Sep 9

Lessons Learned After Picking Up My First Camera

I remember stopping in a camera store a few years ago, picking up a camera and thinking to myself: “This thing has a lot of knobs and buttons…and most of them aren’t labeled.” This happened shortly after I decided I wanted to step up my photography game from an iPhone to something a little more professional. After that visit to the store, I realized taking photos wasn’t going to be as simple as turning on a camera, pointing and shooting.

After a lot of practice, I developed a mental list of lessons I wish I knew before snapping photos. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you enter the world of photography.

Understand Background Blur, Motion and Brightness

When it comes to camera controls, there are three primary settings that photographers manipulate to achieve different looks: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Don’t recognize these terms? No worries – you’ve most likely encountered these settings and just didn’t know the proper terminology for them. Here is a quick reference for each of these settings:

Aperture: This setting affects two major factors of photos: background blur – otherwise known as bokeh – and brightness. Aperture by definition is a hole where light travels through. The brightness and amount of bokeh in a photo is determined by how open the hole created by the shutter in a lens is. Aperture is measured by an “f-number” value, which varies from lens to lens. If a lens’s range is f/2 to f/22, it will let in the most natural light and create more bokeh when the shutter is wide open at f/2. When you increase the f-number, you let in less light and create more in-focus backgrounds.

Aperture graphic

Shutter speed: Shutter speed is the time in which a shutter is open when you take a picture. Shutter speed can range from 1/8000 of a second to 30 seconds, depending on the camera. The speed in which your shutter closes affects brightness and motion blur. As a rule of thumb, you want to have your shutter speed set at a faster setting when you want crisp photos of subjects without blur, such as athletes and presenters. Longer shutter speeds create a blur trail, which can be creatively manipulated for photos of cars driving at night or stars moving across the sky.

Shutter speed graphic

ISO: Think of ISO as artificial lighting that cameras produce. If you’re shooting in a dark setting where you cannot adjust your shutter speed/aperture to achieve proper lighting, you can raise your ISO to brighten your images. It may seem like the ultimate solution that allows you to shoot in dark areas without any worries, but like all good things, too much of something does more harm than good. Raising your ISO too high commonly results in images looking grainy and artificial. For this reason, it is recommended to adjust lighting through shutter speed, aperture and external lighting before raising your ISO.

Experiment with Lenses

From the outside looking into the photography world, it may seem like the key to success is purchasing the best camera with the highest megapixel count and lenses are unimportant add-ons. In reality, lenses are just as important as the camera because they are what shapes your frame.

Before shooting an event, portrait or product, it’s important to plan ahead and think about what lens would produce the best results. Shorter focal lengths, such as 16mm, 24mm and 35mm are great for landscapes and capturing a wide scene, while longer focal lengths, such as 85mm 200mm are great for events where you need to snap shots from a distance without being distracting or obtrusive.

This was the number one lesson I learned when I began incorporating photography into my communications repertoire – getting as many details ahead of time so you can visualize and know which lens to bring. Fun fact: the human eye’s focal length is around 24mm. With this in mind, try to visualize yourself standing in a room before a shoot and picture what you can/cannot see.

Be Flexible

Similar to every form of communication – flexibility is key. As I mentioned above, preparation and visualization are important, but things don’t always go as planned. There are a number of unforeseen obstacles that can challenge your flexibility once you arrive on site: poor lighting, small rooms, uninteresting backgrounds and so forth. Creatively working through these obstacles and avoiding panic will strengthen your skills as a photographer and ensure you can work through any occasion.

Don’t Rely Too Much on Editing

As the famous saying goes, “we’ll fix it in post.” This phrase is everywhere and has created a perception that everything can be fixed when editing photos in post-production. While I’ve seen some pretty amazing transformations in apps like Photoshop and Lightroom, it’s not wise to completely rely on these tools to enhance your photos.

Take the extra time and effort to set up your scene to your liking. Spend an additional few minutes tinkering with lighting and backdrops – it will save you a lot of time and headaches once you review the files on your computer.

I hope these tips have inspired you to grab a camera and start shooting with confidence. You will be a pro in no time – it just takes a little bit of practice and patience.


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