Ham's crash course in photography - Part 1 (Intro)

    Ham's crash course into photography - Part 1 - Introduction

    Ok, so you have a camera, and you want to get started in photography. But you've taken shots and want to "take better photos". Let's start with what makes a good photograph!

    Joel Sartore, a famous National Geographic Photographer says a good photo has three things:

    1. Good light. Yes, this is literally trying to show something "In the best light". Don't worry, I'll talk more about this one later.
    2. Good composition. Does everything in the shot "improve", "provide context", "tell a story", or "show details people wouldn't normally see" and perhaps, most importantly do it all so without distractions? You really want to avoid background objects like trees sticking out of people's heads, ugly signs intruding on your shots of historic buildings, or obnoxious Hawaiian shirt-wearing tourists distracting from the scene you're trying to capture.
    3. Something interesting. What are you trying to show your audience? Why should we care? What makes it interesting? Is it something I wouldn't see everyday, or is it an everyday scene done in a creative way? You decide! Whatever you do, make it interesting to your viewers! Don't just take a picture of someone, get a picture of someone doing something. Interesting is of course subjective, but some examples could be a lovely old lady in traditional tribal outfit with a million wrinkles, smiling with her last two remaining teeth showing. Another example might be a puppy being licked by its mother for that "cute" "caring" "motherly affection" factor. Another option might be a whale with baby (called a calf) being photographed from underwater perspectives. (Full National Geographic experience there) Similarly, you might take an everyday scene like a cafe, and add interest by getting a pic with a clown waiting in line to order his morning espresso!

    Putting it together

    A lot of people will scoff and think "Where on Earth am I going to see stuff like that?". You don't have to wait for it to come to you, try going out! Get your friend dressed up in a clown suit and shout them a coffee! You can create the situations which make a photo. If they really occurred, is it so bad that you arranged it? Fashion magazines have everything pre-arranged from the model being hired, to the dress, hair style, makeup and location/scene. How do you think pro photographers get so many amazing photos? They're certainly not waiting for serendipity to provide enough photo opportunities to build and maintain careers. They travel, they go to the action, then they take the photographic ingredients that are available, manipulate the scene to maximise the best composition, all centred around one or two things that are interesting.

    But where do I start?

    There are just four things I'd recommend any beginner to do.

    1. Play, Practice & Persist: Photography is supposed to be fun. Don't hesitate to play with your gear, (there's always the tried and true "Turn it off and on again" if you don't know what's going on, or failing that, the "Clear all functions" function in your camera. So don't fear pushing the wrong button. Learn to follow the "rules" of a good image, then intentionally break one, or all of them. Look at the results, and learn from mistakes. Even when you think you've made a mistake, ask yourself "when could that look amazing?". Then keep practicing. You can't get better without taking lots of shots. The digital age has brought the cost of taking lots of photos way down. The downside of this is some photographers stop thinking, and start relying on the "spray and pray" method, which just makes more work for yourself. Your brain is the biggest determining factor of photographic success, so this site is aimed at getting you to use it effectively.
    2. Get familiar with your gear: Take the time to learn about your camera. Now, I know reading the manual is boring, but you don't have to read it from cover to cover. It's a reference book, not a novel. Most camera manuals are small (for portability) and usually fall between 50-100 pages... with lots of diagrams and surprisingly little text. Some only look thick and scary because they're in multiple languages, but this will vary significantly from one camera model to another. I want you to flip through, and just be "aware" of the features your camera has, so you know that they exist, and that you might want to use them at some point.
      • Spend just 10 minutes flipping through the manual. It's more about just identifying some of the features your camera, and try to use just your top 5. Most cameras these days have at least 5 modes,
    3. Learn a little bit about photography: There are literally thousands of web sites dedicated to getting you up to speed. If you prefer a more tactile approach (like a book) then either borrow one from your local library, or if you hate returning things, buy a photography magazine. They're a great way to learn the basics. Otherwise, join a local photography club, or talk to avid photographer friends/family members. You could do a course, but this is an expensive way to go. YouTube is great, have a look in to one of the many genres of photography and see how you go with your gear.
    4. Get off "Auto" mode, and start to take creative control of your camera: Auto is just one of several modes that's available on most digital cameras. It's amazing how many people buy expensive gear and then never venture off auto. Auto works... don't get me wrong, but by selecting this mode, you're telling the camera to make all the decisions (aside from what it's pointed at). However, the computer is literally "flying blind" as it doesn't know how you want the image to look. It makes decisions based on trying to make sure the image is neither too dark or bright... and very little else. Auto can take some ok photos. Most of the time, the computer is guessing... and guesses poorly.
      • Full Manual mode is the other end of the spectrum, where the camera does things exactly your way. You set the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, but this can be difficult if you're trying to do it all quickly "in the moment".
      • Semi manual modes: There are modes where you set one (or two) of the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed trilogy, and let the camera adjust the last one according to the situation. The most common ones are "Aperture Priority", where you set the aperture, and the camera adjusts the shutter speed (great for controlling background blur) and "Shutter Priority" where you specify the speed of the shot, and the camera adjusts the aperture for you. This is great for controlling motion blur.


    I'll look into "good light", "good composition", and "something interesting" in the following sections



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