Travel Photography

Photography for Beginners: A Complete Guide

 by Josh

A black and white photo of four beginners photographers holding DSLR cameras

Cameras are complicated. I was frustrated with my first DSLR. I just couldn’t capture what I saw through my viewfinder. It took a ton of trial and error.
When I managed to work it all out, I started taking some pretty spectacular images.
In this post, I will share with you everything that I’ve learned from my mistakes.


An infographic showing the basic functions of a camera - beginners guide to photography

As beginner photographers, we tend to be visual learners. And it’s my job to make beginning photography as easy as possible for you.
So I thought to myself, “What better way to help beginner photographers learn how to use their cameras, than by creating an infographic?”
And that’s exactly what I did.
I collaborated with an illustrator friend of mine, and together we made these images. The following are something that will make understanding exposure, and how cameras work, a whole lot easier!
Check out what we came up with below:

Let’s dive into more depth…


Diagram explaining the exposure triangle - iso, shutter speed and aperture

For those beginning photography, exposure is key to capturing a great image.
Learning how exposure works will help you to take control of your camera and take better photos. Apertureshutter speedISO are the elements that combine to create an exposure.
As you’ll soon learn, these elements have an effect on more than just the exposure, causing alterations in depth of fieldmotion blur, and digital noise.
Once you understand how each one works, you can start diving into manual mode and really take that control back from your camera.
The exposure triangle is a great way to remember that three settings control the amount of light captured from any given scene.
This will help you to understand that changing one setting will necessitate a change in the others. That is if you are photographing the same scene with the same exact lighting conditions.
Read here for all the information you need on the exposure triangle.


Digram showing the the f/stop scale for better understanding of photography for beginners

Exposure happens in three steps, starting with the aperture. This is the hole inside the lens, through which the light passes.
It’s similar to the pupil of your eye: the wider the aperture, the more light is allowed in and vice versa.
Simple? Not quite.
As the aperture widens, the f/number gets lower and more light is allowed into the camera. This is great for low light but be aware that it’s going to make the depth of field very shallow – not ideal when taking landscapes.
So there’s a bit of give and take and I go into full detail about that in this post.
Exposure will be much easier if you can memorize the f/stop scale.
The scale is as follows: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22.

Shutter Speed

A conceptual portrait of a girl in her bedroom surrounded by flying books -

Once the light has passed through the aperture of the lens, it reaches the shutter. Now you need to decide how much of that light you’re going to allow into the camera.
Ordinarily, you only want a very small fraction of a second (for example 1/250) to prevent motion blur. However, different shutter speeds complement different situations.
Anything from really fast (1/4000) for sports photography to really slow (30 seconds) for night photography. It all depends on what you’re shooting and how much light you have available to you.
Knowing how your shutter speed works is a key element in the basics of photography.


Aa atmospheric shot of an underground tunnel - digital photography for beginners

Once the light has passed through the aperture and been filtered by the shutter speed, it reaches the sensor, where we decide upon the ISO.
As you turn the ISO number up, you increase the exposure but, at the same time, the image quality decrease. There will be more digital noise or “grain”.
So you have to decide upon your priorities in terms of exposure vs grain.
For example, I would reduce the image quality if it meant that I could prevent motion blur in my photo. There’s no possible way to fix that in post (yet, at least).

Exposure Summary

The corridor of an abandoned building taken during an urban exploration photography trip

Once you’ve understood aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you need to learn how each of these elements of exposure work together.
For all those basics of photography, exposure is the most important. If you don’t have this down, composition and framing become a moot point in beginner photography.
In this post you will learn about the ‘stop’ based system for measuring exposure but, more importantly, how to prioritize the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO for the best photo, every time.

Understanding Your Camera

Metering Modes

Digital photography for beginners can be confusing. Exposure isn’t as simple as learning about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You also have to learn about how your camera looks at light.
Metering modes are there to tell your camera how you want it to look at a scene.
The photo below was taken on spot metering mode but, if you were to take the same photo using evaluative mode, you would end up with a completely different exposure.
This is also covered in my free video training. If you’re looking for an article that explains digital, including Canon, metering modes, here it is.
Understanding this basic photography point may just be the key to understanding why your photos are coming out underexposed or overexposed


Screenshot of a photography histogram

The histogram shows you a mathematical review of an exposure after the photo has been taken. It essentially tells you how evenly exposed a photo is.
LCD screens aren’t very good at showing you this information through their display of the image because they are affected by the ambient lighting conditions you’re in and the brightness of the screen itself.
That’s why the histogram is such a powerful tool to utilise in beginning photography correctly.

Shooting Modes

Portrait of a man onstage during a performance, atmospheric purple light behind -understanding shooting modes for photography beginners

Full-Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority or Manual Mode. How do you work out which one you should be using?
There’s also a lot of misconceptions about which mode to use under which conditions. On top of a lot of bias towards not using manual mode.
When you understand what exactly each mode does, the one that will be suitable for your situation becomes a lot clearer. This is also covered in my free video training.

Depth of Field

A person holding a dslr camera to take a street photo - beginner photography tips

When you’re shooting in low light, you invariably have to widen your aperture to allow enough light into the lens but this has one rather major side effect: shallow depth of field.
This can be used very creatively (often to excess) but it’s not all good. There are many situations, such as landscapes, where you’ll want to be using a narrower aperture so that the whole scene remains in focus.
This tutorial walks you through everything you need to know about choosing the right aperture (and therefore depth of field) for the right situation.
When it comes to covering all of the basics of photography, depth of field is very important.

White Balance

Bright and colourful outdoor travel photography portrait, demonstrating use of contrasting colors for photography beginners

White balance is something I wish I’d learnt more about much sooner than I did; I look back on some photos now and wonder what I was thinking.
The white balance changes the colour cast of the entire photo and is responsible for the overall warmth. It can determine whether your photo appears blue or orange: from cold to warm.
Auto white balance doesn’t tend to do a particularly good job, particularly with tungsten light. The sooner you learn about this basic photography idea, the more accurate your photos will look.
This is also covered in my free video training.

Focal Length

A diagram explaining how focal length works

Have you ever wondered what the ‘mm’ on your lens actually means? Or why people use longer focal lengths for portraits?
It’s all discussed in this tutorial. The focal length affects more than just the ‘zoom’ – it influences the perspective too.
I cover which focal length you would want to use in different situations, as well as their possible side effects.
It’s a really worthy read and one of my favorite tutorials to date.

Crop Factor

A diagram showing how the crop factor works

A lot of you may not realize but, unless you spend about $2000 on your camera, you’re more than likely to be shooting on a crop sensor.
This means that your sensor is much smaller than professional SLR cameras, essentially cropping your image. The crop factor has a range of effects on your photos.
It creates a narrower viewing angle and will influence your lens purchases in the future. For those beginner photographers, research what lenses will help your field of photography first.

Polarizing Filters

A black and White street photo of people walking in the rain, one umbrella is spot colored red

Polarizing filters only allow light into the lens from a certain direction. This results in the removal of glare and reflections from non-metallic objects.
Water and glass are the most affected, as well as haze from the sky. Cutting out these reflections and anomalies will make for a more naturally saturated colors.
Not only does this look great but it cannot be replicated in post-production, hence it’s so important to understand.

How to Take Professionally Sharp Images

Black and white abstract architectural photo - great tips for photography for beginners

For beginning photography, I will walk you through the 10 step process of taking professionally sharp photos.
It covers everything from choosing the right aperture and shutter speed to shooting in RAW.
It’s pretty easy to make just a few small mistakes which will result in less sharp images, that’s why we cover all ten, in order of importance.

The Nifty Fifty

Dreamy close up of meadow flowers - photography basics

What can I say about the nifty fifty? What’s not to love?
For those of you who are beginner photographers, when I talk about the nifty fifty, I’m referring to the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. This can be picked up very cheap for most digital SLRs.
It’s a great introduction to buying better quality lenses and an excellent way of getting to grips with aperture.
The article linked is a review and guide. I wrote it because I recommend this lens as the first upgrade for every beginner photographer to make.
It’s easy to use and, for the price, will yield some excellent results.


It’s important to understand exposure but, if you can’t get to grips with basic composition, you’ll struggle to take really good photos.
I’m not saying that you have to follow every compositional rule. But it helps to learn these rules so they can help guide you in taking better photos.

Rule of Thirds

A bright and airy photo of a child playing in a tower against a blue sky, demonstrating the rule of thirds in beginner photographer

This is probably the first compositional rule that any beginner photographer comes across and that’s for a very good reason: it’s simple and it works.
The basic premise is that you divide your camera’s frame into thirds and plant key objects on these lines; the composition will work better.
This is a tool that consistently works. And, if you’ve not learned much about photography yet, it’s a great way of dramatically improving your photos.
It will help to make them more interesting.

Visual Weight

A cityscape shot of three tall buildings demonstrating the use of visual weight in photography for beginners

Visual weight differs in size or weight as we know it. It’s all about what we’re drawn to when we look at a photo.
When you understand visual weight, you’ll start to understand how people look at photos and how you can position certain elements in a frame to direct the viewer’s attention to where you want them to look.
It’s not so much a tool or a rule, but an understanding.


A bright and airy photo of a family sitting in the woods

Shapes are very important in Photography. Triangles are in almost everything we see in one way or another, it’s just a case of distinguishing and knowing what to do with them.
Triangles make great compositional tools as they’re easy to make and manipulate, and are remarkably common. These are great way to use the simplest and most basic photography compositions.
They are also a great way of combining different compositional techniques, such as lines and paths, to create a more interesting part of a photograph.
You can even use them to make a photo feel more stable or unstable.


Portrait of a cats face demonstarting the use of eyelines in photography for beginners

If you take photos of people, you’re taking photos with eye lines. It’s important to understand the effect that eye lines have on how we view a photo.
Eye-lines have the ability to focus our attention on a particular part of the photo, as well as producing tension and other photographic elements.
Although they’re not physical lines, they can be used as such to produce different elements. These will help make triangles and vertical lines.


The silhouettes of birds perched on 5 electrity wires against a blue sky - digital photography for beginners

Balance in a photo affects how we feel when we look at it. An unbalanced photo can make us feel uneasy, whereas a balanced photo will make us feel more relaxed.
It really doesn’t matter whether you choose to make the photo balanced or unbalanced but you should understand why you’ve chosen one or the other, and the effect that this will have on your photo.
Again, it’s one of those situations where the more you know, the easier it will be to produce the desired effect.

So that’s a brief introduction to digital photography for beginners.

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