“If you want to learn to do something you must figure out how you would do it yourself ”.
This is not something that one would want to hear when setting out to learn something new. But I think this is very true whenever you set out to learn something new, it is finally about finding your way, our way rather my way of doing things.
I used to be amazed by most of the photos that’s floating around in the social and photography sites. I wondered how people could take these pictures and thought it was some art that one has to be born with. But soon I started seeing lots of my friends too putting up awesome shots of their trips or their neighborhoods. For most of the photos one thing was common, a DSLR.
I got myself a Canon EOS 550D along with the basic 18-55mm kit lens thinking that was the answer to all the wonderful photos that I wanted to take. But only to find that my pictures were blurry, out of focus, lacking contrast and sharpness and mostly no subject at all. I never found life in my photos, which made me believe that I ‘lacked that inborn talent’. But I didn’t want to give up that fast. I started reading, reading a lot on these figuring out what people did, I started talking to my friends whose photos I liked , watching video tutorials and last but not the least, started clicking a lot. As a beginner to dslr photography the learning curve is very high, but not hard. In this post I just want to put out those things that helped me to improve on my photography skills at least to a point where I don’t regret shelling out the money to get this awesome equipment.
Read the manual: Knowing the equipment is the only way you can use it your benefit, so the very first thing to make sure is to know your camera and its controls well. It would really pay off to take up that manual you left off in the camera packaged box and start reading. If you don’t like the way the manual is put out get a book that explains your camera., for me it was Canon EOS Rebel T2i / 550D For Dummies. There would be one for your camera too.
Know the basics: One of the most popular mistakes we make as a beginner is to not hold the camera properly. Learn how to hold the camera properly and practice it over and over again. Learn about aperture, focal points, focal length, shutter speed, iso and white balance. These are not rocket science and something that we all would have learned in our physics classes. Just try to read through it over and over again, until have a fairly good idea. Remember to give it some time to get into you and don’t hurry into anything. Read through different articles on the internet and watch some videos in YouTube to get a better understanding.
Learn the rules: I was not the guy with that inborn talent, so had to learn how to compose. Composition simply means choosing what to include and what to exclude from your photos. In addition to that there are also some simple techniques that one can use to improve your composition. Rule of thirds is the first rule that you want to start using, and also a lot more like diagonal lines, frames, geometric shapes and much more. But also do learn on how to break the rules.
Choose your gear: Most of us start of with a entry level dslr camera with the kit lens, which is good enough for a beginner. Its better to understand the equipment properly and also your tastes in photography before investing more on costlier lenses. Once you have got the hang of it, then you would figure out what you want all by yourself. You would know what is limiting you and what you really want. But to start with you should have a DSLR, a tripod and a camera bag. When you invest on a tripod make sure you don’t go cheap on it. A tripod is really a worthy investment and a good one will last you a long time. I made the mistake of getting a cheap one first but soon had to spent on a new one which is a Manfrotto with ball head. I found that the pan head tripod was very hard to use and position. It took me for ever on my first tripod to move all these knobs up and down on the pan head, to position for my shot. I liked the ball head ans it was super fast and easy to position for any shot. You should check out for yourself with different models before getting one. Also get a decent bag that can carry your dslr and tripod along. Have in mind the possible lens updates that you would make before buying on a bag, so that you don’t end up having to buy a new one when you have more lenses. I chose a Vanguard Uprise 45 and here’s why.This is what is in my bag now.
Shoot in RAW: DSLR has this capability of shooting in jpeg’s like most of the other digital camera’s out there. But what really makes it apart is its capability to shoot RAW. You are never going to make the difference unless you switch to shooting in RAW. Now you might think what is big thing it is just about a change in settings. But that small change is gonna take you a long way in photography and make that difference in the pictures that you click. When you shoot in jpeg, what happens is the camera does some built in algorithm to optimize the photos that you take, to apply the contrast, sharpness, balance and what not. But it might not always make the right choice. Especially you might have your white balance off and the colors might appear totally different. Unless you are doing product photography you would not have to worry what the exact white balance is. You could always choose your white balance after the shot in a post production software. A lot more advantages are there while shooting in RAW vs JPEG. I always shoot in Raw + Jpeg mode in my canon, just in case if I want to quickly select some images. Also it might be worthy to compare how better you are doing shooting in RAW by comparing it with a JPEG shot.
Post Processing: Shooting in RAW is never complete without talking about post production. With the RAW format it is just like you have an image which does not have any contrast, sharpness, clarity, saturation etc applied by your camera. You need to apply that all yourself using a post production software. Before shooting in RAW I used to use Picasa, to edit my photos mostly to boost up the saturation and increase the clarity. But after moving on to RAW I have figured out that you ought to have better software for editing/post processing. The unanimous choice for all would be Adobe Camera Raw . If you have Adobe Lightroom it’s even better, it is simple camera raw plus a whole lot of other features. And if you have Adobe Photoshop even better. At the very least you should get Camera Raw. ‘Ahh!! that is photoshopped’. This is a very popular thing that you come across in photography. Using Photoshop/other post-processing tools is not a crime. It is just like you modifying the image properties yourself than having the camera’s pre-written algorithm do that. So you are never avoiding processing, Even when shooting JPEG your camera is doing the processing for you and here you are doing it for yourself. Some people might say the sky never was like that on that day, come’on you have faked it. But who cares, there is no international committee that says the sky’s color should be #XYZ. It’s all how you want it to be and how you want your viewers to see it. So if they are liking it, you are liking it then who cares what the color was that day. If you don’t want to try out different color, don’t do that too. Keep it the way it was that day. I was always overwhelmed whenever I opened camera-raw/lightroom/photoshop. There are innumerous controls that I think rarely anyone would know end to end(Scott Kelby might know, he has got some excellent books. There is just a very few set of controls that you would be using always and that you would have to know 90% of the time. So invest your time in understanding them. Check below for some good resources that would help you get started, it really did help me.
Listen to the experts: More than books I have felt that video’s convey a bit more while learning about photography. Some of the popular people I like to watch are Karl Taylor and Scott Kelby. There a lot of good resources on YouTube that would help. I have created a playlist of my favorite videos, that has helped me a lot with photography. These include post processing, shooting techniques, composition and a lot more. The videos are in order of how much it helped me, though it might not be the same for you.
Apart from the videos in the playlist I have also found the videos by Mike Browne very helpful in understanding the basics on camera and its functionality and also on composition. Kelby Training also has a very good set of resource that you are sure to enjoy. There is a lot more to learn from good photographers. Try to take a look at their work and see what makes you to love those photos. See what is your area of interest and try to work towards that. 500px has an amazing collection of awesome photos. ‘ The more pictures you see the better you are as a photographer ’
Share for Feedback: You should share the pictures that you take with others, family friends or general public. By doing this you are sure to get a lot of feedback and inputs on how you click. Today there is no dearth for the options that you have got to share your photos. Some of the popular ones are 500px , flickr , Facebook etc. Try to join a photography club near you and go for photo-walks or sharing your pictures with them as you would get more feedback from like minded people. Analyse your shots yourself and see what can be improved, what went good and what went wrong. It will really help you the next time you shoot. Try to reproduce shots that you have seen and liked, that will definitely take you through a whole new learning journey.
Learning photography seems like a long journey, but this has only put me into the beginner seat and there is a lot more to go. Nevertheless this is an amazing experience and have loved every bit of it. It has opened a whole new me in myself as I see things in different view. Soon you learn to see things through a rectangle frame even without having one. It makes you enjoy the things around you and appreciate nature more. The best places to start clicking without having anyone stare at you are at some parks or zoo’s near you. You would have all the time in the world to you and can try out all the tricks that you would have read and learned. Always make sure you click the people who travel with you, so that you keep them happy too!
Do drop in with comments on anything that helped you learn this amazing art !