Practical Photography Tips for Beginners

Is photography getting you down? Did you stretch your budget to buy the best camera you could, then realize you were in over your head? One look at that inch-thick manual, and many new photographers just switch their camera to ‘auto’ and that’s where it stays.

beginning photography

“Nikon Hands” captured by Jorge Quinteros

Does this sound like you? Don’t worry, you are not alone. Camera manuals reflect the technical power of modern cameras, but they are intimidating to any beginner who just wants to take a decent photo.

camera manual

“Figuring It Out!!!” captured by Angela

Digital cameras are like most computer programs; you may find you can get by with about ten percent of the available functions. So don’t get tied up in knots trying to understand everything. Just learn what you need to know, and learn it well, and you will be well on the way to being a better photographer.

Here are a few tips that may just take the complexity out of photography for you:

Stick with the basics

In the days of film, good photographers used SLR cameras with two main settings: aperture and shutter speed. These were the ingredients of all great photography. Today, cameras come with hundreds of features, but guess which ones you really need to understand? That’s right, aperture and shutter speed.

aperture and shutter speed

“Lens Test” captured by Jitze Couperus

If you can understand these two settings, you are halfway to becoming a better photographer. Your manual (I never said you could throw it away) will tell you which buttons to press on your camera. However, to really understand what these settings are all about, don’t rely on the manual. There is plenty of information out there: workshops, websites, books, and ebooks can help.

Practice has never been easier than it is today. Most cameras have semi-automatic settings, called ‘aperture priority’ and ‘shutter priority,’ that allow you to operate one setting while the camera takes care of the other. This is a great way to practice a skill without fear of getting too many failed exposures.

Learn from your mistakes

If you just delete every photo you are not happy with, you are missing a golden opportunity to learn from your own experience. Photos you consider rejects actually contain useful information—you really can learn from your mistakes!

Let’s say you are experimenting with aperture. Try photographing a scene three times, with three different aperture settings, for three slightly different results. Instead of keeping your favorite and deleting the others immediately, you could transfer them to your computer and take the time to examine them properly. You can see how each setting changed the look of the picture, and which setting worked best for that subject. Now you can learn from your own results, not from some theory in a book.

Did you know that if you right-click your mouse over a photograph on your computer and select ‘properties’ you will find a lot of information embedded in the file? You don’t have to keep a note of the aperture/shutter speed information; your photo does it for you!

Of course, in the long term you don’t want to keep every single photo you take, but you might want to keep a folder of ‘learning photos’ to refer to later, with maybe two versions of each subject you experiment with. To make it even easier, rename the pictures with relevant titles, for example: Wildflowers/Small Aperture, Wildflowers/Wide Aperture; Waterfall/Fast Shutter, Waterfall/Slow Shutter.


“Teton Crest Wildflowers” captured by Sathish J

Learn the Art as Well as the Technique

Every problem in photography cannot be solved by the camera. Experienced photographers know that good lighting and creative composition is often more important than up-market technology. In fact, most photos fail not because of bad technique, but because they were taken at the wrong time of day, or the photographer did not put enough thought into the composition. Yet daily I meet people who think that all their problems would be solved by a better camera or some mysterious technique they are yet to learn.

Remember what I said in the first tip: aperture and shutter speed are the fundamental skills, and with a little practice, they are not hard to learn. Master them and you are halfway there. The key to becoming a really good photographer is a balance of technical knowledge and artistic skill. Practice both, and soon your friends will be coming to you for photography tips!

About the Author:
Andrew Goodall writes for and is a nature photographer based in Australia. He manages a gallery in Montville full of landscape photography from throughout Australia.

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4 responses to “Practical Photography Tips for Beginners”

  1. brian says:

    A manual of any sort would be welcome for my camera which does not go into enough detail on how to use it. Fujifilm x30

  2. Definitely agree about using Aperture priority or Shutter priority modes rather than Automatic or full Manual! :) Tom

  3. Dan S. says:

    Good article. Reminds you that you cannot just throw money at a problem.

  4. Rezan says:

    Shutter speed indicates the amount of time the shutter remains open to capture the light. If you choose a longer shutter speed, more light will pass to the sensor. Short shutter speed is useful when you want to freeze the fast moving object. Long shutter speed adds a sense of movement and blurs the moving object a little bit.

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