would allow me to take additional photos this definitely taught me the importance of timing) forced me to get more creative with my photography.
It is important to know the simple things: how long it takes for your camera to start, how long your batteries typically last, and other important issues (like which leg on your tripod is broken and falls off constantly).
3. Know the lingo
If someone says Stop down, Try a faster lens, Use an ND filter, you should know what they are referring to. Ive run into occasions where someone says something I dont understand. Terminology isnt terribly important when making good photos, but helps if you talk to other photographers.
4. Know the rules and when to break them
There are some well accepted norms on which many photographers can agree including concepts like the Rule of Thirds. Know when it is best to employ these techniques and when to avoid them. Id list more rules, but I never learned them
5. Get creative and experiment
This is the soul and spirit of photography. A creative photographer looks at the world with an open eye, always searching for a new perspective. Inspiration lurks in the ordinary, beauty hides down the road less traveled. I believe that this is the most important aspect of photography. Technicalities can be easily taught and absorbed but developing a good eye and timing takes practice. Photography is catching the moment (also a club!); the ability to retain or create a feeling or concept and preserve memories.
Creative and thoughtful composition and framing can make or break a photo. Try a lower angle to include the tops of buildings or trees or pan a little to crop out a trash can or light pole. I do my best to address potential problems in the camera to avoid wasting time post-editing.
I feel that these are some of the more important aspects of photography. However, my motto has been There is always someone from whom you can learn, and there is always someone eagerly awaiting a chance for your tutorage. One person who has been a wonderful inspiration and fountain of information for me is kkart. You should definitely explore his gallery and ask questions: he has always been a steadfast resource for me!
I have also been approached regarding other questions that dont directly pertain to taking photographs like:
Which camera/lens to buy?
I recently was a groomsman in a wedding where the wedding couple had hired a professional photographer. I shoot Canon while he was using Nikon. We traded joking blows over brand choice throughout the night, but nothing serious
The first question many people have when purchasing their first DSLR (translation: expensive) camera is which brand to buy. Honestly, if you have enough money to spend, any brand will do what you want it to do. However, if you have a limited budget, you should do some price checking and research on your own. Maybe the options and price of the Nikon D40 suit your needs, or maybe you want some more room to maneuver and look into the Sony A350. Maybe you want to get serious and splurge on a Canon 50D or maybe youre concerned about operating in unfavourable weather conditions and opt for a Nikon D300. Maybe you want to go full pro with a full size sensor. The best way to determine what camera to buy is to figure out what you want to do first, and then find a camera that meets your needs and budget.
You also may want to consider using the brand your friends use, if only to borrow their lenses!
You will hear this line from most every photographer: the lens is more important than the camera. (Of course, the photographer behind the lens is the most important!) Investing in a good camera body is not necessarily a bad thing but investing in good lenses is never a bad thing. Good glass offers superior clarity, durability (which can be heavier), and include extra features like Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction which is ideal for lenses with longer focal lengths (or photographers like yours truly who cant hold a camera steady to save their life). Camera bodies often become obsolete within a few years while quality lenses remain useful for decades. Buy what you need (wide angle, macro, telephoto) and keep an arsenal of lenses tailored to your style of shooting.
Another question that has been raised is the importance of post-editing. Very rarely do I take something straight from the camera without editing. Here is an example:
Post-editing can consist of some simple curves and crops to full blown HDR with Tone Mapping, saturation adjustments, and artistic filters. All I can say here is that knowing how to post-edit (and when to use it) is a benefit. Make it work for you and find your style.
I hope you find that the information provided in this article is helpful and accurate. The more I wrote, the more I felt that what I had already covered was inadequate. I have only begun to learn the more elegant ins and outs of photography and what it means to be a good photographer. The beauty of photography is that there is always something new to learn, something new by which to be inspired, something new that opens your eyes again to see a whole new world. I wish you the best of luck as you all continue on your own personal photographic journey!
I would like to close by showcasing some of my favourites that have offered me much inspiration!