Photography 101: Learn How to Take Great Pictures

Improve Your Photos by Understanding the Basics

Whether you have been a photographer for decades or just picked up your first camera, it is always good to review the basics. From an introduction to the camera to controlling exposure and learning how to work with light and composition, this guide reviews all of the basics of photography.

As a beginner, all of this information may seem a bit overwhelming at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge behind taking great photographs, but over time it will become second nature and each step is very easy. Take these lessons at your own pace and practice with your camera after reading through each one.

As you progress, keep each of these elements in mind with every photograph you take. The best photos are not mere snapshots, they are well-planned and carefully designed images. The lessons you will learn will show you how to do just that.

  • 01 of 07

    Introducing the Camera

    Camera On Retaining Wall By Landscape
    Avel Shah/EyeEm/Getty Images

    The basic tool of photography is the camera. Like all craftsmen and artists, it's a good idea to know your tools very well. These articles will guide you through learning about your camera in an easy to understand way.

    • Parts of a Camera - Every camera has a body and a lens, these two pieces work together to create a photograph.
    • Major Types of Cameras - Discover the difference between a DSLR (or SLR) camera and a point-and-shoot camera.
    • The Best DSLRs for Beginners - Explore popular models of DSLR cameras and learn which features to look for.
    • Camera Care - Regular camera maintenance will keep your camera running smoothly for years. It's a mechanical machine that you invest in, so take care of it.
    • Your Camera's Light Meter - The light meter controls exposure and it is critical that you understand how to use it so you have more control of your photos.
    • Autofocus Points - Most modern cameras include autofocus points that assist the photographer. Learn how to use these to your advantage.
  • 02 of 07

    How to Hold a Camera

    Camera shake is a big problem and can produce blurry photos. There are a few ways you can avoid this situation.

    • Use a fast shutter speed.
    • Use a tripod or monopod to steady the camera.
    • Learn how to properly hand-hold the camera.

    Hand-Holding an SLR or DSLR Camera:

    • While looking through the camera's viewfinder, pull your elbows in close to your body.
    • Use your left hand to support the camera lens and your right hand to hold the camera's molded grip.
    • Stand as stable as possible. It works best to have your feet about shoulder-width apart and your knees relaxed. If you lock your knees you will begin to sway.
    • Lean against a solid object if possible.
    • Slowly press the shutter release and do not move afterward until you have completed an inhale and exhale of breath. This helps prevent moving the camera downward as you push the shutter release.

    When using an LCD screen to compose an image you have to hold the camera away from your body a bit. This causes a few more issues because your arms do no have the same support.

    Use the tips above and, if you can, find a way to support your elbows.

  • 03 of 07

    Camera Controls

    While so many of today's cameras try to do the thinking for photographers, to get really great images you need to know how to control your camera. A basic understanding of shutter speed and aperture is fundamental in photography and the more you know, the more control you have over exposure.

    • Shutter Speed - How fast or slow your camera's shutter opens to take the picture.
    • Aperture - The size of the shutter opening while taking a picture. It also controls the depth of field (how much of the photo will be sharp or blurry).

    Even if you are using the preset exposure modes, it's important to understand the role each play in the camera's settings.

  • 04 of 07

    Basic Photo Gear

    You have the camera, now you're wondering what other gear you may need. The following is a basic list of equipment that you may find useful. Not all of it is necessary, but it can help as your progress.

    • Camera Bag - Storing your camera in a bag protects it when not in use and the bag can also hold other accessories when you're out and about.
    • Camera Strap - Many cameras come with a strap, but you might want to upgrade to one with more padding. A quality strap is invaluable after a long day and your shoulder and neck will thank you.
    • Tripod - You may not always use it, but when you need a tripod, it is priceless. Make sure to get one that's sturdy enough to support your camera with its longest lens. A monopod is another great option.
    • Additional Lenses - If interchangeable lenses are an option with your camera body, explore your options for focal lengths.
    • Lens Filters - A UV filter will protect the glass of your lens and a polarizing filter will cut reflections and make clouds pop from the sky. There are more filters available, but these are two of the best.
    • Flash Unit and Reflector - Photography is about capturing light and these will help you control it.
    • Extra Batteries and Charger - Don't leave home without them.
    • Media Cards - Extra space means you can take more photos before you need to download.
    • Lens Cloth and Cleaning Fluid - Keep your lenses clean and free from dust, smudges, and other things that can ruin a picture.
    • Shutter Release - For long exposures, this is a cord or remote that allows you to trip the shutter without touching the camera.
    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Composition 101

    Composition simply refers to how you put the image together. Where do you place your subject? How do you make it stand out from the scene? Where will you direct the viewer's attention? These are the questions you should ask yourself as you approach each photo.

    The greatest subject in the world will not automatically make a great image. You have to know how (and where) to put that image in the frame.

    The following lessons are the basics 'rules' of composition. Practice these with your camera until they become natural.

  • 06 of 07

    Understanding Photography Lighting and Control

    Photography is the art of capturing light on film (or a digital surface). To really master photography you need to know about lighting and how to manipulate and control it.

    The first rule of thumb is that the worst natural light comes in the middle of the day. High noon and the few hours before and after it produces the harshest, most directional light, and it rarely looks good.

    When shooting outside, opt for the morning and evening hours when the light is soft, warm, and indirect.

    You can also add to the available light by using a flash or reflectors.

  • 07 of 07

    Photo Editing

    Taking the photo is only part of the process. Now you need to develop that photo. With film, most developing is done by an outside lab. With digital, most of the editing and developing is done by the photographer.

    Adobe Photoshop is the preferred program for photographers and Photoshop Elements is a good for beginners. There are, of course, other photo editing programs available, but these lessons focus on Photoshop.