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Basic Photography Skills To Learn as a Beginner

    Starting as a beginner to be a successful photographer is a long-process. The learning starts with mastering essential photography skills like camera handling, shooting photos in the right 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 main aspects of photography. After that, it comes in handy when constantly learning new things and practicing these new photography essential skills. What are these basic photography skills to learn as a beginner?

    Basic photography skills to know before taking photos

    First things 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 then you won’t get the best end goal, which is quality photos.

    Camera Handling and Buttons

    Before going in deep with taking photos, editing, start with the basics. Get to know what each button does, 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 control your breathing at the moment you point and shoot.

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

    camera handling
    Learn your camera buttons

    Learn photography main aspects

    For the start, get to know what are shutter speed, ISO and aperture. After that start learning essential photography skills. How they work together and how every change in the exact pillar has an impact on 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 of a minute. For example, when you shoot a driving car, with a longer shutter like 2 seconds, then there will be motion blur. It’s not going to be sharp. On the other hand when you set the shutter speed to milliseconds, fast as possible, then you will capture a sharp photo of the moving car without a motion blur.

    motion blur
    Motion blur after 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 shooting condition. Is it a bright sunny day or low-light twilight? Most of the cameras will adjust 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 opened wider for the light and a bigger number (f/16) vice versa. So with a lower f-number, your camera is more opened for the light and also 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 blurry 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, then you want every element to be sharp regardless of how far different objects are. Then you should shoot in aperture values like f/12 to f/16. 

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

    Essential photography skills to take photos

    Now when you know some main key skills in photography, know 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 different occasions like taking pictures in the dark, portraits, landscapes, macros, and so on. These would be useful when there is no intention to improve your photography skills. 

    However when you want to improve your expertise, then you should look away from automatic settings. Learning how the main components shutter speed, aperture, and ISO works in-between and shooting in manual will improve your photography skills in the long term. Start to shoot on a manual like 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 than on a plane of focus is a person. It’s the main subject in a photo that has to be sharp.

    Most nowadays cameras have built-in autofocus systems, which will help out a lot of beginners to 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 where objects look sharp. An easy example would be a photo of two. Persons in a photo are at different distances, the first one 2 meters and the second 4 meters away from the camera. The camera is set on a small aperture (f/2) and the focus is on the second person. For this picture, the depth of field is around 4 meters and the second person would look sharp and the closest person (2 m away) will look blurry.

    Lighting Conditions

    Lightning is one of the first basic photography skills for beginners to master. In the beginning, there might be several photos that are 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.

    How to Understand Exposure

    exposure triangle
    Exposure triangle

    Exposure means how much light will pass through inside your camera. It will correlate with three main photography aspects mentioned before: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Before going into deep with that topic you should make clear 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 right 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. Probably you know that cold colors are blueish and opposite warm colors red and yellowish. 

    In some cases due to environmental lighting conditions (inside and outside photography), taken photos turn too blueish or yellowish. Unnatural tones in photos 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, which is called exactly white balance. Can adjust the camera accordingly or do it in post-processing software. 

    Composition in Photography

    The composition aims to guide the viewer’s attention to the most important elements in a picture. Is it “leading hidden lines” in a picture, 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 photography

    The most important subject in a photo is the person itself. The main rules in portrait composition are that the person has to stand out from the background, focusing on the eyes, and choosing the right background. 

    Making a person pop out from the background is easily done by choosing the right 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 more 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.

    Composition in Landscape Photography

    landscape photography
    Composition in landscape photography

    The most common and simple 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 to the lines intersection points. It’s all about placement and simplicity.

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

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

    Experimenting with Photography Composition

    Of course, there are many ways to composite your visuals. Playing with different colors, using different unusual elements as a focal point, and many more. There are several ways to solve composition in photos. Also experiment with photographic skills in different environments like city, night, 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 some color grading, and so on. All the photos you have seen by photographers have passed some editing in software. 

    Photo editing

    For example, before you put an original image to Instagram, it will get some corrections like more saturation for brighter colors, clarity, brightness. The same goes for professional photographers, but they 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 in Instagram, but it has more features. 

    How do edit

    In the program, Lightroom has different buttons and sliders to correct pictures. Probably you don’t need to touch every button, but it would be great if you know what each correction aims for. Also, a good photo editing tip is to edit in the right way. First, you do basic photo correction, then playing with colors, and then finishing 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, highlights, add some clarity if needed. Also, try and experiment with tone curve (first option to adjust highlights and shades)

    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 main colors (red, green, and blue). At first, it might feel a bit complicated, but it will get better 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 elements are sharp enough. For example, if editing a portrait, then look at how the eyes pop out from the image. It is easily corrected with radials to edit exact points in elements, like giving more brightness and clarity to eyes. 

    In the end, with practice, you will get better

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

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