Do you want to capture incredible photos? The kind that really stun the audience?
Because here’s the thing:
Capturing gorgeous photos isn’t hard. There are actually just a few simple tricks that the best photographers use over and over again. And if you practice these tricks carefully, you’ll be taking amazing photos in no time.
Which is why, in this article, I’m going to share these tricks with you.
So are you ready to discover 20 photography tips for beginners?
Let’s get started!
Photography Tips for Beginners: The Basics
If you want to capture amazing photos, there are three main things that you have to consider.
First, you must think about the light. Good light is the essential ingredient of good photography. Without good light, you’re not going to get a good photo. Period.
(Later I’ll explain what I mean by ‘good light.’ For now, just remember how important it is to consider light.)
Second, you must carefully choose your composition. The composition refers to the arrangement of elements in the frame. For instance, do you include a main subject? Do you put it in the center of your photo? Or off to the side?
Composition is what makes your photo look balanced. It’s what makes it look satisfying to the eye.
And you can’t have a stunning photo without a careful composition.
Third (and finally), you must do some post-processing. In other words, you’re going to need to edit your photos–if you want them to look stunning, that is.
Because editing is how you bring out certain colors. Editing is how you make your photos really pop off the page.
Note that you don’t have to do a lot of post-processing. But you should get in the habit of doing a bit of work to every photo in your portfolio.
In light of these key topics, I’ve divided the sections below into three main categories: light, composition, and post-processing.
1. Shoot During the Golden Hours for the Best Light
If you want amazing photos, you’ve got to have great light.
Because light is essential to photography. It’s the first thing you should think about when trying to capture beautiful photos.
But what counts as amazing light?
The best type of light for pretty much any genre of photography is golden-hour lighting.
This is the light when the sun is low in the sky, about an hour or two before sunset and after sunrise.
During the golden hours, the sun casts a lovely glow over the entire scene. This helps light your images evenly (which is generally a good thing). It also helps you capture nice colors and details.
In truth, it’s pretty tough to go wrong with golden-hour lighting. It really is that good.
It’ll take any lackluster photo–and transform it into something amazing.
Related Post: The Importance of Light in Photography
2. Photograph During Cloudy Light for Beautiful Colors
Even though golden light is my favorite type of light for photography…
…cloudy light is really good, too.
Now, cloudy light isn’t quite as dramatic as golden-hour lighting. But it has its perks.
First of all, clouds diffuse the light, so that the scene is given a subtler, softer look. This allows you to capture photos with high-contrast subjects (e.g., both black tones and white tones)–because you don’t have to deal with the blacks becoming too dark and the whites becoming too bright.
Clouds also help bring out color. The soft light actually makes colors seem more saturated. So it’s often a good idea to use cloudy light if you’re shooting colorful subjects, such as flowers.
Note that you should pay attention to the quality of the clouds before shooting. If the clouds are very thick and it’s late in the day, you may not have enough light to capture beautiful photos.
On the other hand, if the clouds are too thin and it’s the middle of the day, you’ll end up with harsh midday lighting, just the same as if there were no clouds at all.
Which brings me to the next photography tip for beginners:
3. Avoid Midday Light Whenever You Can
Midday light is what you get when you go out while the sun is high in the sky and the day is clear.
Now, you’d think that midday light would work well for photography. It’s very bright, after all!
But here’s the problem:
Midday light is a bit too bright. It’s so bright that it’s harsh, causing all sorts of contrast in your photos that looks, well, bad.
Plus, midday light beats down on your subject from above. This results in unpleasant shadows all over your images.
That’s why you should avoid bright midday light, and instead search for better lighting: the soft light of a cloudy day, or the golden light of morning and evening.
One exception to this rule is in black and white photography. Because black and white images tend to look better with lots of contrast, sunny midday lighting actually works quite well.
But unless you’re shooting in black and white, if it’s sunny and midday, I recommend you stay home.
4. Expose Carefully for the Most Possible Details
Exposure refers to the level of brightness in an image. The goal of photography is to capture an even exposure–one that’s no so bright you lose detail in the whites, and not so dark you lose detail in the blacks.
But taking an evenly exposed photo isn’t always an easy task. You’re often faced with subjects that have both dark tones and light tones–which makes them very difficult to deal with.
That’s why you have to set your exposure very carefully.
Fortunately, all modern cameras have very good built-in meters, which analyze the scene and indicate which exposure is best.
Unfortunately, camera meters aren’t always accurate. That’s where you come in; you’ve got to make corrections when the exposure is wrong.
Two main cases to consider are when the scene is filled with dark tones, and when the scene is filled with light tones.
If your scene is very dark, such as a nightscape, you’re going to need to darken the image to get the correct exposure. (Counterintuitive, I know! But the technical explanation for this is beyond the scope of the article.) You can use exposure compensation on your camera, which allows you to darken the image a bit.
If your scene is very light, such as a snowscape, you’re going to need to brighten the image to get the correct exposure. You can lighten the image with exposure compensation.
5. Use Frontlight for Even Photos of Your Subject
Frontlight comes from in front of your subject (and over the shoulder of you, the photographer).
And frontlight is amazing for giving you nice, even lighting.
This is because frontlight hits your subject from your perspective–and your camera is able to capture a photo that’s very well lit.
However, you should only shoot frontlight when the sun is truly low in the sky (that is, during the golden hours). You don’t want to end up with an overly harsh shot.
I took this photo using frontlight:
Notice that the shot is very even, but isn’t particularly dramatic. It’s colorful, but doesn’t hit you over the head.
Frontlight is like that; a bit more subtle.
Compare that to backlight, which adds a lot of drama:
Related Post: Natural Light Photography (11 Easy to Implement Tips)
6. Use Backlight for Dramatic Silhouettes
Unlike frontlight, backlight is a lot more dramatic.
As indicated above, it’ll get you images like this:
And it can also get you some of the most stunning photos of all:
Now, backlight comes from behind your subject. To find backlight, you just need to point your camera into the sun.
(You should also be careful not to actually look at the sun through your lens. That could seriously damage your eyes.)
To actually create a silhouette, you’re going to need to focus on a large object, one that is framed against the sky. It often helps to get down low!
Then you should use exposure compensation to underexpose your photo–to make it very dark, so dark that there’s no detail in your main object.
And you’ll come away with a striking silhouette.
7. Choose the Right Shutter Speed for a Sharp Photo
Many photographers worry about image sharpness.
And for good reason: it’s so easy to end up with an image that’s just soft–and that softness will completely ruin your photo.
But the key to capturing sharp photos is simple:
You just have to choose the right shutter speed.
Now, shutter speed is the length of time your camera sensor is open to the world when it takes the photo. A long shutter speed keeps the camera taking a photo for a long time; a short shutter speed makes photo-taking almost instant.
And the shorter your shutter speed, the less likely the image is to blur.
This photo was taken with a long shutter speed. Notice how the wave is blurred:
Part of this depends on your subject. If you’re shooting a flying bird you need an ultra-fast shutter speed, because the bird itself is moving very fast.
This photo required a fast shutter speed to freeze the action:
But if you’re shooting an ambling tortoise, you’ll need a very slow shutter speed, because there’s nothing much that needs to be frozen.
You can select the shutter speed on your camera–one way is to put the camera into Manual mode. Another way is to use Shutter Priority mode.
(Both of these modes should be easy to access via your camera’s main dial or menu.)
Just make sure that, if you’re shooting a fast-moving object, you use a fast shutter speed–something in the area of 1/500s and beyond.
And no matter what, don’t drop down below 1/60s of a second or so, unless you’re using a tripod. Because even if your subject isn’t moving, your hands will shake a tiny amount, resulting in blur.
8. Include a Powerful Main Subject to Stun the Viewer
Composition starts with an impressive main subject.
Now, your main subject should be something that stands out. Something that anchors your entire photo. This could be anything discrete: a flower, a person, a bird, you name it.
But what’s important is that you include a main subject, and that it stands alone.
If you’re struggling to find a subject to use in your photo, ask yourself:
What drew me to this scene in the first place? What is it that I want to portray here?
That should give you a sense of the best main subject.
Next, try to figure out how you can isolate the main subject as much as possible. Angle yourself so that any distractions are removed from the scene. If you have to, move the distractions yourself.
Notice the way the main subject (a flower) is isolated in this photo:
That’s exactly what you want to achieve.
9. Simplify Your Compositions for the Most Striking Photos
Now, it’s important to include a main subject.
But you should also pay attention to the surroundings of that subject.
In particular, you should make sure you simplify the surroundings as much as possible. If there are several colors, try to reduce them down as much as you can. If there are any additional elements that dominate the photo, get rid of them.
You see, the best photos tend to be ultra-simple:
A main subject. A nice background. And that’s all.
In fact, simplicity is often the hallmark of a truly strong composition. So don’t get caught up trying to include all sorts of beauty in your composition.
Keep it simple!
10. Use the Rule of Thirds for Satisfying Images
The rule of thirds states that the most pleasing composition puts the main subject a third of the way into the frame.
A useful way to think about it is using this grid:
Basically, you should try to align your main subject with one of the gridlines–or, better yet, put it at the intersection of the gridlines, known as power points.
If you can do this, you’ll end up with a photo that looks very balanced.
For instance, I positioned my main subject along a power point for this photo:
If you have another important element in your photo (such as a horizon line), it can be helpful to put that along a rule of thirds line, too.
You’ll ultimately end up with a very satisfying shot!
Related Post: 7 Amazing Composition Techniques You Must Use
11. Experiment With Different Angles for Unique Looks
When it comes to composition, it’s important to create a balanced photo.
But you should also try to create something unique. You don’t want to keep showing the world the same thing over and over, right?
One of my favorite ways to create unique photos is to use creative angles.
Now, there’s no set way of doing this. But I recommend you get down on the ground, underneath your subject. Shoot up, and see what type of shot you get.
Then move to the side. Try that angle.
Walk around your subject. Aim to get an image every few steps.
Finally, shoot down at your subject. See what that produces.
If you just experiment with a few different angles, you’re guaranteed to come away with unique looking shots.
Because that’s what different angles do: They give you perspectives that nobody’s ever seen before.
So don’t be afraid to try out new angles.
You never know what you might find!
12. Use a Wide Aperture for the Best Backgrounds
Aperture refers to a diaphragm in the lens. The wider the diaphragm, the less of the photo that’s in focus. And the narrower the diaphragm, the more of the photo that’s in focus.
Now, the aperture is controlled by your camera, and it’s represented by something called f-stops, like this: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, etc.
The smaller the number, the wider the aperture.
And the better looking the background.
Note the difference between a shot with a wide aperture:
And a shot with a narrow aperture:
In general, wide apertures create better backgrounds overall. Backgrounds that will make your subject stand out, because they’re blurry and non-distracting.
Of course, your aperture can be too wide. If you use an aperture of f/2.8 on a subject that’s fairly deep, you’ll end up blurring out important parts of the subject. And the image just won’t work.
But just keep in mind the value of a wide aperture–and how it can give you a beautifully blurred backdrop!
Related Post: Wide vs Narrow Aperture: 10 Examples and Camera Settings
13. Increase the Subject to Background Distance to Enhance the Blur
In the previous tip, you discovered how a wide aperture can increase the background blur quality.
But there’s another way to enhance your background blur:
By keeping a large distance between your subject and the background.
You see, the closer your subject is to the background, the less blurry the background appears. This is because the wide aperture will only blur out so much–and the blur gets stronger the farther away it is from the point of focus.
One way of increasing the subject to background distance simply involves moving your subject. You can bring it out from the background, then photograph it.
This is easy if your subject is a person, but less easy if your subject is an inanimate object or in the wild.
Which is why you should consider other options, such as moving yourself to either side (while following the subject with your lens).
A neat trick is to get down low to the ground and shoot outward. That will ensure you don’t include the ground in your background. Instead, you’ll include some beautiful area off in the distance!
And speaking of getting down low:
14. Get Down on Your Subject’s Level for an Intimate Image
When it comes to photography, nothing is more off-putting than an impersonal image.
Instead, you want to create a photo that feels as if you’re inviting the viewer into the subject’s little world.
And one of my favorite ways to create that connection, that intimacy:
Get down on your subject’s level.
For portraits of children or even pets, this means crouching down until you’re shooting directly into the eyes of your subjects.
Related Post: Dog Photography Tips
For flowers, this means lying on the ground so your lens is just a few inches off the ground.
For landscapes, this means getting down low so that you can capture the vastness of the scene.
It’s a pretty easy thing to do–and it’ll make a huge difference in your photos!
15. Use Complementary Colors to Make Your Photos Stand Out
Color is one of the most overlooked aspects of beautiful photography.
This is probably because it’s so easy to forget about. The colors in the scene are the colors you always see–so you don’t even think about them.
But here’s the thing:
If you can use color to your own ends…
…well, you’ll get some truly gorgeous photos.
It all starts with selecting your colors deliberately. When you go to choose a composition, make sure you have a few nice colors in the scene. Not too many, mind you–because too many colors can easily overwhelm the viewer.
But which colors should you actually choose?
My recommendation is to start with complementary colors. These are heavily contrasting colors, and they sit opposite one another on the color wheel.
For instance, green and red are a complementary color pair. Same with yellow and purple, as well as blue and orange.
If you can isolate complementary color pairs in your shots, you’ll be stunned by how your photos increase in power.
They’ll stand out like they never have before!
16. Shoot With Different Lenses to Find Original Looks
Photographers often get stuck in a rut–where they use the same lens over and over again. Especially if they’re shooting the same subject.
So bird photographers will always use a long lens.
Landscape photographers will always use a wide lens.
Portrait photographers will always use a standard lens.
(You get the picture!)
The problem is that these lenses give you the same field of view repeatedly. So you always get similar shots.
Of course, this comes with an easy fix:
Go out with different lenses!
In fact, I recommend you go out shooting with a lens that’s the opposite of the one you normally use. So if you shoot wide, why not try some tight shots? And if you shoot tight portraits, try shooting wide.
It’s a great way to capture original photos–and to keep you from getting in any creative ruts.
Related Post: Best All-Rounder Zoom Lenses for Your DSLR
17. Look at Beautiful Photography to Hone Your Sense of Composition
All the tips I’ve given above have been about taking pictures in the field.
But did you know that there are a few ways to improve your photos…
…that you can do while sitting on the couch?
It’s true. And one of them is simply looking at other beautiful photography.
You see, the more you look at other photography, the more your sense of composition is honed. And you’ll start to see compositions everywhere–which is exactly what you want.
All you have to do is find a few photographers you really admire. Ideally, these photographers should be in the genres that you like the most. So if you enjoy shooting birds, find amazing bird photographers. And if you enjoy shooting street photography, look for amazing street photographers.
After that, it’s just a matter of following them on social media, and checking out any new images they post to their website/blog.
Keep it up every day.
And pretty soon, your sense of composition will be growing in leaps and bounds!
18. Boost the Contrast to Make Your Photos Pop
As I said earlier, you don’t need to do a lot of post-processing.
Just a little bit should do it.
And one of the absolute best ways to give your photos a little extra oomph…
…is to boost the contrast a bit.
You see, the more contrast you add, the more powerful the whites and blacks become. And the more powerful the overall photo looks.
Now, you can up the contrast with the basic contrast slider in Lightroom (or in Photoshop, or any other basic editing program). And this should do just fine.
But if you want more fine control over your image, feel free to use more specific contrast sliders, or even a tone curve, to create a more careful contrasty look.
19. Increase the Tonal Range for the Best Images
If you’re looking to improve your photos, you can always increase the tonal range.
Note that the tonal range simply refers to the range of tones throughout the photo.
A photo with high tonal range has bright whites and dark blacks. Whereas a photo with low tonal range is very dark, very gray, or very light.
Now, the higher the tonal range, the better your photos will look (generally speaking).
So it makes sense to enhance the tonal range whenever you can.
One of the easiest ways to do this is with the whites and blacks sliders in Lightroom. Simply push the whites slider up–until you start to see a loss of detail in the brightest parts of the image.
And push the blacks slider down–until you start to lose detail in the darkest part of the image.
That’s all you have to do, and you’ll have maximized the tonal range!
20. Add a Bit of Vibrance to Enhance Your Colors
Vibrance is one of the most useful sliders in the Lightroom basic adjustments panel.
It essentially does a ‘smart saturation’ of the entire scene.
In other words, vibrance boosts the colors that aren’t very saturated, but leaves the saturated colors alone. This allows you to bring out colors–without worrying about oversaturation.
Why is this so useful?
Color is one of the first things people notice when they see your photos. And if the colors are flat, it’s the first strike against the photo.
But if the colors jump out at them…
Well, then, the shot will seem that much better.
So I suggest you always add a bit of vibrancy to your shots. Of course, don’t overdo it–but a little color can go a long way!
Photography Tips for Beginners: Conclusion
Hopefully, you now have a sense of how to capture stunning photos.
And you realize that it doesn’t take much work–just a bit of knowledge and a bit of practice.
So next time you’re out shooting, just remember these tips.
You’ll get some beautiful photos. I guarantee it!
If you want to take your photos to the next level, I suggest you focus on two key concepts: light and composition. These don’t take much work to master, but will change your photography in a big way.
Start by learning about the basics of light: the different types of light, the different directions of light. You’ll want to shoot during the golden hours (early morning and late afternoon) for beautiful light, or on cloudy days for soft light. Avoid shooting in the middle of the day at all costs, because that’s when the light is harsh and unpleasant.
Then move on to composition fundamentals. Find a powerful main subject. Use the rule of thirds to place that subject. Figure out ways to simplify your shots as much as possible.
If you follow these tips, you’ll see immediate improvements in your photography. Guaranteed.
As a beginner, you should familiarize yourself with a few main settings.
First, you’re going to need to understand aperture. The aperture is a hole in the center of your lenses–which gets bigger and smaller, depending on your aperture setting. The bigger the hole, the more light the lens lets in. And wider apertures also make your backgrounds more blurry.
Second, you’ll want to master shutter speed. Shutter speed is the length of time the sensor is exposed to the light. In other words, the shutter speed is how long your camera actually takes a picture for. The faster the shutter speed, the more easily you can freeze motion. But faster shutter speeds let in less light, so you often have to compromise.
Finally, you should become well-versed in ISO. ISO is the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the brighter your photos will appear. This is nice for shooting at night and in other dark situations, when you have very little light to work with. But higher ISOs also produce noise (also known as grain), which hurts image quality.
Every beginner photographer should know about the basic camera settings, about light, about composition, and about the basics of post-processing.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.