Advice for beginning photographers

Scrutinize by Paurian on FlickrOver the years I’ve come to the realization that no singular type of informational source is fully acceptable. As people we have five physical senses and being such, we relate better with multiple formats of learning.

For learning photography there isn’t one “perfect” site to stick with. Each decent site has its strengths, but each of these sites also miss some important topics. There are several sites for learning great general photography techniques, digital photography techniques and post-processing techniques. Many times the general photography and digital photography techniques overlap.

The most important concept, and sometimes the most difficult, for a beginner to grasp is that of exposure. Painters, like most artists, are trained to notice light and shadow. Most paintings compress the dynamic range to allow the viewer to enjoy all aspects of the painting in a similar way that our eyes and brain process images. Photographers, however, need to look at light differently because of the constraints of their primary tool. Cameras see light differently, so when taking a photograph think about lighting like a camera. The most important thing you could learn is how aperture, shutter speed and ISO Sensitivity work together in creating all exposure.

Scott Kelby’s   Digital Photography
Bryan Peterson’s   Understanding Exposure
National Geographic’s   Photography Field Guide
Bryan Patterson’s   Learning To See Creatively
Bryan Peterson’s   Beyond Portraiture
Brenda Tharp’s   Creative Nature Outdoor Photography

Digital Photography School was founded by Darren Rowse. While not much more than a photography hobbyist, he has done an excellent job of collecting ideas and getting guest writers to produce great articles on photography.

Popular photography magazine has a more professional team that still covers the basics. I particularly enjoy their “how-to” section for ideas that range the entire gamut of the digital photography experience.

a href=””> is an interactive learning site with many fantastic articles on learning general photography. This site was founded before digital photography became mainstream so most of its content is geared around general photography. You’ll notice the “Post-Exposure” section is only a small part of their list of tutorials. Here are the main articles I would recommend from this site:

  1. Then there are a few online books and articles at Photo.Net. This is the place I got started on since there were no other resources on the internet at that time, but it has some really key articles that every photographer should read.

Those last two links from the site about tripods are pretty important. It turns out that if you want to do really good professional photography, even in fast lighting, a tripod can greatly improve the results. This is especially true for landscape photography. Of course, with wedding and on-site portrait photography you’re usually very limited to when you can use a tripod, which is when that first article on flash photography techniques (below) becomes excruciatingly important.

Do you have iTunes? There are some amazing video podcasts for photographers!
Scott Kelby’s Photoshop User TV
Scott Kelby’s D-Town TV (Usually Nikon gear specific)
Ted Forbe’s The Art of Photography

There are other photography podcasts that are really good, but don’t have video – just search for “Learn Photography” or “Photography” in the iTunes search bar then click on the Podcast Section’s “See All” link.

There are blogs that are written by professionals that have amazing information. Below are some of my favorites articles:

  1. Flash Photography Techniques from Niel Van Niekerk – – Absolutely the best article on flash photography, period. He now sells a book, but still provides the material free on his site.
  2. When buying new equipment I check two sites: Digital Photography Review ( and Ken Rockwell ( Ken Rockwell is very upfront and honest about equipment and talks about certain aspects that others miss. He has a good primer and reminder called “Your Equipment Doesn’t Matter” ( and an overview ( that reminds us that spending big dollars on equipment does not make us any better than well trained eye. Apparently some of the best pictures have been made with really bad equipment (including the really poor camera on the original iPhone).

Personal Experience:
about photography:Zee Arteest by Paurian on Flickr
Take pictures often. Keep a digital camera at hand always, even if it’s just a cheap point and shoot that you picked up at the Target clearance shelf for $25. After you take pictures, look at them critically and if you have time and it’s possible (some photographic moments are fleeting) return to the site with your nice DSLR for an actual shoot. Look at your EXIF information. This is a photographer journalist’s dream come true! I used to record the f-stop (aperture), shutter speed and ISO along with the subject and shot # on a sheet of paper. That was a pain and took some joy out of the moment, but it’s still just as important. The difference is that nearly all digital cameras record that information for you – even the point and shoots. Now you can look at dozens of technical aspects of the photo from free software to learn from it. I think iPhoto has that ability, but it has been a while since I’ve played around with it. I use EXIF Viewer from opanda software for the PC and as a FireFox extension. Simple EXIF viewer for the Macintosh should be identical to the PC version just mentioned.

about flashes:
I read somewhere that it was better to have multiple SB-600s for the same price as one SB-900. The reasoning behind this is that with the right camera, the SB-600’s become multiple slave sources of light allowing for more control than the single SB-900. What I’ve learned is the type of lighting system you use is really dependent on the type of photography you’ll be doing – e.g. studio photography has more controlled lighting so less featured lights work well while on-site photography has less controlled lighting so flashes with more features and power become desirable and in landscape photography the flash is rarely ever used. Before investing in an expensive lighting system look at renaissance lighting techniques that utilize natural light with a great wow factor: Google “Chairoscuro lighting technique”. You should also use the natural window light technique. My most favorited photo by visitors on Flickr was done through natural window lighting (from a north-facing window).

about tripods:
In a couple of words: Garage Sales. When garage sale season comes up, I look for two things: photo props (e.g. chairs, hats, etc) and tripods. Stick with the following names: Gitzo, Manfrotto, Slik, Sunpak in that order. Gitzo will be the most expensive while Sunpak the least. Also, ball-heads are better than tilt-heads. Finally, you’ll want a tripod with a quick camera release of some sort. Usually it’s in the form of a foot that you screw to the bottom of the camera. Before I knew much about tripods, I was able to get a Gitzo tripod at a garage sale for around $20. I thought it was expensive at the time, but it was very sturdy so I bought it. Turns out to be an $400 tripod. It’s as heavy as a sack of bricks but in the windy mountains it sits very solid, which is critical. My other tripod is a light-weight “cheap” Sunpak. It’s okay for quick indoor shoots, but wobbles when anyone walks past it.

about purchasing camera accessories:
Since I like to trek off the beaten path, and got tired of having hard knobs and metal banging against my back spine, I got an inexpensive tennis racket bag from Salvation Army to carry the tripod in. In other words, since good tripods and tripod accessories are so expensive and cheap tripods and accessories are so plentiful, keep an eye open for the good ones at garage sales, flea markets and pawn shops and compromise when it makes sense. A benefit of getting beaten up, tattered and torn camera bags from these places is thieves overlook them for the snazzy new $100 looking bags that other tourists carry. If you noticed, the camera bag I looked at in the store didn’t look like a typical camera bag. The only accessories that most photographers don’t skimp on, and are very picky with are the lenses. Lenses range from $100 to $2000+. I have purchased some good used lenses, but only after really scrutinizing them through my camera body and taking a few test shots with them first.

about post-processing (sometimes called post-exposure):Juicy Fruit by Paurian on Flickr
Post-processing usually involves Photoshop, but can often be done with an equal quality with Gimp, a free open-source version. A new license of Photoshop usually runs around $600, though it can be had for as low as $200 on special occasions (as an upgrade path). Be very wary of eBay. I bought a copy of Photoshop from someone there and it ended up being pirated. Pirated versions have TEMPORARY license keys. After a couple of days your “bargain” $200 purchase of the $600 license will be rendered useless. I knew enough about Adobe products to pin the guy down the hour I received it. He quickly refunded my money in fear of being reported to the authorities. So caveat emptor. Gimp is free and, though the menus and hot-keys are different, the main functionality that you need for photo touch-ups are there. The most powerful are your layers, masks, Hue-Saturation-Brightness, Levels and Curves. 90% of all my post-ops involve only the last three while 9% of the rest only involve the full five. That last 1% is for special filter, convergence, and alignment functions. Another growing-popular choice for photographers is a workflow processing program called “Light Room”. This one normally runs $200, but could go as low as $100 on special occasions. Again, eBay can be a great place to get this, but “buyer beware” still applies. Light Room is also from Adobe and utilizes the same temporary license key technique that disables your software if its server discovers it to be pirated. For the past few years companies have been writing software that not only automatically updates the program when new bugfixes come out, but also reports to the server the license keys to determine if its legit or not.

Get Plugged-In:
Once you know the rules you’ll know when to break them and have the power of knowledge to deliberately do so. Even so, you need to be around others who are also familiar with these rules to give good direction and advice. Also there will be times when you get the equivalent of “writers block” and will need a push or an inspired idea to get rolling again.

You should get plugged into a social network photography site such as Flickr. From there you can join groups that will inspire, broaden and even critique your photography. At the very least, it allows a quick way for you to share your photos with friends and family. My wife likes to use the i heart faces social photography site.

And if you use someone else’s idea, or if a picture you see posted on the internet inspired you to take a few shots be sure to mention it. It’s okay to pull someone else’s hat trick as long as they get credit for the idea.

Finally – have fun. Enjoy it. If it becomes laborious you’ll resent it.
Catch me on Flickr

I’m feeling [insert adjective]

As autumn begins its merry dance and trees across the still green lawn shake gold hues into their leaf tips, the wind changes shape. The sky changes its face. The rift between the livelihood of summer and the dead of winter reveals itself as an inevitable change and plasters in colorful cracking coats, exciting thoughts and refreshing the imagination.

I noticed that when people ask me how I’m doing, if I state a mere “I’m feeling O.K.” then the day feels dull and feelings of inability shoot through my core. But when I reply “I’m doing Fantastic!”, “I’m feeling Great!” something changes. And like the autumn blaze in the season before us a feeling of capability and creativity begin its constructive work.

Last week my wife and I had a discussion about change. About changes that lie before us and the changes we’ve been through. About the habits of millionaires and the activities of people who lead happy lives. Through that conversation two immediate changes came up.

1. Drop the TV.
A good amount of what we watch is educational, but still entertaining. Shows like Good Eats and Mythbusters are peppered with documentaries on health, finances and history. There’s still some mindless entertainment, though. Last night I took some down-time watching a couple of three-stooges episodes. And though I only watch 10 hours of non-scheduled programs a week, opposed to the national average of 19 hours, that’s still 10 hours that could be pared down to 2 (for Family Movie Night).

2. Spend that extra time reading.
My personal take on reading has been to find something that excites the imagination. But reading books to hone and create skills, to challenge and build faith and to encourage thought and creativity need to be more prevalent. The idea is that if I can inspire my desires into action then I’d be more successful in life. For example, I could be a better photographer, a better Dad, a better Husband, a better thinker, a more creative programmer, and overall enjoy life more with a change in attitude and thought that comes through reading and applying.

So those are my two major lifestyle changes that have come up recently. I hate it when people say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “you’re too old to change”. Bah! That negative attitude didn’t bring them any success. Statements like that are insulting. They’re saying “you’re incapable, unintelligent, too complacent, unmotivated, uncreative…” At the heart of the matter is a lack of faith in God. The Bible is loaded with examples of men, young and old alike, changing. Anything I create I can change. Similarly, anything God creates He can change.

So what am I feeling? I’m feeling change!