Tips on taking up photography.

I’ve always liked taking pictures and I’ve recently decided that I want to take it up as a hobby. Not to make a living off it or anything, but because it’s something that I find fun and exciting.

Any tips?

What kind of camera do you currently use?

All I have right now is my digital camera. A Kodak EasyShare.

I can’t recommend this book enough:

I remember one of my teachers trying to drill us with one saying: “Film is cheap; shots are priceless.” Film is especially cheap if you don’t have to use it, as with digital.

Take pictures of everything interesting. Take notes. Notice what you like about the good ones and try to re-create that more often.

Here’s my little photobucket album of some I’ve already taken, if anyone’s interested.

If you want to take your photos to the next level, maybe consider getting a DSLR camera. They’re pricey but you have so many more options that on a regular point and shoot camera. If that’s not in the budget right now, just try to think outside the box a bit when taking photos. Try new angles, settings, etc. Play around and have fun.

Good site to look at cameras and get info (also has various boards for different cameras/camera manufacturers)

(Since you didn’t mention your skill level, I’m assuming that you’re just getting into the hobby. But if you’re not a beginner, I apologize – do tell us what you already know!)

It’s simple… first learn what all the functions on your camera do and how they affect your shots. Then explore a few basic topics like composition, depth of field, color, etc. Then go out and take as many pictures as you possibly can!

Then, find the shots that you like best and critique them. There are several ways to do this. You can do this yourself by reading books or webpages and seeing how your photos compare to their suggestions. Or you can look at photography galleries ( is a good one) to find pictures that you really like… then ask yourself what you like about the pictures, how they differ from your own pictures (or do they?), and what you can do to achieve similar effects. I think there’s also a photo site that’s made specifically for photo discussions, but I can’t remember the name right now. Darn.

But a better (and certainly more fun) way would be to find some people that are also interested in photography and share your photos with each other. Got any interested friends? Or are there any photography clubs/groups in your area? Or, if you have the time, consider signing up for a photography class at a local community college. A knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher would be able to offer a lot of guidance and suggestions, and you’ll have plenty of opportunites to share your shots with other like-minded individuals.

As for equipment, are you currently using a Kodak DX7440? (That’s what your photos say). If so, you already have a few manual controls: Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and different Metering modes. Play with them! If you want a camera with more control but can’t afford a DSLR, consider some of the more advanced compacts. A lot of them offer the same degree of manual control that SLRs have, but at prices that are typically below $400. You’ll lose a bit of image quality and gain a bit of image noise, but you’ll also get a wider zoom range and a wider aperture range compared to most entry-level DSLR lenses. These “prosumer” cameras offer a good blend of price, quality, and control. Some examples include the Canon S2/S3 ultrazooms and a few Powershots, the Sony “H” series or F707/F717/F828 or R1, etc. Dpreview is an excellent site, but you might want to start from as they have a better buyer’s guide and search engine.

I know nothing.

Thanks for all of your replies. As soon as I get the time I’ll look into community college classes.

If you’re actually going to take community college classes, I highly suggest examining the professors using first. Try to choose someone who exhibits at least some degree of passion for photography, or you probably won’t get much out of the class. If you can’t find a good teacher at your first choice of college, try other neighboring community colleges. But don’t rely on the smiley faces at that site; read the actual comments to get a better idea of what the teacher’s like.

If you’re really short on time, many CCs also offer online classes. Some are self-paced and others have due dates (you’re not doing this for a grade, obviously, so all this means for you is that the rest of the class may be moving faster or slower than you). However, keep in mind that online classes are generally not as engaging as real-world ones. It’s hard to find good online courses and teachers – too many of them take the “put up a series of lecture articles and be done with it” approach, meaning they don’t emphasize interaction and feedback enough. You want as much feedback as you can get and I wouldn’t recommend this approach unless you absolutely don’t have time for anything else.

Anyway, about photography itself: Basically, there are two major concepts to understand: Composition (what to include in your picture and how to frame everything) and Exposure (controlling the way things will look on film/as a digital image, as opposed to what the naked eye sees). Those two seem like good tutorials and here are some more if you’re interested. Also, if you’d like, I can briefly explain what the manual controls on your camera do and how they relate to exposure – but keep in mind that I’m just a beginning-to-intermediate hobbyist and by no means a professional.

Books can also teach techniques and tips, and aside from the ones already mentioned, I’d like to recommend the National Geographic Photography Field Guide, from the organization that (IMHO) brought us some of the world’s most amazing photos. But still, whichever method you choose, the technical aspects are just one part of the equation; you definitely want to get together with people and examine each other’s pictures :slight_smile:

By the way, I liked the last photo (the snowy mountains against the desert) in your Photobucket album. Where was that taken? And what were the helicopters doing flying so low above you?

Best advice I can give: take a lot of pictures and also go look at other people’s pictures.
Check out the galleries at to see what advanced hobbyists and professionals’ work looks like and compare it to yours. Try to figure out what they do differently.
Whenever possible, use a tripod.
Experiment. Do the same shot with different settings and figure out which work best under different circumstances.
Try to avoid using the preset “snapshot” settings. They’re fine and handy to have, but when you’re trying to learn you need to know WHY things turned out the way they did.
Find something to take pictures of that you’re passionate about. For me, it’s western landscapes. Find what it is for you. You don’t have to JUST take pictures of that one thing, but it can be something that keeps you interested in photography.
As for equipment, I’d reccommend an SLR or a digital SLR, if you have the money. Nothing wrong with a good point and shoot, but again, if you are trying to learn it’s best you be able to use manual settings, which most point and shoots lack.
Hope this helps.

The first thing to do is get something better than an EasyShare. You can get a basic film SLR for a few hundred dollars, less if you don’t mind buying used. Have a look on Craigslist and so on. I’d advise against getting a dSLR at this point because it would really suck to drop several grand on a camera only to discover you don’t like photography that much after all. This way you can also decide whether you prefer film or digital.

You can get film SLRs for under $200 new. You can get digital SLRs for under $700 new. No “dropping several grand” needed. Hell, over on Fred Miranda’s board, you can find used Canon Digital Rebel DSLRs for $400 used in excellent condition.

Sorry, man. I keep thinking in Australian dollars. Just multiply everything I say by 0.6 or so.

Ah, sorry…should have checked your hometown section there.

BTW, Rand, at Nellis you are uniquely situated to do some serious landscape photography, so I hope it interests you. :slight_smile:

This is what actually got me interested. For those that don’t know, I fly in those helocopters as an aerial gunner, so when we’re not in a scenerio or shooting, and we’re just flying along, I’ve seen a lot of things, just maybe a rock or two, that very few people get to see, and I find it absolutly stunning.

I would greatly appreciate that. That last picture was taken maybe about 15 miles outside of Parumph (I think that’s how it’s spelled…lemme see…yup).

The reason why the helocopters were flying so low is because that day I was playing a “survivor” and they were coming in to pick me up. If you want, I’ll put up some other pictures from the helocopter and such just because I think it’s cool.

Okay, I’ll give it a shot then. Feel free to ask more questions if I’m unclear about anything. I’m still learning as well, so you pros out there, please do correct me when I’m wrong or add to my descriptions as necessary. Now, let’s see… I’m going to assume that you read the Composition and Exposure links above, because without them, this won’t make sense.

Most of the controls on your camera are there to control different aspects of the exposure, so let’s start with that.

Correct exposure

The first thing to understand is that, in Automatic mode, your camera will attempt to achieve a “correct exposure” on its own. All this means is that the camera will try its best to get you a picture that’s just the right brightness – not too bright and not too dark.

It does this by tinkering with three settings behind the scenes: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Setting. They all contribute to the overall brightness of the image, but in different ways. There are multiple setting combinations to achieve the same level of brightness (the same “correct exposure”), but each combination will make the image look different in other ways.

What Manual and Pseudo-Manual (Aperture/Shutter Priority) modes do is give you back some of that control so that you can choose how the camera achieves the correct exposure – and hence how your final image looks.

I’ll talk more about getting the right exposure value later on, but for now, let me explain what the settings themselves mean.


Practical effect
The greater the f-stop number, the blurrier the background (and foreground, if there’s anything in front of your subject). The f-stop number is a ratio, so f/2 is greater than f/8 (consider it “f divided by X” – as in, “f divided by 2 is greater than f divided by 8”). At f/2, only your subject will be in focus and everything else will be relatively blurry. At f/32, everything from the ground in front of your subject to the mountains behind him/her will be in sharp focus.

For portraits, you’d probably want a high f-stop number (f/2) so that your subject stands out from the background. For landscapes, you’d probably want a low f-stop number (f/8, f/32, or as low as your camera/lens allows) so that you can see all the way into the distance. Or maybe not! If, for example, you see a tree you like that’s in front of an ugly highway, you can make the highway less distracting by blurring it with a low f-stop.

Additional details
The Aperture controls the size of the lens opening (via a circular diaphragm that opens and closes to various sizes). The larger the opening, the more light that gets in over a given time period. Thus, aside from its effect on depth of field, a greater f-stop number also means that the image will be brighter. If you’re shooting in somewhat dark areas, a large aperture can help. If you’re shooting in REALLY dark areas, a large aperture will not be enough: Either use the flash or set the camera on a tripod and use a longer shutter speed.

Shutter speed

Practical effect
The longer the shutter is open, the more motion you will capture. The shutter speed is measured in regular time: Fractions of a second, seconds, minutes, and then hours. Now, imagine someone waving their hand repeatedly in front of the camera. At 1/1000 of a second, their hand will appear absolutely still – it’ll be frozen in time. At 1/100, there’ll be a motion trail behind every finger, but you might still be able to make out the general form of the hand. At 3 seconds, the hand will appear as a complete blur.

For sports photography, you’d usually use a very fast shutter speed (1/1000 or faster) because you want to capture the subject clearly instead of having them appear as a blur (or maybe you DO want them to appear as a lightning-fast blur, like Flash – it’s up to you!). For nature photography, a long shutter speed is often used to make flowing water appear “smooth” – it can look almost mist-like. The shutter speed determines whether a hummingbird’s wings appear distinct or blurry.

Or let’s say you’re taking a picture of a hovering Blackhawk from the ground. If you use a 1/2000 shutter speed, everything’ll appear completely frozen. The rotors will have next to no motion blur and the minigun will appear still. If you use a 1/500 shutter speed, the rotors will leave more of a trail, the minigun will be a blur, and any fired tracers will leave long streaks across the sky. At a 1-second or longer shutter speed, EVERYTHING in the picture will be blurry. The helicopter itself will leave a motion trail and, more likely than not, it’ll just look like the picture is out of focus. And if the tracers start getting lower and lower and closer to you at any point, you’d probably want to pack up your camera and start to leave the area.

Additional details
The shutter speed is affected by ALL motion, including the motions of you and your camera. If you experiment with a 5-second shutter speed while you’re running away from a pursuing Blackhawk, the resulting picture will look 1) extremely blurry, as though you were on an Acid trip and 2) very bloody. But even if your subject is absolutely still, small camera movements can affect the picture. At longer shutter speeds (1/150 or longer), even the minute trembling of your hands can cause visible trails. The best way to solve this is to use a tripod. If they’re too cumbersome, consider a monopod (a tripod minus two legs) or a mini, pocket-sized tripod that you can place on rocks, tree limbs, or other stationary things. Image-stabilized lenses (lenses with some sort of anti-hand-shake technology) also help to some degree, but not as much as a tripod would.

Additionally, in normal daylight hours or in bright areas, shutter speeds longer than 1 to 3 seconds will generally be way overexposed. This means that the camera will capture way too much light and the picture will end up completely white. To deal with this, either use a smaller aperture setting (see “Doing the math” below) or use one or more “neutral density filters”. These are dark plastic or glass filters that fit over your camera lens and reduce the amount of incoming light – sunglasses for your camera, essentially. They come in various strengths, and if one isn’t enough, you can stack multiple ones together.

ISO Setting (also called “APA value” (1 ISO = 1 APA) or “film speed” (higher ISO = faster film speed)

Practical effect
The higher the ISO, the brighter the image and the noisier the image. All else being equal (meaning if none of the other settings are changed), an ISO 50 image will be very clear but very dark. An ISO 2000 image will be very bright but very “grainy” if you’re using a film camera or very “noisy” if you’re using a digital camera (see an example). In other words, using a higher ISO is like faking the amount of available light – you can artificially make the image brighter, but you lose image quality.

The general rule: Use as low an ISO setting as possible while still maintaining your desired exposure. If ISO 50 won’t do it, move up to ISO 100 and see if that’s bright enough. If not, go up to 200 and so on. How do you know what the correct exposure is? See the next section, “Doing the math”.

Doing the math

Now that you know what the various settings do, let’s go back to the concept of “correct exposure”. Basically, having a correct exposure just means that your picture is neither too bright nor too dark. This is done through the combination of aperture setting, shutter speed, and ISO value – all contribute to brightness, remember? The neat thing about this is that different combinations can result in the same correct exposure value:
[li]f/2.8 1/2000[/li][li]f/5.6 1/500[/li][li]f/16 1/60[/li][/ul]

All of these will be be equally bright. The f/2.8 picture will have a shallow depth of field and frozen motion; the f/16 one will have a deep depth of field and motion trails; the f/5.6 one will be somewhere in-between. But all three will have a correct exposure! This is how manual control gives you more creative freedom.

Now, how did I come up with those equivalent sets of numbers? Well… I Googled them :slight_smile: Back in the very old days, photographers had to memorize these number sets and implement them manually according to the film speed they were using. A few decades later, cameras with built-in exposure meters started to appear and they would tell you (through on-screen displays) whether you’re at a correct exposure. In the present day, the cameras can do even better: You give it one number and it’ll automatically calculate the others for you! I’ll talk about the different modes:

Automatic (On the EasyShare DX7440, this is the “Camera” icon)
Everything is automatic. You point the camera at something, it’ll guesstimate a correct exposure value according to see what it sees and then it’ll take the picture. Usually works well in well-lit areas, but deprives you of all creative control.

Program (P)
You have a bit more control. The camera still figures out the aperture and shutter speed, but you can manually set a higher exposure value (for a deliberately overexposed and brighter image), set the flash output level, etc.

Aperture Priority (A)
You choose the aperture you want and the camera will figure out the correct shutter speed. Want a blurry background but don’t care about motion trails? Use this mode and set it to F/2.

Shutter Priority (S)
You choose the shutter speed and the camera will figure out the aperture value. Want to freeze motion but don’t care about depth of field? Use this mode.

Manual (M)
You have complete control over all settings. An on-screen exposure meter will guide you towards a correct exposure value (indicated by a “0” EV on the meter), but you’re free to adjust settings to go above it (+2 EV is brighter) or below it (-2 EV is darker), depending on how you want the image to look. Remember, the “correct exposure” is just an estimated correct brightness… you can determine how bright you want the image to be for yourself.

Other miscellaneous controls

Metering mode
When the camera is in one of the pseudo-automatic modes (P, A, S), it figures out a correct exposure value by looking at the scene itself through its lens. This generally works well in equally-lit areas, but what do you do when one part of the scene is abnormally bright? You have to change the metering mode. This tells the camera “When you calculate the EV, only use THIS part of the image and not THAT part” – or, “Figure out the corect brightness using this dark wall over here, not the bright window next to it”.

Multi-pattern metering (the default) has an icon like: |[ ]|
This calculates the correct EV based on the average brightness of the entire scene. If you have one extremely bright area, it’ll make the overall average too high and you’ll end up with an overexposed picture. Use one of the next modes instead.

Center-spot metering: | o |
Calculates brightness based on the center point of the frame, ignoring the background. For example, if your subject is in the middle of the frame and the sun is shining brightly behind him or her, this mode will use the person for guidance and not the overwhelming brightness of the sky behind.

Center-weighted metering: |( o )|
A combination of the previous two modes. It still tries to find an overall average, but it gives more weight to whatever’s in the center of the frame.

Focus zone (only relevant when autofocusing)
Very much like the metering modes above, but this one applies to focus and not brightness. Basically, it tells the camera what part of the frame to focus on.

Macro/Close-up mode, a.k.a. “the flower” (only relevant when autofocusing)
The camera’s autofocus function usually expects your subject to be at least a few feet away you. When the subject is extremely close to you, just push this button to make the camera focus correctly. Basically, just try to focus as you normally would. If the autofocus can’t grab a correct focus, either push this button and try again or switch to manual focus and do it yourself.

White Balance
Essentially, how orange or blue the picture is. You’ll notice that different light sources have different “color temperatures”. A candle will give off a very a warm, yellow light. A tungsten lightbulb will produce something similar. An LED will give off a cooler, whiter light. A flourescent light will give off a slightly greenish light.

Our eyes are very good at automatically adjusting for these conditions. Cameras CAN be good in certain situations (such as broad daylight), but in other situations they’re completely thrown off. Just toggle through the different modes until the on-screen color and warmth matches what your own eyes see.

The different modes (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Flourescent) typically correspond well to their intended environments – i.e., using the flourescent setting in a flourescent-lit room will usually give you the right white balance – but not always. If you disagree with the camera, just toggle through all of them and find the one that you think matches best, regardless of what the icon says it’s supposed to be for.

Brings you closer or further away from your subject, obviously. But you should also know that the closer the camera is to its subject (whether you zoom in or walk closer), the shallower the depth of field. So another way of taking an extremely blurry background would be to hold the camera right up to your subject’s face.

Scene modes (Portrait, sport, night, etc.)
These are just pseudo-automatic functions that use a preset aperture/shutter/ISO setting to give you relatively good results in different settings. Portrait mode, for example, will have a high aperture value. Sports mode will have a very fast shutter speed. Fireworks mode might have a longer shutter speed and a higher ISO so you can better capture the trails. Underwater mode might adjust the white balance to compensate for the different lighting conditions underwater.

The flash is overused by most people. It is not necessary in most conditions and it only gives your subject a harsh, white, unnatural look. I only use it in very dark areas when I don’t have a tripod with me (meaning longer shutter speeds aren’t possible).

However, one interesting use for it is its ability to freeze motion, much like a fast shutter speed. Because the flash is only on for a fraction of a second, whatever it lights up will be caught in the frame and appear frozen, regardless of aperture and shutter speed.

Flash compensation
Adjusts the brightness level of the flash.

Red-eye compensation
The red-eye effect is due to light from the flash reflecting off a person’s pupil. This mode will cause the flash to blink a couple of times before the actual photo is taken, thereby shrinking the person’s pupil size and hopefully reducing redeye.

Putting it all together

Now that you know what all the functions do, you should be able to use them to control your pictures. Here’s a step-by-step procedure I go through when I take a picture:
[li]Examine the scene, consider it, and determine what effect I want to achieve in my photo. I visualize the result in my head and ask myself what I have to do to make it happen.[/li][li]Compose my image. I frame the important parts, choose a good angle, and try to get the nonimportant parts out of the frame.[/li][li]Set the white balance. Is the picture too yellow? Too blue?[/li][li]Set the focus. Is my subject in focus?[/li][li]Set the aperture. Do I want the background to be in focus or not?[/li][li]Set the shutter speed. Do I want to capture motion or not?[/li][li]Set the ISO value. I start at the lowest value and work my way up until I get a bright enough exposure – WITHOUT changing the previous two settings.[/li][li]Determine whether the flash is necessary. It usually isn’t.[/li][li]Take the picture.[/li][li]Review the picture, adjusting settings as necessary.[/li][/ol]

Modify the list as necessary, eliminating or adding steps wherever you need to.

That’s about it. But remember, the technical aspects are just one aspect of the hobby… practice and discussion are just as important and perhaps even more so. So go out there and shoot! And yes, sure, put up more pics of the helicopters and whatever else you have so we can see :slight_smile:

Sorry, I left out one important aspect in the “Putting it all together” section.

There is an important interplay between Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO setting. You have to decide which of the two (aperture or shutter speed) is most important in a given scene and then adjust the other settings accordingly.

For example, if a deep depth of field is of utmost importance, you will need to compensate with a longer shutter speed (thus getting more motion and more light whether you want it or not).

Or, if you want to use a very fast shutter speed, you’ll have to compensate by opening the aperture up wider (thus getting a shallower depth of field).

As I mentioned before, there are some techniques that can give you a bit more freedom with the secondary setting. You can add more light to the scene by waiting for a brighter time of day or by supplying your own light: The built-in flash works in a hurry, but you can get brighter and more natural-looking external flashes. You can artificially increase brightness by upping the ISO value. You can minimize unwated motion by using image-stabilized lenses or a tripod. You can apply ND filters if the image is overexposed.

But those techniques won’t always be sufficient. In any given scene, you have to choose either aperture or shutter speed as your main priority – like the A and S camera modes suggest – and the secondary adjustments have to be just that, secondary. Basically, sometimes you simply can’t have both exactly the way you want them and you just have to compromise.

Wow, there is so much about this that I don’t know. Thank you for the reply Reply. That alone was worth my subscription.

After reading that, I’m still interested, so I’ll take that as a good sign.

Thank you again.