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We usually get our hands on our first DSLR and other bits of photography gear that came with our first camera kit purchase - things like that kit lens that we at first assumed was everything we'd ever need. Then we sit on the sofa, fiddle about with the buttons, read two or three pages from the camera manual, take a few photographs of the TV, then a few of the lamp, then we fiddle some more with other buttons & settings. Mum is sat across the room so we zoom in close & capture her worst side whilst we are at it. But it's no big deal, she's out of focus anyway. Then we discover Auto mode & give up on the other settings.
This is all part of the early process & perfectly acceptable for you to get your first feel of the camera. But now you'll want to take it to the next level by stepping onto the field & participating in the game.
These 5 things will help you develop your basic knack for photography & will hopefully allow you to see a decent improvement in the photographs you're taking.
1. Get Out & Shoot Anything & Everything
This one goes without saying, but I have to touch on it to ram home the importance of practice. What you're ultimately trying to achieve off the bat is good composition. You'll quickly learn that the manual functions of a camera can be overwhelming at first, so don't put yourself off by running before you can walk.
(Though you'll be slightly jogging by the time we reach point 5)
Generally you're going to find that when you look back in a few years, your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. But during that time, with consistent practice, your camera will slowly become an extension of your arm. Practice composing landscapes, buildings & people. Get up close & personal to flowers & insects. Think about the space you're using within the photograph. Ultimately there is no right or wrong, because photography is wildly subjective. But there are general rules of thumb that you may want to research & follow whilst you're starting out. Eventually you're going to learn what works best for you & naturally develop your own style of photography.
2. Take Your Camera Everywhere
If your camera is sat at home, what's the point? A phone camera can only do so much & if you're serious about improving your photography, you need that camera close to hand literally all of the time. You might be into portrait or event photography & wonder why it's so important to tread the streets shooting candid street photography or why you should take it whilst you're out walking the dog, but let me tell you, a lot can be learned from walking the streets and photographing people, things, buildings & just about anything else you unexpectedly encounter.
It's going to help you gain confidence in your ability, improve your creativity, build your knowledge of using natural light & allow you to find your way around the camera a lot quicker. If you're using your new gear in a variety of surroundings, when you next take that vacation you'll find yourself in a much better position to produce quality results.
3. Get A Tripod
During early photography days, a tripod is usually overlooked. I can understand why, because they are an added expense to a craft you may not be sure as to just how serious you intend to take. Not to mention they can be cumbersome. But this is the modern world & small travel tripods have come a long way. Many can even fold very small, are lightweight & can attach to your backpack. They can also be surprisingly affordable at the lower end of the price scale & camera gear is notorious for holding its value relatively well if it's looked after.
A tripod is absolutely essential for long exposure & night photography. It'll also provide assurances that your shot is going to be super sharp, whether it's a landscape or portrait you're shooting. Or anything else in between for that matter. A small, compatible & affordable tripod will help you work your way towards a sharper image. You don't need to blow a wad on a big, super duper sturdy & expensive tripod if you're just starting out.
4. Give Yourself Mini Projects
Going out with camera (and tripod!) in tow is all well & good, but occasionally you may find the creative flow or motivation drying up if you don't have a set idea or plan in your mind.
I would recommend using a specific idea as a source to pave the way for your creativity. What I mean by that, is know what sort of photographs you're looking to capture from the day. It could be a day of shooting the colour red... this will allow you to notice photographs that may have otherwise been missed. Perhaps you may want to focus on photographing shapes. Or something like people walking away from you, or things above head height. The list is endless.
Sometimes you have to think creatively, before acting creatively.... know what I mean?
5. Learn To Shoot In "Aperture Priority"
"Aperture Priority" is a beautiful path to take to ease yourself away from Auto mode.
Have you ever wondered how photographers blur out the background? It's thanks to the aperture setting.
In aperture priority, you select the aperture & your camera selects everything else to ensure your photograph is correctly exposed. I recommend that you educate yourself a little on the way aperture works. Do a little research into what f/2.8, f/4, f/16 etc. means & you will reap the benefits. It doesn't take long at all to grasp & will probably be something I delve into a lot more detail with during another blog post.
Probably one specifically all about aperture.
For the record, aperture priority is usually marked on the main settings dial as "AV" with Canon cameras & "A" with Nikon cameras - but refer to the manual if unsure or if you use a different brand.
With this knowledge now gained, all you have to do is decide how much depth within the photograph you want to be in focus. Bear in mind that the lens that came with your camera is likely to have an aperture that can only be selected as low as f/4. For the best blurry results, you really need a lens that will go to f/2.8 or lower - but these usually sell for a lot more. (Not always, I highly recommend purchasing a 50mm prime f/1.8 lens if you have a full-framed body that takes interchangeable lenses - most brands have highly respected & affordable 50mm options).
For the purpose of practice & gradual improvement, you will still see major differences between the use of f/4 & f/20 for example if you're photographing a person stood in front of you while focused on them.
Aperture priority is an easy way to give yourself your first taste of photographic creativity & can really improve your portrait photography in particular. With just a little knowledge & practice you'll be taking gorgeous portraits of your friends & family, having them look crisp & sharp in the foreground with the background looking creamy & smooth.
Read your manual or watch a short youtube tutorial & learn how to set your specific camera model to aperture priority. You'll be thankful.
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