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Photo Contest Insider Blog

Pro Tips for Beginner Photographers

May 28, 2016

Learning photography can be a long process, and there is never a substitute for real experience. For most of us, time sees us making mistakes over and over again until we finally get to a point where we are able to call ourselves professionals. Those errors teach us how to do things the right way – or at least, how not to do them the wrong way.

If you are a beginner, there is a long road ahead, and that can be quite daunting. But there’s no reason why you can’t take a few shortcuts along the way, learning from the mistakes of those who have gone before you and saving yourself a few blushes. Getting professional quality shots is now easier than ever thanks to the wealth of readily-available DSLRs and editing software, including plugins and actions which can take care of a lot of the work.

There are also a few professional-level tips that you can take on right from the start. If you pay attention and learn these pro tips now, you could see your work getting to a professional status much sooner than you think. Getting those good shots in the first place and then editing them to a high standard is most of the battle, so here are our top tips to turn beginners into pros.

1. Don’t be afraid to Google it

Sometimes, especially when you are trying to really make a name for yourself, it’s difficult to admit that you might need help. Maybe you’ve done a short course in photography, done a few shoots on your own, and now feel like you should really know everything that there is to know. So when you don’t know it, you blunder on and try to pretend that you do.

Look, everyone comes up against something they don’t understand now and then. If there is an error code on your camera that you’ve never seen before, do a search. Maybe you’re going to shoot in a new situation, one that you have never encountered before: Google some tips on how to get the most out of it. A lot of sites have listings for the exact settings and equipment you will need for shooting fashion shows or football games, for example, so you can get that expert advice and be ready to go right away.

Don’t be scared to admit you don’t know something, and look it up. You will get the results you are looking for much quicker this way than by trial and error.

2. Get to know your camera

You should always spend some time playing around with your camera as soon as you get it, even if you are an established and experienced photographer picking up a new model. What does that setting do? What is this menu for? What happens when you press this button?

The settings in your camera are designed to help you to get the best possible photographs every time you use it. Ignore them, and you might find that you are ignoring the one thing you need to do to make your photos look more professional. The first thing to learn is how to use your ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop settings. You can then set your camera up manually, instead of relying on the automatic mode – which is often incorrect.

If you can’t figure out what something means, refer to your camera manual. Once you have an idea of how to change every setting, you can once again go back to your old friend Google to help you understand what those settings mean, if you can’t work it out for yourself.

3. Study art

You might think you only need to look at photographs to understand photography, but don’t forget that visual art has a much longer history than this medium alone. Look back at painters that were considered masters, and study their masterpieces. How do they compose the images within their frames? You will find lots of rules here which apply to photography as well, such as the rule of thirds.

Painters are also experts at using light and shadow to describe a scene or give a particular feeling. When they painted from life, they would position their model in such a way that the light was flattering or dramatic. Your job is to do the same thing, without being able to add artistic embellishments (unless, of course, you are a Photoshop pro). Study the most popular portraits of all time and you might just learn something about your own portraits too.

4. Learn how to edit

Post-production is a hugely important part of photography, as even the most sophisticated DSLRs don’t always create the perfect image right from camera. In fact, you should be sure to colour-correct and check the contrast on any image you take, just as a basic standard practice. Don’t know how to do this? There are plenty of Photoshop tutorials out there which will help you out.

Learn the basics for your industry, and spend your spare time learning more. Beauty photographers should learn to smooth skin, while fashion photographers need to know how to work with fabric. Do you know how to create a composite image? How about sharpening, lightening, darkening, and adding soft focus to individual areas? If you go into commercial work, you may even need to know how to elongate legs, change the shape of eyes, and add more hair to a model’s head.

It’s also important to shoot with the right settings in the first place. For example, RAW images give you more information to work with, and a low ISO means less grain to get in the way of your perfect shot. Get your exposure right and you won’t have to spend so much time working on your curves settings.

5. Practice, practice, practice

You can’t learn anything unless you actually do it. So, take time to practice the techniques you are going to need. Take pictures of your cat if you don’t have a human model. Take photographs in the mirror to practice editing your own skin. Set something up on your dining table to try out still life. You can even grab stock photographs and try editing them together into composites or correcting issues in post-production (though of course most stock is already fairly refined). Take photographs every single day. The important thing is to get as much of that valuable experience as you can while it doesn’t matter – so that when it does, you already know what mistakes to avoid.