“In photography, there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
— Alfred Stieglitz
The process of photography dates back to the 1820s when Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce defined it as drawing or painting with light.
Even today, whether you are shooting an image on a smartphone or whether you are a professional specialising in portrait photography, light is still everything to a beautiful photograph.
Whether you intend to seriously study how to become a photographer or simply want to add to your own photography ideas, photography is a wonderful journey that is best taught under the tutorship of a professional photographer.
If you are on this road, this article will provide you with some of the technical terms and photography tips needed to make the most of your lessons.
If you are just starting out on your journey, don’t rush out and buy the most expensive photography equipment as you will soon find out that portrait photography and landscape photography for instance, have different equipment requirements.
Keep it basic (or second hand) until you know which genre of photography is really for you.
We will also focus on two of the most popular styles of photography by addressing:
Photography tips for landscape photography
Photography techniques for portrait photography
Firstly, let’s help you to understand some basic terminology.
A Glossary of Technical Terms for Beginner Photographers
The art of photography is a technical one with plenty of jargon to rain on your enthusiasm, here is a short glossary of some of the most well-used terms when it comes to photography equipment and photography equipment in South Africa today.
- SLR: this stands for single-lens reflex
- DSLR: digital single-lens reflex
- Analogue camera: a non-digital camera requiring film
- ISO: this will measure the sensitivity of your image sensor and works in the same way that film works
- White balance: an adjustment you could make to compensate for the temperature of colour so that the whites of your image are super white
- Noise: too much noise, means too much unwanted grain and not enough clarity or sharpness
- Backlighting: placing your subject in front of the light source, often resulting in a silhouette or halo effect
- Focal distance: the distance between the camera’s sensor and the lens
- Shutter: the curtain that opens and closes to let the light in.
- Underexpose: not enough light
- Overexpose: too much light
Check out more comprehensive lexicons or photography textbooks to add to your glossary of terms.
Critical Photography Tips for Controlling Light
Remember that when it comes to photography techniques, controlling the amount of light that comes into your lens will be the most important thing to learn. There are three ways to do this.
The faster your shutter, the less light will be allowed through your lens. The slower your shutter, the more light will pass through your lens.
Shutters also control movement or blur in an image, so if you want to take a sharp photograph of a runner or some other sporting activity, you will need a very fast shutter speed.
An example of a normal shutter speed would be anything from 60-125. A slow shutter speed would be anything under 60.
Using a shutter speed of anything lower than this usually requires a tripod to avoid the camera shake. A fast shutter speed would be 250 an over.
The other way to control how much light is allowed into your lens is through the aperture.
The aperture is an optical instrument that opens and closes in a similar way to a flower. When you are studying photography one of the most important photography techniques you will have to master very soon is the critical relationship between the shutter and the aperture.
Noteworthy photographers know exactly how the aperture and shutter should work together to create the effect they are looking for.
The wider (imagine the wide-open flower here) your aperture, the more light will be able to fall onto the sensor. Conversely, the smaller (imagine the closed flower here) your aperture, the less light will be able to fall onto your sensor.
Exposure, using the aperture, is measured in what is called f.stops.
A wider aperture means more light, a lower f.stop number and greater blur. This sounds like Greek (another reason to find a photography tutor), let's explain a bit more.
A wide aperture could be f/2.8 and this would be known as a low depth of field. This is one of the well-used photography techniques for portrait photography where the photographer creates a sharp face but the rest of the image is blurred.
A high depth of field is created using a high f.stop number, f/22 for instance. Here, the aperture is only allowing a small amount of light in, through a small hole (imagine the closed flower), but the entire image will be really sharp (as long as a number of other photography techniques are adhered to, like using a tripod).
Using a high depth of field is one of the photography techniques used to create a landscape image where the photographer wants everything in really sharp focus.
The sensor is a component of a digital SLR camera. It serves to translate the light that falls onto the lens into digital coding.
Basically, in digital photography, the sensor replaces the film used in an analog camera – and this is the fundamental difference between digital and film photography equipment.
On your digital camera, you will be able to control the light sensitivity of your sensor by selecting an ISO value.
Here's an example. Imagine that you were shooting outdoors and there was plenty of natural light at your disposal, you could select a fairly low ISO number of about 100 because the sensor would not need to work that hard.
If, however, you were inside in low light conditions, your sensor would need to work harder to pick up the light. In this case, you could adjust your sensor to up to 1000.
One of the most important photography tips about sensors though is that the higher the ISO number, the more noise (pixelated) your image will have.
Usually, we would make use of all three of the above photography techniques available to us when controlling light to keep our images sharp and avoid pixelation.
Framing and Composition
Framing and composition are photography techniques that some refer to as the ‘art of seeing’. These photography ideas are largely dependent on the style of image you are taking.
One of the best photography tips for framing and composition is to always check the four corners of your frame before shooting.
Is there a car, bush or person that you wouldn’t actually want in your image? If so, take a moment to reframe!
Knowing how to use the rule of thirds is another one of the great photography ideas that you will come across when learning about composition. The rule of thirds can be used in most genres but is especially useful in landscape photography. Imagine a grid dividing your frame into three vertical or horizontal parts, photographers use these grids to create strong compositions.
There are too many photography tips and formal photography technique to share in this article, to really get the full picture, consider joining a photography school or find a private photography tutor on a dedicated tutoring platform.
In the meantime, here are 10 tips for taking great portrait and landscape images.
10 Photography Tips for Taking Portraits
- Make sure you are still and that you have no camera shake
- Use a tripod if necessary
- Use the subject’s gaze to create a focal point
- Consider your aperture first and adjust your shutter accordingly until your light metre is balanced
- Do a light-reading on the face and expose your shot for the face, not the whole frame
- Put your subject at ease, distract them with easy conversation if necessary
- Capturing moments that are natural requires connecting with the subject
- Capturing documentary-style portraits where the subject is unaware of you, requires feeling the entire landscape with your heart
- Zoom in on your subject' face to make sure that your lens is in focus, then re-frame
- Harsh shadows as a rule of thumb, usually don't work for portrait photography.
10 Photography Tips for Taking Landscapes
- Don’t be in a rush, great landscape photographs take time
- Use your rule of thirds
- Don’t centre on the horizon
- Avoid shooting in the midday sun, this will wash out the detail
- Add a tripod to your photography equipment
- Consider a high depth of field (high f.stop number) to capture the detail
- Use slow shutter speeds to create long exposures
- Use a polarising filter
- Check every corner of your frame
- Shoot at dusk or dawn, also known as golden hour or magic hour, for the best light and colours.
Photography techniques are complex and best explained through a professional photographer who is willing to teach you.
If you don't know where to start, consider an online tutoring platform like Superprof which has dozens of private photography tutors who could take you through all the technical aspects of photography, as well as show you how to use your photography equipment.
And if you happen to be in a small town with fewer options than a city, you needn’t worry because Superprof operates on a global basis, and therefore offers access to photography tutors from all over the world. All you need is an internet connection and a webcam.
The best part is that many tutors offer their introductory session for free, so if they are not suited to you, keep looking until you find someone who can offer you photography ideas that will inspire you to keep improving.