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Basic Photography Skills To Learn as a Beginner

    Starting as a beginner to becoming a successful photographer is a long process. The learning begins with mastering essential photography skills like camera handling, shooting photos in a suitable composition, and doing wonders with post-processing editing. 

    In the beginning, it’s wise to start learning some basic skills for photographers, like getting to know photography vocabulary and the main aspects of photography. After that, it comes in handy when constantly learning new things and practicing these essential photography skills. What are these basic photography skills to learn as a beginner?

    Basic photography skills to know before taking photos

    First, mastering your basic camera skills from “toe to head” is the core knowledge to learn before taking pictures. You can have the best camera, but if you don’t know how to handle it or what effect different buttons give, you won’t get the best end goal, quality photos.

    Camera Handling and Buttons

    Before going in deep with taking photos, and editing, start with the basics. Know what each button does and how these can improve your overall photo quality. Find tutorials on Youtube or Google, where it goes deeply about your current digital camera. Check reviews, like mine Canon M50

    Get comfortable in different shooting positions, like checking your shoulder positions and controlling your breathing when you point and shoot.

    Check what you have on the menu, learn some basic photography vocabulary, and get comfortable with your camera overall.

    camera handling
    Learn your camera buttons

    Learn photography’s main aspects

    For a start, get to know are shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. After that, start learning essential photography skills. How they work together, and how every change in the same pillar impacts overall photo quality. 

    Shutter Speed

    Shutter speed is the time when your camera shutter is opened. How long it takes to take a photo. From slow to fast. From motion blur to sharp images. 

    Shutter speed can take from milliseconds to half a minute. For example, when you shoot a driving car with a longer shutter, like 2 seconds, there will be motion blur. It’s not going to be sharp. On the other hand, when you set the shutter speed to milliseconds as fast as possible, you will capture a sharp photo of the moving car without a motion blur.

    motion blur
    Motion blur after a long shutter speed


    It’s one of the three main camera settings that will either brighten up or darken your photo. Typical ISO ranges between 100 – 3600. ISO 100 is the lowest and the darkest option. With the numbers increasing, so does the same with photo brightness. For example, ISO 200 is two times brighter than ISO 100. 

    ISO number depends on the shooting conditions. Is it a bright sunny day or low-light twilight? Most cameras will adjust the ISO level automatically, but you should also know how these values affect your photos. For example, the higher the ISO number, the more it has color noise.



    Aperture can be explained by how much your camera is opened for the light. That’s another section that affects the brightness of the photo. Aperture is measured by f values. Starting with lower values like f/1.4 to f/16. A lower number (f/1.4) means that your camera is more open to the light; on another side, the number (f/16) means vice versa. So, the lower your f-number, the more your camera is open to light and brightness.

    Another aperture effect is the depth of field. Again it depends on the f value. The lower the number, the lower the depth of field. For example, when you take a portrait photo and want to focus on the object (a person) and blur everything else (background), then you should use a lower f value (f/1.4 to f/4). On the other hand, when taking landscape photos, you want every element to be sharp regardless of how far different objects are. Then it would be best to shoot in aperture values like f/12 to f/16. 

    Just to remind you, it also affects the overall photo brightness (a lower number means less light enters the camera), so you need to adjust the aperture accordingly.

    Essential photography skills to take photos

    Now that you know some key photography skills, understand the buttons and how to handle your camera. It’s time for the main basics of photography, which is taking professional pictures. It’s a long learning process with many aspects to learn.

    Manual vs Automatic Shooting

    Usually, there is a dial mode button (at the top of the camera), where you can choose different settings to take pictures or videos. There are many automatic buttons related to other occasions, like taking photos in the dark, portraits, landscapes, macros, etc. These would be useful when there is no intention to improve your photography skills. 

    However, when you want to improve your expertise, you should avoid automatic settings. Learning how the main components, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO works in between and shooting in a manual will improve your photography skills in the long term. Start to shoot on a manual like an aperture priority (Av) and manual mode (M).


    Focusing on photography is mainly meant to get a sharp subject in a photo. For example, when taking a portrait on a plane of focus is a person. It’s the main subject in an image that has to be sharp.

    Most cameras nowadays have built-in autofocus systems, which will help many beginners kick start with photography. Anything like face-tracking, zone, or one-point autofocus. In most cases, even skilled photographers use autofocus constantly for its ease.

    Manual focus will be beneficial when the surrounding environment isn’t clear, like in low-light photography conditions. In these cases, autofocus isn’t working well and doesn’t find points easily to set on the focus automatically. Then you have to set focus points manually.

    depth of field
    Focusing on the subject

    Understanding Depth of Field

    In short, it’s an exact area from the camera where the focus has been set, and objects look sharp. An easy example would be a photo of two. Persons in a picture are at different distances, the first 2 meters and the second 4 meters away from the camera. The camera is set on a small aperture (f/2), focusing on the second person. For this picture, the depth of field is around 4 meters, the second person would look sharp, and the closest person (2 m away) would look blurry.

    Lighting Conditions

    Lightning is one of the first basic photography skills for beginners to master. In the beginning, several photos might be killed by bad light. Like in low light conditions, you will get blurry images due to long shutters or at the other extreme. You have sunny days that cause overexposure.

    Learn more: How to avoid overexposure skies!

    How to Understand Exposure

    exposure triangle
    Exposure triangle

    Exposure means how much light will pass through inside your camera. It will correlate with the three main photography aspects mentioned before shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Before going deep into that topic, you should clarify how these three work together. 

    The way how these work together is also called the exposure triangle. Where every three main aspects will impact the level of brightness. 

    The final goal is to get a photo with the correct exposure.

    White Balance

    White balance is an important topic to learn in digital photography. It’s related to color temperature. So first, we need to understand which are different temperatures in photography. You probably know cold colors are blueish, and the opposite warm colors are red and yellowish. 

    In some cases, due to environmental lighting conditions (indoor and outdoor photography), taken photos could turn too blueish or yellowish. Unnatural tones in images that don’t look the same with our eyes. It will be seen more in portrait photography.

    So we need to add the opposite color temperature to balance tones, called white balance. You can adjust the camera accordingly or do it in post-processing software. 

    Composition in Photography

    The composition aims to guide the viewer to the essential elements in a picture. Is it “leading hidden lines” in an image, blurred parts, or anything that catches attention. Its end goal isn’t always to produce a picture that is pleasing to the eye. But more art to have a meaning behind it. 

    Composition in Portrait Photography

    portrait photography
    Composition in portrait photography

    The most crucial subject in portrait photography is the person itself. The main rules in portrait composition are that the person has to stand out from the background, focus on the eyes, and choose the right background for the photo. 

    Making a person pop out from the background is quickly done by choosing the correct depth of field with a lower aperture. This is how the person looks sharp and everything else blurry.

    The most important part of portrait photography is the eyes. You should point your focus to the eyes. The closer the portrait photo is taken, the more you can see the importance of focusing on the eyes.

    You should consider what to include in the background. The fewer details there are, the better. You should make sure it’s least attractive than the person itself.

    Learn more: Portrait composition tips.

    Composition in Landscape Photography

    landscape photography
    Composition in landscape photography

    The most common and straightforward composition technique is the rule of thirds. In this way, you divide a photo with grid lines into nine exact size rectangles. The idea is to place elements in photo horizontal lines or at the line intersection points. It’s all about placement and simplicity.

    Another popular move in the composition is the leading lines. Some element in a photo leads an eye to the whole picture. Is it a ditch, a shade, a hedge, or another framing component of photography that works as a starting line and leads your attention to the whole picture.

    Another easy composition technique is negative space. It means that your main element in photography is catching full attention, and the surrounding is there only to fill the picture. For example, in the middle of the image, you have a red house surrounded by soft same-tone green colors. This way, red tones will catch immediate attention.

    Learn more: Landscape composition tips.

    Experimenting with Photography Composition

    Of course, there are many ways to composite your visuals. Playing with different colors, using other unusual elements as a focal points, and many more. There are several ways to solve composition in photos. Also, experiment with photographic skills in different environments like city, night, and nature photography.

    Post Processing Editing

    After capturing some moments, it’s time for post-processing editing. Some images can be under-exposed, some unnecessary parts in the photo need color grading, and so on. All the images you have seen by photographers have passed some editing in software. 

    Photo Editing

    For example, before you put an original image on Instagram, it will get corrections like more saturation for brighter colors, clarity, and brightness. The same goes for professional photographers who will use different editing software to correct their images.

    photo editing
    Photo editing

    Different software

    The most commonly used editing software is Adobe programs Photoshop and Lightroom. Both are used for making pictures more “beautiful,” like on Instagram, but it has more features. 

    How to edit

    In the program, Lightroom has different buttons and sliders to correct pictures. You probably don’t need to touch every button, but knowing what each correction aims for would be great. Also, a good photo editing tip is to edit correctly. First, you do basic photo correction, then play with colors and finish it. This way, you learn new digital photography skills.

    Photo correction

    Start with correcting images. Do not touch color grading sliders. First, look if exposure is enough, correct white balance, look for shades and highlights, and add some clarity if needed. Also, try and experiment with tone curve (the first option to adjust highlights and shadows)

    Color grading

    After the image brightness and overall look seems like it was seen with an eye, it’s time to play with colors. Again start with a tone curve and adjust three primary colors (red, green, and blue). At first, it might feel a bit complicated, but it will improve after experimenting and practicing. Then below the tone curve are color grading sliders for each main color. Adjust colors accordingly that much, so that the tones look natural.


    focus on eyes
    Focus on the eyes

    After the main tasks, it’s time to finish the process. Like eliminating unwanted elements in the photos, using a vignette to guide attention to the main subject, controlling noise reduction, and checking if the main components are sharp enough. For example, if editing a portrait, look at how the eyes pop out. It is easily corrected with radials to edit exact points in elements, like giving more brightness and clarity to the eyes. 

    In the end, with practice, you will get better

    A beginner photographer needs to start somewhere to gain skills in photography. Start with basics like the exposure triangle’s meaning, camera handling, and learning the buttons. After that, consistent practice is the only way to get a better photographer. Bring your camera everywhere and take photos constantly, learn from your mistakes, implement new photography tips, get familiar with different compositions on the way, and in the end, master editing in post-processing software. With implemented knowledge and practice, newly learned skills for photography will get every photographer to the next level.

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