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Photography for Beginners: Where to Start

Chris' main focus is sports photography for local school-aged children, providing photographs for families to celebrate their kids.

photography-for-beginners-where-to-start

Stand Back, Ignore The Hype

If you are serious about photography, don't fall for the sales pitch of the newest items are the best or you need to go out and purchase something. There are so many different levels to photography, cameras, lens, etc. that you need to understand what you want to get out of it.

There are plenty of pictures that can be taken with a modern-day camera phone for quality images. When I read articles talking about what it takes to begin photography, a lot of them talk about the camera and lens that are good beginner packages. This is not a simple truth though. The first part of getting started in photography is to continue learning.

The next section will discuss the exposure triangle, which is ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Check out the headings if you understand this already, or read through it and get another perspective of how to explain them. There are times when reading another perspective gives me an idea for photography and that is one of the best parts of learning.

photography-for-beginners-where-to-start

Photography Basics: The Three Pillars

For you to control what you are taking photos of, you need to begin to understand several concepts ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. This is simply the basics and there is more to manipulate in order to progress down the path of photography. But these three subjects are so important that they are commonly referred to as the three pillars of photography, also known as the Exposure Triangle.

Explaining ISO

There is a lot of information out there that will say that ISO means "International Organization of Standardization". When I was digging into this, I found some references saying that the reason the acronym was not IOS as we would think is that in other languages the letter order would be different. Because of this, the International Organization of Standardization decided to use ISO which is based on the Greek word for "equal".

In other readings, I found that ISO means interoscillating systematized oppopotamus and I can understand why people would simply say "ISO". No matter which is true or even if both are true, what occurred was the German DIN system was combined with the American ASA system and standardized it all into the ISO system in 1974.

I found this interesting and confusing, and even if it is all hogwash it all boils down to how to use ISO effectively. The importance of ISO is that it is how sensitive the media is to light. If you are using film, then it is how sensitive the film is to light, and with a digital camera then it is how sensitive the sensor is to light. The lower the ISO the less sensitive and the higher the number the more sensitive.

An instance of using ISO for a better quality image would be in a shaded setting increasing ISO so that you can increase your shutter speed and capture a subject that is in motion without motion blur. There is a point that increased ISO will add noise to your image which is a grainy look, this may be something that is desired by you. With digital cameras, this is easy to experiment with and not have to worry about wasting money on film. Take advantage of this and experiment, make as many mistakes as you can - it will all help.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is fairly straightforward. This is how fast the image is taken, the shutter opens and closes (lifts/lowers), etc. There is a difference in how this functions depending on the type of camera you have. Single-Lens Reflex (SLR), Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR), or mirrorless.

The speed you use depends on what you are attempting to do. If you are trying to capture an image where the subject is in motion then you want a faster shutter speed the faster the subject is moving usually.

By understanding shutter speed and trying different shots, you could shoot a picture of rock against the night sky and the stars are either curved lines through the sky or bright pinheads in the sky.

You can slow the shutter speed down and follow the subject with your camera view and do a panning shot so that the background is blurred and the subject is focused. I have been experimenting with panning and middle school track and field. The athletes enjoy the style and it is fun to experiment with different styles.

If the lighting is dim a way to get a better quality picture is to slow the shutter down. And if you have plenty of light such as a night sunny afternoon at a soccer pitch, then this allows you to take faster shutter speeds and freeze the athletes into a focused image.

Aperture

Aperture is actually the size of the opening within the lens. With photography, the lens could be a fixed size or variable. The smaller the number the more light comes in and the larger the number the less light. This concept helps understand lighting conditions. If you are in a low-light situation, decreasing the aperture to f/1.4 will increase the amount of light that is coming in and can give a better image than f/32.

One of the ways I use aperture more is to think of it as a ruler and focus. This is a spot that using your camera regularly helps. A lower f-stop, such as 2.8 gives a smaller stretch of focus and a larger f-stop gives a longer stretch. I simply think of the numbers as a range on a ruler, f/2.8 gives me 2.8 units on a ruler and f/32 gives me more. So when shooting portraits of one or two people I want an f/2 or f/2.8 because the focus will be in a smaller field. If I was shooting a group then I would increase it to around f/5.6 because there will be a deeper focus range and this will help more.

With that smaller range of focus the background blurs and helps the focus subject stand out in the image more. This gives a better bokeh and helps the eye focus on your subject more in other words.

Three Sides as One

By understanding how these sides come together to give a better image is the key. In lower light situations you can lower the shutter speed instead of increasing the ISO so you can keep the aperture so you can keep your desired focus depth. By experimenting with the manual mode you will be forced to ask yourself why you get the results you do in order to become a better photographer. And by better photographer, I simply mean to get the results that you want more effectively. In some cases, this may very well be understanding that you want a certain aperture and putting the camera into aperture priority mode etc.

Photography Equipment

This is a topic that depends on what you want to do. For example, if you want to get into mobile photography it doesn't make sense to look into a Canon ESO-1D X camera body. One of the obstacles to master in mobile photography is learning how to use your mobile phone. In most "Pro" modes there are adjustable settings to control ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. This can be a great option for kids who are interested in photography and gives them an option to learn how to manipulate the exposure triangle.

If you wanted to get into photography to take high-quality pictures but weren't concerned about having every advantage a camera is capable then I would suggest the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 EF-S. This is a very good quality entry-level camera. This is a DSLR camera, which is currently the most popular style. In the future, I do think mirrorless will take the market but I think that is years down the road because of sensor protection and the number of third-party lenses available. The recommended camera has a basic lens with it and over 80 lenses available.

Overall, this camera is good in regards to megapixels, frames per second, ISO range is good, a great processor, and the list goes on. The range can go from portrait work, sports photography, landscapes, and whatever other styles you would want to shoot. The only downside is there are better cameras out there that have a better sensor, are full-frame, more frames per second, etc. But this camera is a solid entry point that is not around $6,000.00.

Until you decide what you are doing and have time to practice, I wouldn't consider much in the way of accessories. Practice and learn to figure out the exposure triangle for best results, then accessories can come after that. There are plenty of styles that won't use lighting or remotes. You can find a flat surface instead of using a tripod. So as your needs evolve, don't buy extra equipment.

photography-for-beginners-where-to-start

Camera Terms to Understand

Sensor Size

There are full-frame sensors and smaller sensors, a smaller sensor has a crop factor and is not as good as a full-frame sensor. The bad news is that a lower-end full-frame camera is around $1,200 brand new. But smaller sensors are still good, excellent even. The Rebel 3SL has a smaller sensor so it does have a crop factor, but it can still take great images. I started out with a Rebel 5i and it takes great images to this day. If you are looking at mobile photography, definitely check out the sensor size in the phone because there is a range of sizes here.

Megapixels

A megapixel is one million pixels or how many pixels the sensor in a camera detects. So a 3.2-megapixel camera has 3.2 million and a 20-megapixel camera has 20 million pixels. Now, I remember one photographer saying that past 6 megapixels you can't really tell. But many others say that the point around 12 megapixels. A high-quality poster, close to 2 feet by 3 feet, is around 20 megapixels on the high-end. 16 megapixels is still considered excellent and 12 is still considered good. And this is looking at the size of a poster, so imagine what little difference you will see in smaller photos. There are higher-end cameras that will shoot fewer megapixels because 18 megapixels compared to 20 takes less time to shoot and store the image for little to no difference to the viewer. The camera I mentioned does have a little over 20 megapixels, but because of the processor, it does have a better frame rate than many of the cameras it competes against.

Processor

A camera's processor is the brains of the whole thing. I am a Canon person and they use the DIGIC processors. The Rebel 3SL uses the DIGIC-8 processor which even at the time of writing this is a great processor. There are higher-end cameras that have dual processors. But unless you are shooting professionally, this is not something that I would worry about. The processor helps capture images faster, heat dissipation from shooting (more video than photography), helps auto-focus, and other general functions of capturing images.

Frames per Second

FPS isn't too important to me, even though I shoot more sports photography than anything else. I am not trying to hold a button and cross my fingers to get a great image. I am trying to apply my knowledge of the sport I am watching and the settings I have applied to my camera in order to take pictures at the right time. I prefer not to spray and pray when it comes to photography. In the last two years, I might have taken three continuous photos. Higher-end DSLR cameras are around 14 fps. Mirrorless cameras can hit 20 fps, but the big issue with mirrorless currently is that the lenses are expensive and limited numbers.

Viewfinders

I prefer an optical viewfinder in my photography. This is where you look through the little peephole in the back of the camera. This limits the light and provides me with a better view of what I am shooting in different settings.

LCD and electric viewfinders are coming along quickly, but I think it will be several years at least before they are comparable to or a little better than the optical viewfinder. This is personal preference, do what works for you. What I like about the Rebel 3SL is that the electronic viewfinder pivots out and lets you get a lower shot with young athletes on the field of play.

Other Terms

There are other terms out there but I don't think it would be too important at this point to explain white balance, image stabilization, etc. currently. The most I would say is that white balance can be put on auto until you are comfortable with other exposure settings and with DSLR the body doesn't usually have image stabilization so in this regard it isn't too necessary to go into because the lenses should have it. If you have questions and/or comments, please leave it in the comments.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Chris Andrews

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