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Tips for newcomers to photography


1            Shoot RAW

If using a digital camera and providing the camera has the capacity, always use raw files rather than jpegs.


Raw files hold all the information of the picture that you have just taken, whilst jpegs compress the file discarding information to get the file size smaller. Once that information has been discarded there is no way of retrieving it. Most photographic software i.e. (Lightroom, Elements or Photoshop) allows you to process raw files in a non-disruptive way, so you can return to the original file as many times as you want.


2            Use Depth of field

You can decide which parts of your image you want to have in sharp focus by selecting the correct aperture, in “Aperture Priority” mode.


When we focus on a subject, things a little way in front of or behind the subject will also be in sharp focus. “Depth of field” is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects in a scene that appear sharp in a picture. The depth of field will depend on:

  • The distance to the point at which you focus. Focussing further away gives you greater depth of field than focussing nearby.

  • The image magnification. If you use a wide lens, you will get more depth of field than if you use a long lens at the same camera to subject distance.

  • The lens aperture. A wide aperture such as f1.4, f1.8 f2.8 are considered wide open aperture whilst f11, f16 and f22 are considered small apertures. In simple terms the more your lens is closed down (small aperture) the greater amount of detail in your picture will be in focus. Don’t use a smaller aperture than you really need, though, because really small apertures reduced the sharpness of the whole image, make any spots on the sensor much more visible and require longer shutter speeds or a higher ISO to correctly expose the image.


This item is too complex to discus in such complex detail, but with experimentation it becomes easier to understand.

3            It’s all about the eyes

If shooting portraits of people make sure that the eyes of your sitter are sharp and in focus. It may help to use a narrow depth of field in portraits so that the only thing sharp and in focus is the sitter, this also helps to blur messy backgrounds giving more prominence to the model.

4            Come rain or shine

Although it’s nice to take photographs on a sunny day, don’t put your camera away if it’s an overcast day. The light on these days is a lot softer and is ideal for taking pictures of outside portraits, flowers or even insects (if they stay still for long enough). Also the contrast is lower so you don’t have to deal with very bright subjects and extremely harsh shadows. Shots taken in early morning or late afternoon are often more interesting than shots taken at mid-day.


5            Background Check

When taking photographs always check what’s in the background. A messy background can and will ruin a picture. If there’s clutter in the background see if you can make it out of focus, or perhaps try a different angle. It’s a good idea to scan your eye around the edges of the frame for distractions, too.


6            KISS

Keep it simple, see?

Keep the pictures simple if possible. Don’t try and cram too many points of interest, otherwise your eye will start to wander around the picture. Try to make your main point of interest the place the eye goes straight to. Get close to your subject so it dominates the frame.


7           Power and Space

Always make sure that your battery is charged and that there’s plenty of space on your memory card.  It’s always best to carry a spare charged battery and an empty spare memory card.


8            Set the ISO

The ISO adjust the amount of light needed for a correctly exposed picture.


If you want to freeze action you will need a fast shutter speed. This may mean you have to turn up the ISO. If the conditions are dull or it is getting dark you may also need a higher ISO. For normal everyday photography most photographers use an ISO of between 100 to 400 ISO, but most cameras will allow at least 6400 ISO, many cameras will go even higher.

There is a tradeoff here, the higher the ISO the more chance that the picture will suffer noise and lose contrast. Noise is an effect where the pixels that gather the light show what appears to be tiny dots of different brightness or colours. Much of the noise in a picture can be removed using various editing programs but some detail will also be lost.


9            Keep a tripod handy

“The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the amateur thinks they don’t need a tripod”.


A tripod will help keep your camera still, and allow the use of long exposures.

It should help you to think more about the picture you are about to take.

It will allow you to compose the picture, set a low ISO and a use a smaller f stop.

Most photographers won’t use a tripod all the time especially when just walking around taking pictures of street scenes or events, but if you have time use a tripod.

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