10 Top photography tips for beginners with DSLRs

1 June 2018

#1 Use what you’ve got

As a beginner with entry level camera equipment, it’s easy to become demotivated when you see other photographers with fancier cameras and massive lenses at your son’s rugby game or at your local bird hide. Don’t let their gear intimidate you. And never let someone tell you that you’re shooting with the wrong brand!

Challenge yourself to get the best possible photographs with the camera you’ve got and make a deal with yourself that you’ll only upgrade once you’ve reached a certain goal, for instance: once you’ve got a photo published in a magazine or when you’re receiving a constant stream of excellent feedback on your photos on Facebook or Instagram.

#2 Master your DSLR

The fastest way to improve your photographic skills is to learn as much as you can about your camera. Yes, the manual may as well have been written in Greek, but these days there are countless top-notch video tutorials all over the internet. YouTube is particularly useful: simply type in your camera make and model (for example Canon 750D) and the word “tutorial” in the search bar and you’ll have a host of well-spoken online teachers at your disposal.

If you’d prefer to ask questions as well, book spot on a digital photography course in your area. A simple Google search should reveal at least one or two options.

#3 Switch from Automatic to Programme Mode

Automatic shooting mode (or smiley-face mode as I like to call it) often fools beginners into thinking that it’s the best mode to photograph in. Why? Because it chooses all the camera settings for you, which means you simply have to point and shoot. Yes, it’s convenient not to have to choose the more advanced settings like aperture and shutter speed, but by switching from Automatic to Program Mode (indicated by the letter “P” on all DSLR shooting mode dials) you enable the option to change a number of very handy and simple-to-understand settings like ISO, exposure compensation and focus point selection, all of which allow you to drastically change the outcome of your photos without much effort.

Villiers Steyn Beginner Photography Tips Outdoorphoto

#4 Increase your ISO-value

Unfortunately most people, including a lot of seasoned photographers, have been conditioned to keep their ISO values as low as possible when they take photos. Yes, low ISO values prevent your photos from becoming too blurry, but it also means slower shutter speed values, which, in turn, often results in blurry images. The key thing to remember is that when you increase your ISO value, your shutter speed will increase as well.

Take enough test shots with your camera at various ISO values and in various light conditions until you know exactly what the maximum ISO value is you’re happy to go up to. In other words, what’s the most grain you’re willing to deal with in return for a sharp photo? It might be 800 if you’re shooting with an old Canon 500D or as high as 1600 if you’re using a newer Nikon D7100. The point is, if you’re worried about blurry images, rather photograph at slightly higher ISO values.

Villiers Steyn Beginner Photography Tips Outdoorphoto

#5 Support your camera

Another cause of blurry images is camera shake. This happens when you’re unable to hold your camera dead still when you’re photographing at slow shutter speeds of 1/100 sec and slower. This usually happens in low light conditions, like at an indoors party or event, sundowners during twilight or a night drive in a game reserve.

The best way to eliminate blurriness is to support your camera with a tripod or a bean bag. These will ensure that the camera is dead still when you take your shots and the only blurriness you’ll see now is if your subject(s) is moving. If that’s the case, you still have the option to increase the camera’s ISO value, which, in turn, will increase the shutter speed and help freeze the movement.

#6 Use a single focus point

By default, most entry level DSLR’s have all their focus points activated. It may not be many (somewhere between 10 and 20), but they do cover a substantial portion of the frame when you look through the camera’s eye piece. This means that the camera has to ‘decide’ what’s ‘most important’ in the scene and it will then often focus on what’s the closest or most conspicuous in the frame.

Quite often, however, we’d like to focus on something in the background, like an animal hiding behind leaves or grass. The only way to ‘tell’ the camera exactly where we’d like to focus, is to switch from automatic focus point selection to single focus point selection. You now have the luxury of focusing on exactly what you want in the frame.

Villiers Steyn Beginner Photography Tips Outdoorphoto

#7 Bend your knees

No matter how well you know your camera settings, if you don’t add a touch of creativity, your images will likely remain average. One of the easiest ways to make your photos look more striking, is to change the angle with which you take it. Bend your knees to photograph your children and pets at eye-level, climb a hill to get a bird’s eye view or lie flat on your stomach to photograph up for a change.

It also helps to walk around your subject(s), which, on a sunny day, will look different from every angle as the light hits it differently.

#8 Wake up early

The best way to make use of sunlight, which can either give you beautiful golden light (front light), highlight detail and texture (side light), or result in dramatic silhouettes (back light), is to take photos very early in the morning and very late in the afternoon, when the sun sits just above the horizon. The higher it gets, the harsher the scene looks and the less saturated your photos become.

#9 Be inspired!

Most artists, including professional photographers, will often tell you that their best work was inspired by someone or something else. To let the creative juices flow, and prevent your photos from looking too similar, find inspiration in other photographers’ work. It could be a friend who’s been at it a bit longer than you, a blog or magazine series you read, or through a Instagram account or Facebook page you’re following.

Don’t be shy to learn their techniques, replicate their ideas and to incorporate a bit of their style into your photography. Before you know it, you’ll have a unique style of your own and a great variety of shots in your portfolio.

#10 Take even more photos

Taking photos is much like riding a bike in that once you’ve learned how to do it, you’ll never forget. What most people neglect to mention about bike riding, however, is that the more you do it, the more stamina you get, the faster you can ride and the more tricks you can do! The same goes for photography.

The more time you spend with camera in hand, the quicker your fingers will find the buttons without you having to look, the better you’ll know which settings to use and, ultimately, the less opportunities you’ll miss.

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About the Author:

Villiers Steyn is an online photography teacher, wildlife photographer and travel writer based in Hoedspruit, South Africa. He presents courses on Udemy.com, leads photographic safaris for At Close Quarters and has had his work published in leading travel magazines, including go!, DriveOut, Getaway, Country Life and Travel Africa.

3 Comments

  1. Leo Theron 1 June 2018 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Villiers,

    A lot of seasoned photographers should also take note of your excellent article.

    Best – Leo T

  2. Villiers 4 June 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Thank you very much, Leo!

  3. Chrissie 11 June 2018 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Waardeer die waardevolle inligting. Dankie

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