written by: Nicole Silvester•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/26/2011
If you want to take photographs but don't know where to start, the old saying has it right: begin with the basics. Understand how the essential camera settings work and what's involved in making a photograph, and you'll open up a whole universe of possibilities.
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Photography is an enjoyable and challenging pursuit, whether you just want to shoot some vacation snaps once in a while, or you're aiming for a career as a commercial photographer, or you aspire to create great art. You don't have to decide right away what your goals with photography are - you can just start and see where it takes you - but whatever level of picture-making you decide to try, there are some things you need to know.
Even the simplest point-and-shoot camera can make good pictures if you understand the basic concepts of photography. And the better you want to become at taking pictures, the more there is to learn. Even if terms like "ISO" and "f-stop" make you anxious, you can learn what they mean and how they affect photographs in this complete beginner's guide to photography. Despite the seeming complexity of some of the equipment, photography is at heart a very simple art: it's about making pictures by letting light hit a photo-sensitive receptor.
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The Absolute Basics
Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you've never taken a photograph before, something as simple as the best way to hold your camera can make a difference in how comfortable you are shooting. But even if you have been taking photographs for a while, it doesn't hurt to review the basics now and then. Sometimes we can forget the simplest little tip that can take a photograph from just okay to great.
While it's true that a skilled photographer can take good pictures with any camera, why make your life harder and spend your time fighting your equipment? Many of the equipment choices you make will depend on your personal preferences, but if you're new to the art, you may not have developed any preferences yet. So find out how film and digital are different, and whether the subjects and approach you're contemplating are better suited to a point-and-shoot or a DSLR camera.
Digital cameras, from the cheapest point-and-shoot to the most expensive professional kit, have an array of settings and pre-programmed modes. You can learn a lot by reading the manual that comes with your camera (something I'd recommend to everyone who buys a new piece of equipment) to find out its specific specifications, but there are also a lot of things the same across many camera models. Learning what each setting or mode is and how it affects the image you shoot will give you a huge toolset for making images - and for troubleshooting when a picture doesn't turn out the way you expected.
You can't necessarily tell which parts of an image will be in focus until you see the picture on your computer screen. To help you keep the subject of your images sharp, and to relegate soft focus to only the parts of the image you want blurred, learn about how focus works, what depth of field is, and the best way to use your camera's zoom capabilities. Your camera's aperture setting will also affect depth of field and which parts of the image are in focus, so if these articles don't answer your questions, try the next section below.
These three camera settings are probably the most essential, next to focus, for making satisfactory pictures. They affect how much light is reaching the camera's sensor, and can also affect the clarity of the image (aperture affects depth of field, for example, and shutter speed can magnify or compensate for camera shake). If you want to do anything more advance than auto-everything, you'll need to understand and use these concepts.
Once you have mastered the technical basics of taking photographs, it's time to think about the artistic aspects. Composition is all about how to frame your image: where to put the subject and background in relation to the edges of the picture. If you've ever heard someone say that a photographer has a "good eye," a large part of what they're referring to is composition. If you master these techniques, you can make nearly any subject look amazing, just by choosing how to put it in the image.
One you have your images, you may need to do some processing in order to make them look their best. With photo editing software, you can fix many problems with your images after the fact. There are too many tutorials here on Bright Hub to list them all in one guide, but the articles below will introduce some important concepts and get you started. Once you're familiar with the idea of editing your images, you can search on specific topics for more information.
If you're going to be a photographer, it's a good idea to have some knowledge of the history of the subject and how it continues to develop today. Not only will it give you a feeling of connection to the art form's past, but learning about what other photographers have done and are working on now will give you inspiration and ideas and will help you figure out how to make your own work better.
You can go to school to become a photographer - many art schools and technical colleges have photography programs - but there are also plenty of ways to learn on your own. These articles will give you some strategies for becoming a better photographer, whether you choose to study formally or informally.
If you've fallen in love with photography or discovered you're pretty good at it, you may start to consider whether or not it would make a good career. There are many different types of photography to pursue as a business, from product to fashion to wedding photography. These articles will give you some ideas of the possibilities for a photography business and get you on your way if you decide it is the career for you.