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As a beginner photographer you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Everybody is telling you something different and you feel like you are being pulled in all directions. If this feels like you, then you are in the right place. This article will tell you the 5 essential beginner photographer skills you need to master to be well on your way to taking some amazing photos!

Get off the auto mode as soon as you can

The first and most important thing I suggest you should do first is learn about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. These are the 3 most important settings you will ever need to use when shooting photos and they can make or break your images. If you are able to understand how they relate to each other and how they can be best used, they will work in your favour.

Lucky for you, I have a few surprises to help you, one I will mention now and another for later in this article.

If you want to learn how ISO, shutter speed and aperture work and how you should use these settings, check out this recent post I have written detailing everything you need to know.

There are a few important advantages for you to consider that outline why you should get off auto mode as soon as possible:

  • You will have full control of your camera: This alone should be enough to encourage you learn manual. When you have full control of your camera you will become a lot more confident with the settings you use and you will instinctively know how to use them in different scenarios.
  • You know exactly what result you are going to get: When you develop an understanding of the key settings and how to use them, you can predict how the photo will turn out. For example, if you set the ISO at a lower level (such as ISO 100), you will know that there will be little to no grain in your images and this will allow you to get a higher quality image that you will be proud to print out or share to friends and family.
  • You will have the confidence to shoot in a wider variety of shooting situations: Once you are able to gain full control of key settings like ISO or Aperture, this will allow you to shoot at night or take light streaks, both of which require you to use manual mode to successfully take these types of pictures.

Manual mode can initially be hard to get used to but I promise you it will be worth it. Once you start taking photos in this mode, you will see an instant improvement and issues like grain, noise and overexposure will be a thing of the past.

Focus on the light in your scene

light in hands with fairy lights

This is another one of those beginner photographer skills that, if learnt properly, will result in an instant improvement in image quality.

Light is EVERYTHING in photography!

Without light, there is no photography. The whole point of photography is that the camera captures the light and then uses this captured light data to create an image. If there is no light for the camera to capture, then there is no photo.

Simple as that!

So for that reason, it is important that you get to grips with light as soon as possible and understand how to use it to your advantage.

To help get you started, here are 3 important tips to keep in mind when shooting light in your photography:

  • Try and avoid shooting at midday (during this time, shoot in the shade instead): This may seem bizarre but midday is when the sun is at its highest. Because of this there will be a large amount of light for your camera to capture and this can lead to your photos being overexposed. If you have to shoot at midday, shoot in the shade or anywhere there is a roof or object above you that blocks some of the harsh sunlight. The other reason to avoid shooting at midday is that the contrast is the harshest and because cameras cannot capture contrast as well as the human eye, it will result in large parts of your image being overexposed or underexposed.
  • Shoot at sunrise or sunset for the best results: Why is this? Because this is when the contrast is at its lowest and as such the photo is more likely to be evenly exposed. This way, all of the images will be evenly lit and you will not have to edit your images in post-production.
  • Get your subject to face the light/sun, do not place them with the sun/light behind them. If you make this mistake you will end up with a silhouette and this is not what you want if you are trying to capture an evenly exposed image (unless you are deliberately doing this to create a silhouette photo)

I would also suggest you start shooting your photos indoors before shooting outdoors. This is because there is less light indoors and, despite what I’ve said about trying to get lots of light into your image, the less light there is, the easier it will be for you to control it.

You see, shooting indoors gives you a perfect opportunity to take photos with even exposure and a decent amount of natural lighting.

This will allow you to hone your skills inside and practice how light affects your subject. For example, you could place your subject by the window and compare this to how their face is lit when away from the window.

Little tests and practice sessions like that will eventually build up your skills and you’ll be able to master light in no time.

Keep your compositions simple to start with

transamerica pyramid composition idea

Once you are able to master the technical bits, you will be able to move onto the fun stuff… composition.

A well thought out composition can transform a photo from being average to amazing.

As a beginner, you will have no doubt heard a lot of contradictory information about composition. Some photographers will tell you the rules are essential and others will encourage you to break them.

Because of this, you may feel like you are being pulled in different ways.

Let me simplify it for you and quickly sum up how to get started with composition. Start with the rule-of-thirds and use this with objects and subjects for portrait photography. Try playing around it this by placing an object on a table and then shooting them off-centre.

You could also get a friend to be in one of your portrait photos. Get them to pose for you and then shoot them off centre, either a little to the left or a little to the right.

Once you have mastered the rule of thirds, try out some other composition guides, such as:

  • Leading Lines: This involves taking a picture with a ‘line’ going through it which will lead to the focal point of your image.
  • Framing: Use another object in the scene to frame your subject. For example, use a gap between 2 leaves in a tree to frame somebody’s face for a portrait photo.
  • Negative Space: This is where attention is drawn to the subject in your image by having the rest of the image being ‘blank’. For example, a black background with nothing in it while a coffee mug is in the foreground. This immediately draws our attention to the coffee cup as it is the prominent part of the image and it stands out from the black background.

The only other piece of advice I suggest you follow when starting out with composition is to try and keep it as simple as possible.

Don’t go and overcomplicate it by introducing too many objects into the image or by having a busy background which distracts from the focal point of the image.

Out of all the beginner photographer skills you need to master, this one is very creative and this is where you creativity skills come into play and you can start to have a lot of fun thinking about how you will compose your shot when you are out shooting pictures.

Shoot in RAW (Stop shooting in JPEG NOW)

This is one of the easiest beginner photographer skills to master and it literally takes a few seconds of your time.


As a beginner photographer, you may have already mastered some of the tips and tricks mentioned above. You could be amazing at using light to your advantage, great at compositions and you may have mastered the manual mode.

But the one thing holding you back could be that you are not shooting in RAW.

When you shoot in JPEG, the file format compresses the data you have just captured when you take the image. This means it will discard the data it believes you will not need. This results in a compressed image that limits what you can do in post-production software such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

However, if you are not looking to edit your photos, JPEG will be better for you to shoot in as this file format will do some quick tweaks to make the photo look a little better. But it is always handy to keep a RAW version of the image in case you do want to edit your photos sometime in the future

If you shoot in RAW, all of the light data captured is stored, without any compression whatsoever. This will mean you have a lot of creative freedom when it comes to editing your photos and you can even completely adjust key settings like white balance after the fact.

All of this data will allow you to create your own look or aesthetic for your photo and this will be handy if you are trying to get noticed on Instagram.

Make time to go out and shoot

time glass sand

This skill is arguably the most important as without this, you will not be able to successfully learn and implement the rest of the advice in this article.

However busy your life may be, try and set aside some time on a regular basis (say, every week) to get out there and take some photos.

Once you go out there, make a conceited effort to try and implement the tips in this article. For example, try and spend one shooting session focusing on your composition and use that as an opportunity to play around with different ideas and see how that works out for you.

After all, practice makes perfect!

FREE 7-Day course to improve your beginner photography skills

As I mentioned earlier in the article, there is a little treat for you.

To help you to learn these beginner photographer skills quicker, I have designed a FREE 7-Day course that will teach you all of the basics.

It will show you how to use manual mode properly, how to get the most out of your kit lens, how to use your phone to take amazing photos and much, much more.

If you want to TAKE ACTION TODAY and instantly up your photography game, sign up below! I look forward to seeing you on the course.

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Joel Oughton is the Creator of Photoaspire. He likes to write about anything photography related and is more than happy to help out others with any photography-related issues

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