Photography for dummies
November 12, 2007 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I was given a SLR camera for my birthday (yay!) and I am a complete novice in photography. I'd like to learn how to take decent pictures. Tips? Essential online readings? Forums?

I was given a Canon EOS 35d for my birthday and I find the Canon manual to be extremely boring to read. I would love to learn more on the functionalities of the camera and various tips online via forums and website, but struggle with it (a lot of forums are meant for professionals).

I'd love some suggestions to get me started. Sites? Blogs? Forums?

I am doing okay at Photoshop and I am quick learner, but I'd also like to take pictures which wouldn't need to be retouched (or as little as possible), meaning I'd love tips on how to use light/handle camera/angles etc.

For what it's worth, I like portraits and street photography the most. Thanks a lot!
posted by Sijeka to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Read through DaShiv's photopgraphy-related posts and comments. This is an excellent comment of his on taking good portraits.
posted by rtha at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2007

Best answer: Digital Photography School is a blog full of beginner and intermediate tips. A lot of it isn't about SLRs or even digital stuff (despite its name), but more about composition, which is IMO more important anyway.
posted by aubilenon at 10:50 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

almost forgot,

Ken Rockwell

posted by caddis at 10:52 AM on November 12, 2007

"Understanding Exposure" and "Learning to See Creatively" by Bryan Peterson. Probably in the opposite order, though.
posted by kindall at 11:07 AM on November 12, 2007

I agree that composition is the most important skill in photography, even when using your phone cam. I have be a bit of a shill here for the Peterson book and also for "Photographic Composition" by Grill and Scanlon. Here is a list of websites devoted to the subject. Nevertheless, I think you also need to learn the basics of exposure and how the camera operates so that you can put all of your creative ideas and seeing to good use.
posted by caddis at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2007

The Radiant Vista is excellent for on-site composition tips as well as digital workflow and doing basic image improvements in photoshop.

As for the manual, hide it in a drawer and just set your camera to aperture priority. Get used to what aperture settings do and fit that into the kind of shots you want to take. Being comfortable with this and other compositional techniques is the fastest way to develop a photographer's eye for the world.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:22 AM on November 12, 2007

Best answer: If reading the theory works for you, great. It seems to bore most people to tears long before anything really sinks in, and justifiably so. The best way to take great pictures is to take lots and lots (and lots) of really awful ones. Take your camera as often as possible and just shoot in the moment. Play with the exposure and aperture, then go back the next week and see what looks nice.

Also, see if you can wrangle hanging out with pro or semi-pro photogs. The contrast between DaShiv and the NYTimes photog at the same meetup was illuminating.
posted by Skorgu at 11:31 AM on November 12, 2007

Completely ignore anything anyone tells you about gear or lenses. Some people get so hung up on the technical aspect, just shoot. If you need a new lens or whatever you'll know it when the time comes. Concentrate on shooting, light, and composition and forget the rest.

Remember that photography is just recording light. No matter what, it all comes down to light.
posted by bradbane at 11:37 AM on November 12, 2007

Here's another, good online course, specifically about composition and learning to see "photographically."
posted by mbrubeck at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2007

flickr has many groups devoted to specific cameras. my husband has found lots of discussions there that have been really helpful to him as a novice photog.
posted by killy willy at 11:53 AM on November 12, 2007

Best answer: The links above are great, as are any number of books on photography from your local public library.

My advice to you would be 1)Take tons and tons of pictures, and 2)Use your camera in total "Manual" mode (manual focus, exposure, and shutter speed) and 3)Don't rely too heavily on technology to begin with.

#1 will train your eye and your hands to see through the camera (as opposed to seeing "with" the camera), know where the right buttons are, etc.

#2 will force you to understand how your camera processes light, motion, and depth-of-field. It also allows you to experiment like crazy. What happens if you close the lens down to almost closed? How do different shutter speeds affect the look of your subject? Could you make cool compositions even if everything is totally an out-of-focus mess?

As for #3-- you'll develop much better photography instincts if you force yourself to do things the hard way first. By using the frame you see in the viewfinder, you'll get better at thinking compositionally; you'll also learn how to manipulate the camera to get a desired effect. The less you rely on after-camera technology, the better your photos will look in general. This way, when you do use Photoshop or whatever, you'll have much better source material. It's a lot easier to make a great photo look greater with Photoshop than to make a crappy photo look good.

Have fun!
posted by Rykey at 12:50 PM on November 12, 2007

Completely with Rykey. Shoot lots, all in manual. Use "auto" when you're doing a one-off shot of your family or whatever so you don't exhaust people with 17,000 shots and fiddling around on the dials, but otherwise go all manual and learn the instincts.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 2:00 PM on November 12, 2007

Photography basics is another beginners' website.
posted by idiomatika at 3:23 PM on November 12, 2007

Sorry - should be a URL there -
posted by idiomatika at 3:24 PM on November 12, 2007

If you have any free time, take a quick intro photography class. Maybe at a local community college, camera shop, or whatever's available to you.

I'm currently taking a Darkroom 101 course here (totally awesome shop, for those in the Phila. area!) and hanging around other photographers has been the best thing for honing my skills. The instruction is helpful, and more important is the fact that the class gives you a reason to go out and shoot, most of the time with a clear goal in mind.

Online courses can teach you the theory, but I found it much more helpful to shoot a crapload of pictures, and get them critiqued by someone who knows what they're talking about. I love online communities (ex. 1, ex. 2, ex 3...) as much as the next guy, but being able to talk about the craft of photography in person with folks at varying skill levels is awesome.

One thing I found incredibly useful once I got somewhat comfortable with the mechanics of operating my SLR was to buy a film SLR, and experiment with film as well as digital. Film forces you to think in advance about your composition, as you've only got 24 or 36 rolls. If you can consistently create good pictures with film, you've got your DSLR licked. Developing and printing your own B&W film is also incredibly enlightening, and I've learned more in the past 3 weeks than I have in the past two years of photography.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:36 PM on November 12, 2007

Seconding Geckwoistmeinauto (whew). Intro photography courses will improve your photography more rapidly, in my opinion, than any book or site will. In particular, look for one that will have you shooting every week, and then will spend part of each class critiquing the photos you took. You don't live in Chicago, otherwise I'd recommend the wonderful Chicago Photography Center. I did a quick Google of London Photography Classes, and thought that this non-for-profit sounded quite interesting.
posted by centerweight at 8:23 PM on November 12, 2007

Best answer:
I recently purchased my first digital camera a couple months ago.

Like you, I found websites and ebooks based how to use photoshop like a pro and found a bunch of websites extolling the newest camera and focused on the technical aspects.

Then I found How to make Great Photographs by ken Rockwell (along with a lot of other things on his site) and I'm glad that I did.

I'm a fan of his philosophy and enjoy photography and learn more by remembering that photography more about capturing that moment, message that you're trying to convey in that photo rather than focusing on all of the technology and tinkering with every setting possible and always using manual (that's not to say I like to play in manual sometimes, but i usually just better results letting the camera do the work for me).

Like any other hobby or practice, I've figured, the amount of time that you spend on it (actually taking photos) will, more or less, reflect the results (your photos).
posted by fizzix at 4:30 AM on November 13, 2007

Ken Rockwell's website contains some of the most hackish writing I've read. Read any 5 random pages and he'll contradict himself! "This lens is best! NOO THIS LENS IS BEST! You don't need prime lenses! PRIME LENSES ONLY FOR ME!" It's like he's got multiple personality disorder some times. Also realize the guy is loaded, and his opinion might be different than someone on a budget.

Some of his stuff makes sense (the 'How to Make Great.., for instance), but his reviews can be pure nonsense. His biggest asset is that he can write well. Unfortunately he also tends towards hyperbole. I loved reading his stuff as much as I could early on, but after a while my BS detector started going off. His stuff is sometimes useful, but I find myself agreeing with him less and less.

As you've seen, people have recommended all kinds of different methods to improving your photography skill. Auto, manual, film, digital, you name it. What's the common thread?

Take lots of pictures.

Make them look good.

Take more pictures.

Show said pictures to people, and get their feedback.

Take more pictures.

Good luck!
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 5:40 AM on November 13, 2007

This site just popped up on popurls.
posted by caddis at 6:59 PM on November 16, 2007

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