25 Photography Exercises For Beginners That'll Help You Succeed
July 22, 2021
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Photography is a great expressive outlet for people of all ages. It’s fun, it’s creative and you can even make it a side-hustle (or full-fledged business)! But becoming great at photography takes time, patience, and practice.
This blog post will discuss 25 photography exercises for beginners that will help beginners and more experienced photographers alike get better at their craft.
Think of these exercises as steps. Steps towards self-improvement in an area that you truly enjoy! By the end of this article, you'll be armed with fun exercises that'll not only help you improve, but you'll enjoy!
I wanted to introduce myself real quick. Seeing as you're reading this article - I thought it would be fitting to tell you a little about the person behind the writing, photos, and stories you'll read and see throughout the article...
A project I finally completed - My mother and I at the same spot, same time of day, and attempting the same 'pose', angle, and 'editing'... nearly 23 years later.
My itch for photography started much later than even some of you reading this, but my interest in being creative started when I was a child.
Life growing up wasn't easy. Growing up in a poor and rural town in Virginia, there really wasn't much to do. Farmland surrounded everything, 2-hour bus rides to school every morning, to come home to a broken family filled with anger, addiction, and greed... where they could never figure out when/how their lives turned dark even though it stared them in the face every day.
I would use this time after school and on the weekends to draw. I wish I had still had some of them - it would be awesome to look back on them now. I drew from a very young age until I was 18. Then, I went off into the military. This was 2005.
Fast forward 15 years, and it's 2015. I've been out of the military for quite some time and thought back on the days when I would draw. Even though I loved it - I know I couldn't really help anyone doing it.
That's when it came to me. Photography could be my creative outlet while also helping others remember their past. It's a decision I'll never regret making.
Fast forward to today, and I've been a photographer for nearly 8 years. I've made some bad business decisions, wasted a lot of time and just as much money. I say this because this is the reason I've created this website (and other articles) - so others don't make the same decisions I did. However, the positives do outshine the negatives; I will say that.
I give all props to Josh Dunlop and his photography courses. Instead of spinning wheels - I was actually able to improve and offer a better product and experience. 80% of what I know and do to this day comes straight out of his courses. From very average pictures (and very average sales/sessions) - I now book about 200 family sessions and 25 events per year.
Although, I am not an expert or ambassador in any way. I am still learning and growing daily - just like yourself. All I have that you don't - is time spent doing it.
Read through this article and subscribe to my newsletter if you feel like you need that extra nudge in the right direction on your own path.
Now that you know a little about me and my purpose - let's get going with these exercises!
Act Upon What You're About To Read. Improvement Starts With Practice (And A Lot Of It)
We all know of those people who read something on the internet or watch a Youtube video and never take action.
I'm not suggesting that you do these exercises every day, but they're a great foundation to get you to where you want to go.
Do them as often as you'd like - your drive to improve all comes down to you.
If photography is something you love, then it's worth investing in yourself. These exercises will help greatly. So don't just read; take action.
Start Shooting – With Whatever You Have Right Now!
Do not let gear be the reason you don't start improving your skills. Cameras and lenses do not make you a great photographer - you and your knowledge do.
So, pick up whatever you have - a DSLR, point and shoot, film, or even cell phone. It doesn't matter. Trust me. Let me tell you a little story...
You may have heard a story similar at some point in your journey, but I was fixated on gear when I first started. I, like other beginners, assumed that the best camera and lens would make my pictures and videos better. I mean, if you pay more for something, there should be a better result, right?
Well... there isn't much truth to that.
During the first 9-12 months, I would consume a ton of gear-related content. I would go back and forth on whether it was the lens, body, tripod, gimbal.... anything that I thought could be holding me back...
Within the first year, I went through 3 different camera bodies and had about 9 lenses (bought and sold about 20). In total, I spent about $20k in gear alone - and couldn't produce images that were much better than what I had a year prior.
This is an example of the photos I was taking after a year of learning very little about lighting and more about gear. Needless to say - it's horribly lit and unflattering. This was taken with ~ $15k worth of gear (camera, lens, lighting)... You have the proof here - gear doesn't make good photos or a good photographer
It wasn't until I took Josh Dunlop's courses did I understand that it really has nothing to do with gear at all. I didn't care about the money that I 'wasted' (I sold most of it to KEH Camera, the best place to sell your gear to, hands down) - it was the time. If I had put all of the time into really learning and practicing, I could have advanced so much further that first year.
Please, don't make the same mistake as I did. Also, if you're going to buy something 'new'- buy used through KEH. They're way safer and trustworthy compared to eBay or Amazon used market. I also suggest avoiding buying brand new within your first year or two until you know this is a profession/hobby you will be interested in for years to come.
Start shooting with whatever you have now - and worry about all the other stuff later.
Learn The Exposure Triangle First (Trust Me, It's Not Difficult)
Exposure is how bright or dark your image is, overall. So the objective of any photo is to get the exposure perfect - not too bright and not too dark... that sweet spot, basically.
The exposure triangle refers to three areas of adjustment on any modern camera. These adjustments are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Getting the perfect shot or exposure is a constant dance of balancing these three aspects.
You can set any modern camera to automatic to balance these for you (which I don't recommend) - or you can set your camera to manual and do it yourself (continue reading to learn more about manual mode).
The image above is the best representation of this. However, if you would like to dive deeper into aperture, shutter speed, or ISO, just follow those links provided.
Shoot In Manual Mode (If Your Camera Allows It)
All DSLR and point and shoot cameras today have manual mode. Even the camera on my phone has a manual or "pro" setting. If your phone's camera doesn't, there are quite a few camera apps that 'unlock' the ability to control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (even though the software only imitates these settings, it's not actually doing what a DSLR does).
If you already shoot in manual - excellent. You're ahead of the game. If not, start today. Don't be intimidated.
Manual mode allows you to take control of your camera - which will allow you to harness its full potential.
You wouldn't be able to achieve a shot like this in Automatic Mode. Your camera would have to be set to Manual with a high shutter speed (along with good editing).
For instance, if you wanted more of a blurry/bokeh background - your camera probably wouldn't do that automatically for you. You would have to be in manual mode and adjust the aperture to give you the desired effect. If you wanted the iconic 'sunset silhouette shot, you would have to be in manual mode and increase the shutter speed to darken your subject's foreground.
You'll also take much better indoor event photos - your camera would automatically boost ISO (giving you a lot of digital noise) - in manual mode, you can open the aperture all the way and slow the shutter speed down to where you know you can get a great image that isn't blurry - then increase ISO.
Shooting in manual will ultimately make you a better photographer. Knowing how to control your camera manually will take you from beginner to intermediate, quite possibly overnight. It takes a bit of practice and understanding but opens so many creative doors...
Shoot A Subject You Enjoy
Everyone has their own reasons for getting to photography (or what got them interested). Me for example, I saw an amazing landscape photo and wanted to imitate it. This lead to learning everything I know today... but shortly after photographing landscapes, I didn't enjoy it.
Finding what you love to photograph is one of the most important aspects in keeping you interested. If you don't enjoy what you're photographing - either fulfillment, satisfaction, enjoyment in the moment of photographing... you won't stick with it. This may seem basic, but it's very true.
These are a few images I created when trying to figure out what I actually enjoyed taking/editing. These include portraits, composites, macro, and landscapes...
After shooting landscapes, I took a short break to find what I truly enjoyed shooting. I tried nearly everything you can imagine. These included,
Events (weddings, concerts, local markets)
I ultimately stuck with portraits and events. However, if you're on the fence about whether what you're shooting gives you the satisfaction you desire, I suggest you do the same.
Start with something youtruly love. Get really good at it. Then, if you're interested, monetize it to make money from it. Don't start with something just to make money from it... your desire/passion/love for it won't be there... you'll most likely burn out and quit. I've witnessed it too many times to count.
Start With A Photo Of Yourself (When No One Is Around)
Here is my most recent self portrait. As you can see - it really doesn't matter what it takes or looks like while you're taking the photo - the end result is all that matters.
This is something I recommend to every beginner photographer that asks what they should do to improve.
There are many different reasons I recommend self-portraits.
There is no one else involved (you don't have to rely on a friend/family/etc.)
You'll learn how light, angles, and focal lengths work (if you're using a mirrorless or DSLR)
You'll eventually get good enough to use these portraits to promote yourself (headshots for Linkedin, etc.)
It'll give you a great understanding of what your clients feel when they're in front of a camera (even though no one else is with you)
All skills learned can be used directly on a client in any environment
They can be used for amazing composites (if that is something you're interested in) because you're controlling everything, know what you want and how to get it.
Think of self-portraits as a free way to apply anything you want to learn - all on your own time without relying on anyone else. Everything learned, such as lighting, angles, focal lengths (and what they do) - can be applied to any type of photography.
You can apply the topics we're going to talk about next to improve them.
Start With Positioning
This topic/exercise involves the positioning of the camera.
The position of your camera can affect the overall look and mood of an image.
These positions include:
Front (facing your subject)
Now, when I say right and left - That can mean from any degree. That can be either slightly left/right or an exaggerated step to the left/right.
The position of the camera in both of these images are 45° to either the left or the right.
These positions can add character or wonder to an image that could otherwise be dull if shot from a different position.
For example, if you have a client and you're taking portraits, and they're standing square to the camera - being in a front-facing position would leave the image appearing very flat. However, if you position yourself to the left or right (either slightly or more), you're changing the camera's perspective. This will add dimension to the portrait, which will ultimately make it better.
The same can be said for cars (or anything really) - a photograph of a car is usually more appealing when shot from a left or right position and not squared up with the car (this is very subjective but true amongst the masses).
I would recommend trying this in a self-portrait. First, take a shot squared up to the camera - then remembering exactly where you were standing, wrap the camera to the left or right and take the same photo... you'll immediately see the difference.
I use these off-set positions in every shoot - but I use them the most (especially behind) with children. Looking off in the distance or to the sky adds a lot of dimension and wonder to the images.
Shooting From Behind
I know we just talked about this in the last section - but I think it's fitting that shooting from behind your subject has its own section within these exercises.
You can try these self-portraits by setting up your camera and walking away from it while keeping in mind the different 'looks' or feel you want to give off with the photo.
Walking away can make for beautiful photos while being very meaningful. When shooting couples, it automatically gives the 'walking into the future' feel while 'walking away from the past.' It's perfect - which is why it is used so much.
The angle of the camera plays a major role in capturing what you want. But, of course, focal length, but we will get into that in a little bit.
The angle in this image is a bit higher than the one above, to capture the surroundings a bit better (very old photo of mine).
You'll want to practice this to understand how your angle affects your image. For example, shooting while squatting pointing straight at them looks very different from standing up and shooting straight (or slightly down). Your background can play a major role as well.
For me, if I have a couple that's walking away and I just want to focus on them - I'll get into a kneel/squatting position and shooting them square to the camera. Then, I will allow them to walk quite a few meters from the camera to capture as many as possible to choose the one that looks best.
If the background is important, I will shoot from a standing position with the camera at or slightly above eye level with a slight angle looking down. This keeps the subjects near the center of the frame while being able to see their background well.
This takes a bit of practice to learn what you need to do to get what you want (for me, about 30 self-portraits and ~50 sessions) - but once you do, you'll know exactly what you need to do every time going forward.
The Rule Of Thirds
This topic builds off the previous two topics.
This is strictly a compositional exercise involving splitting your image into 9 segments. This involves 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines spaced equally from each other. Placing your subject at any of the interesting points means you have achieved this rule.
What this does from a compositional standpoint is offset your subject from the center of the frame. It leaves negative space on the opposite side of the intersection (usually), adding interest to your image. This 'rule' was made many moons ago and is still followed by many photographers today (including myself, from time to time).
Your camera (assuming it is digital and not film) - should have a grid setting. Turn that on, and you'll be able to see the intersecting sections. This will make it much easier to achieve this look and follow the rule.
Now, this isn't an actual rule. You don't have to follow it. But, seeing as many people do it - doing something different will make your images stand out more than following everyone else.
With that being said - this is a great rule to follow at the beginning. Then, as you progress, you know when to use it and when you won't. Remember, photography is art. Art is subjective. There is no right and wrong.
Take a few images with and without this compositional rule (make sure it's the same subject). Then compare to see which one looks best to you. Sometimes it will; sometimes it won't. It all depends - which is why we practice!
Note: You can create this look in post-processing by cropping your image into this composition.
Shoot Indoors: Use Window Lighting
When indoors, window lighting is the best form of light you can use. It's natural with no color casts (like you get from yellow/orange indoor lighting). It's also free and doesn't require heavy, expensive lighting equipment.
Window lighting will be closest to white between 10 am and 2 pm and will shift more towards gold after that. This is no different than evening golden hour. I prefer window light on the warmer side (between 4 and 7 pm during the summer months).
Watch for harsh sunlight spilling through the window. If it is, either move to a different one or use a diffuser to soften it.
The reason window lighting is so appealing is how soft it is. Generally speaking, window-light is bounced light. Noting that's coming through the window is direct - it's bouncing off objects in the environment than coming through the window. This bouncing effect diffuses a lot of sunlight's harshness, giving you much softer light in return.
You can test window light against your interior lighting by shooting something in either place. Pretty simple. I guarantee you will like the window lighting better.
This is also the best place to take self-portraits (if you're taking them at home, for instance). Again, you can play with your angles versus the way the light is spilling through the window. This could include angling your face towards the camera while the light only hits half - essentially giving you split lighting... that's just one of the hundreds of different ways to use it.
Get creative with this. This should be where you learn a lot about lighting and how it works and shapes the world around us.
Start Angling Everything Towards/Away From The Camera
You'll notice very quickly (if you haven't already) that very few things look good when shot square with the camera.
As mentioned earlier - having an angle when shooting anything will add depth and dimension to any photo.
What you want to do is offset your subject from the flat/straight horizontal plane. You could do this in a self-portrait by starting squared up, then turn slightly right or left (turn with whatever side is your 'bad side'). Now look back at the camera. You should be, of course, doing this with good posture, shoulders back, blah, blah... you get it...
But, what you're doing is pulling one side away from the camera while leaving the other where it is. This adds depth and dimension to your subject (in this case, it's you). This will add a thinning effect to the face and body (everything won't be nearly as wide). You can over-dramatize this by raising and rolling your shoulder (that's closest to the camera) slightly forward while making eye contact with the lens...
All of this adds to very appealing photos... but the one thing that it all has in common is that it's never shot 'straight-on or squared with the camera.
This exercise won't take you long to execute and see how powerful it can take your photography from beginner to intermediate or pro.
Improve Light Direction
The dreaded "racoon eyes" created by noon sun (between 11 and 2pm)
Take note that light is what creates everything we see. The presence of light (and absence of it) creates shape. This is how someone can draw something that looks three-dimensional on a piece of paper.
The direction of that light plays a huge role in taking a great photo and, well... not.
I'm sure you've heard not to take outdoor photos around noon. And if you are, you should only take them in the shade. While that is great practice, do you know why you shouldn't? It's that direction of light.
The sun is usually at its most verticle position at noon. That means it's casting light straight down on everything. That includes your subject and the environment. What this does is cast shadows in a downward direction. This will give people the dreaded 'raccoon eyes .' There isn't much shape or dimension to anything. Everything basically looks flat.
Improving that will completely change your photos. When outdoors, earlier or later times in the day (7-10 am //4 pm -dusk) are much more ideal. The sun is angled in the sky. It will spill light in a specific direction, allowing both lights and darks (light and shadows) to appear on your subject and environment.
I shot this underexposed on purpose. I knew I could recover most of the details in post production. This saved the background from being blow out if I attempted to do this in camera without a flash.
Shooting in the shade eliminates the harsh lighting issues during these times. Be mindful of your background, though; it's very common to increase exposure on your subject - while increasing the harsh lighting that isn't in the shade (generally your background). As a result, you can end up with a blown-out background. You can fix this problem by using flash or underexposing your subject and raising it in post-production.
You can test this out easily by taking photos of your subject at noon, then in the shade (at the same time) - then come back during golden hour (or early in the morning). Compare the difference... I'll guarantee shade looks better at noon - and earlier or later times of the day look even better than that.
Improving Light Quality
This exercise builds off of the last topic.
Now that we know how the direction of light improves your photos, that light quality matters quite a bit.
You see, even if you shoot early in the morning or golden hour - if the sun is hitting your subject - that light is still harsh, no matter the color or direction. This is the quality of light.
As you may imagine, you don't want harsh lighting... you want it soft and diffused. This produces better skin/color tones, better fall-off/smoother transitions to shadows. It's generally more evenly lit (because you won't have really bright highlights and dark shadows)... everything is softer.
You can do this by diffusing all harsh lighting. There are very inexpensive diffusion disks or scrims that do a great job. Unfortunately, there are larger ones that are held up with stands - but don't worry about those... disks work for 90% of everything you'll ever do.
If you don't want to purchase the disk - you can use anything to diffuse light. This could be a bedsheet (fold it up to provide more diffusion layers), a shirt, or even a piece of paper (which I've used a few times).
You're basically filtering the harsh light - the output is soft, manageable light.
Keep in mind: if you find yourself using something other than a disk (such as a sheet, shirt, etc.), the diffusion's color matters. Whatever color the diffusion is will be cast onto your subject. So, if you're using an off-white sheet - that cream color will spill onto your subject. This goes for any other color.
Also, if you find yourself in an environment with harsh lighting and no shade... you can use the disk to bounce the harsh light off of it onto your subject. The process of the light bouncing will diffuse it just as if it was passing through it (although you won't get as much light from the bounce).
Let's talk a little more about bounced light.
Improving Light Quality
Building off the exercise from before - bounced light is a great alternative to diffusion.
You can use bounced light in nearly any environment. This could be from a building, an object (like a car), or even a person (like their shirt). It can save you in a tight spot.
The same principles apply here - bounced light will be diffused, but it'll also cast its color onto your subject.
This is very common for subjects close to the ground (like family photos). You'll notice a green color cast on their skin if they're sitting in the grass. This is because the light bounces off the grass and hits their skin even just a little bit. The same idea applies to all bounced lights.
With that being said, all bounced surfaces should be white (or gold if you want a 'golden hour' look).
You can eliminate color cast issues with flash - but that's for a different article.
Practice this in much the same way as the other exercises so far. First, take pictures without bounced light, then with it, bounce light off a colored object (that isn't white). You'll see the improvement immediately.
I'll be writing multiple articles on this subject - but I'll give it to you in a nutshell and how to you practice doing it on every shoot no matter the subject.
You need to think of depth in layers. There should be foreground, midground, and background in your image. Generally speaking, you want your subject in the midground to achieve the desired depth.
Your foreground and background should be out of focus. This not only created depth - but makes your subject 'pop' off the page. With the foreground and background out of focus - it gives the viewer the feeling of being there.
There's a completely different way to create depth - that's by having a telephoto lens, leading lines (into the distance), and large elements in the distance. The leading line(s) will draw you eye into the distance while the large elements create scale. This 'version' of depth is for a different article.
For instance, if I am shooting a family portrait and sitting on the ground, I use either a zoom lens or a long prime lens. I open my aperture all the way up (to make sure that everything is out of focus) - I then squat so I am on their level. If I am far enough away, I will catch the ground, the subject, and the background in the same photo.
The ground in front of them is out of focus (foreground), the subject is in focus (midground), and the background is out of focus (background, of course). This creates a ton of depth in an image that would have been bland if not shot way.
I will do this for every shoot (at least a few times). I'll find anything to make the foreground, and everything else just kind of falls into place.
Practicing this isn't hard - be mindful of it when you're on location. It'll come naturally as time goes on, and you'll get better.
This is great (and straightforward) in street photography. In a studio, pull your subject away from the background - and while you won't have foreground to speak of, your background will still be blurry.
Depth is effortless to achieve with a digital camera - quite difficult with a film camera (since you can't see the result immediately). Your focal length can make this easier (longer focal lengths) or harder (wider focal lengths).
Shoot 'Through' Objects Or Right Next To Them
Building off the last topic - shooting through objects or next to them adds even more depth and character.
For instance - you can shoot through blades of grass to give you interesting foreground. Or, shoot next to an object to make them the foreground - the possibilities for photographic creativity are endless with this exercise.
Be mindful that you need your lens to be wide open (aperture number set as low as possible). This will ensure that what you're shooting through or next to is out of focus. On the other hand, if it's set too high, you run the risk of it being in focus. Refer to the related article, Everything About Aperture, to dive deeper if you need to.
Use Compression To Your Advantage (Zoom Lens)
Compression is achieved with a telephoto lens. If you don't have one, don't worry - I still recommend reading this topic if it offers something you desire or if you decide you want to get on in the future.
If you do own a telephoto lens - I'm sure you've seen this first hand, but maybe you didn't notice it happening.
When you have a telephoto lens (either a prime or a zoom), you'll notice that everything in the frame is larger. I mean, it's zoom or long-reaching lens... duh.. right? But did you notice what it was doing to everything in the frame?
Through the magic of magnification - your foreground and background get sandwiched into the midground. It's basically pulling the background in and pushing the foreground out. This causes not only your subject to appear larger in the frame - but your background will be much larger as well.
Take the image above as a reference. Also, compression will lead to natural-looking features and dimensions versus compression that's nonexistent (like on a wide-angle lens). This is very apparent in portraits.
So, if you find yourself wanting your background larger and don't know how to do it - a longer focal length will get you there.
Use Wide Angles For Exaggerated Features
A wide-angle lens is used to capture more of your surroundings. It's great for landscapes and real estate, for example.
But, if you didn't notice - the wider your lens, the farther away everything seems? You can go as wide as 12mm on a full-frame digital camera, and objects that seem 'normal' with your eye look incredibly tiny. This is the work of a wide-angle lens.
You can use this to your advantage and place objects very close to the lens/frame, and they seem huge compared to the things around them.
This is very similar to macro photography in the sense of making something look huge - but better in a way because you can still capture your surroundings.
This is very easy to practice assuming you have the lens. If not - there are great inexpensive wide-angle lenses from KEH that will allow you to practice and improve this area of your photography skills.
Play With Shutter Speed (Combine With Street Photography For An Exaggerated Effect)
Many 'special effects' or 'unbelievable' photos are created using various shutter speeds.
For instance - very fast shutter speeds have the ability to freeze anything. This includes rain, water out of a fountain, even the wings of a hummingbird.
On the other hand - slow shutter speeds have the ability to create ghostly trails, light painting, or even remove all moving subjects from an image completely (yes, completely).
The best way to start the 'shutter speed journey' is to mess around with it. Yes, trial, error, and experimentation will yield you the best results. Not only that - you'll have learned it and know how to do it.
I do have a few pointers that you can follow. These are:
The faster your shutter speed, the darker your image will be - but you be able to freeze action better
The slower your shutter speeds are, the more blur you can pull from them (ghostly trails are made this way).
Light trails (created by people or cars on the road) are created using a combination of slow shutter speed and balancing ISO.
To have ALL moving subjects in an environment 'disappear' from your image, your shutter speed must be minutes long. Yes, 1-4 minutes is the general time to achieve this for 1 image. Of course, this means you have to have a tripod to achieve this.
These tips will help you while practicing and working towards getting these types of images. However, be aware that it takes time and practice to achieve these - don't give up!
Long Exposure For 'Milky Water'
This, too, builds off the last topic. But, the 'milky water' effect seen in landscapes is achieved using long exposures or slow shutter speeds.
This effect gives a sense of movement to your images. Not only that - if there are clouds in your shot - it'll give them movement too.
You'll need your camera and tripod. You'll have to play with the shutter speed setting to balance exposure and the effect. Generally speaking, you'll need a shutter speed setting between 4 and 15 seconds (the longer it is, the more of the effect you will get).
A problem you may run into is not being able to balance your exposure. This is because the slower you set your shutter, the brighter your image will be. Therefore, it's highly recommended that you purchase an ND filter (I suggest a variable ND filter) to decrease your exposure while keeping your settings the same. Think of the filter as sunglasses.
This exercise takes a lot of practice and perfecting. It's an art in itself - and photographers have made entire careers doing them. I suggest this style to beginners because it's not hard to learn the basics, and you can get really good at it in a concise amount of time if you're passionate enough about the style.
This topic is a little late in the article - but I've placed it here for a reason.
You can execute this technique using all of the aspects we've talked about thus far.
This is simply just getting as low as you can to the ground.
It can add scale to a small subject or exaggerate something that's already big. For example, this is great for a female subject to emphasize the length of her legs, to exaggerate the size of a car tire... this is an incredibly creative way to express yourself and your subjects.
I've personally started doing this in family portraits. I currently give my clients the option to pick the photos they like the most. This perspective is another shot I can take that they may love. Some do, some don't - but the option is there, and it's different from typical family photos.
You can do the same! Write it on your shot list as a perspective you should take. I'm sure from time to time; it'll work wonders in creating something awesome and unique.
Shoot At Dawn And Dusk
I know we've talked about this already (at least a little bit) - but I thought it would be fitting to include it in its own section.
The quality of light and its direction can't be trumped by any other time of the day. Hence the reason everyone loves shooting during these times.
I would recommend making this a habit. A habit is formed after about 2 weeks of doing something consistently. Do just that. Take photos of something you love during these times and these times only. Over the next 2-4 weeks, you'll develop a habit of taking photos then.
What you'll do on a subconscious level is move your plans for the day around doing this. You'll eventually say, " no, I can't do X because I'm taking photos during dusk/golden hour". This is setting yourself up for taking photos during the best times of the day.
Suppose you plan to do this at dawn (or the first hour after sunrise) - plan and think ahead by setting an alarm for the weekends. We all know how easy it is to sleep in. Don't. The first hour after dawn is even better than later in the day because getting up early and heading out isn't convenient. Capitalize on this and be there when no one is.
Now, Take Photos During Blue Hour
Now you have to wake up an hour earlier ( I know... it's rough lol) - or shoot an hour later than dusk.
Blue hour isn't really an hour - it's about 20-30 minutes before the sun has risen or after it has set.
The tones created are very blue and 'cool' in tone. These tones are great for adding mystery, drama, or somberness to an image.
I take the majority of my Halloween photos during this time. Blue tones naturally resonate with a sense of dread (if coupled with eerie costumes or poses). It's also closer to the black end of the color spectrum than other tones - making it easier to darken shadows and blacks to intensify the dread/fear/spooky effect.
While shooting during these times is for a particular reason - doing so will give you those tones, followed quickly by golden light. I've been able to use both times (golden hour and blue hour) for two completely different sessions - back-to-back. You can't beat it.
Note: As the sun is setting and if the clouds are high enough, you'll get the pinks/purples/yellows in the sky. If you're a landscape photographer, there is no better time than this. Theshuttermuse.com has a great article on clouds and cloud cover with links to various apps and websites to check weather conditions and cloud height. Definitely worth the look.
Shoot In Both Portrait And Landscape (No Matter What!)
I always take a landscape and portrait oriented shot for every different shot/pose during the session. The one of the right is framed better in original form (just needed to keep the aspect ratio of the above image correct.
This is something I failed to do early in my photography journey. Since I typically took landscape photos when I started - I took everything I saw in landscape orientation. But, boy, did I miss out...
I wish I were told to shoot in both portrait and landscape orientation at the beginning. That's the reason I'm telling you to do this for every photo you take!
We may have a 'vision' for a photograph in our mind when we take it. Once taken, that's it; we move on. But taking it from a different orientation will open different creative ideas on a subconscious level.
Obviously, when taking photos in landscape orientation, you see more from left to right than in portrait (and vice versa) - but it's this extra space either on top and bottom or left and right that could get you thinking something completely different.
A portrait orientation can cut down on a lot of 'clutter in your image as well.
You could bring the images into photoshop or lightroom and crop the image after seeing something better on your computer screen... But what a properly composed image does is save those mega-pixels from getting cut out. So essentially, you'll have a much higher quality image if you don't have to crop.
I take every composed image in both orientations and decide which one is best once I get home and start editing. I suggest you do the same!
Combine All Of These Aspects Into One (This Will Take Some Time)
Now that we've covered some great photography exercises for beginners - you'll want to practice as often as you can.
Your ultimate goal is to combine the majority of these aspects into a single photo. These aspects would include:
Knowing the exposure triangle and how to expose in manual settings.
Knowing how angles and positioning affect your overall photo as well as your subject.
The rule of thirds and how to nail it every time (when you need to).
Light direction, quality, and how to maximize both.
How to create depth using medium to long focal length while shooting low, through, or beside something.
Then shooting at dawn, dusk, or blue hour.
If you can nail every aspect mentioned - you've probably got yourself a great image. The best thing about it? You can now repeat this process over and over and over again. You now have a great foundation to build and improve from.
If you find yourself 'mastering' these fundamentals and interested in trick style photography, I recommend Evan Sharboneau's photography trick shots course. Not only will you get more engagement from your photos - you can use the aspects that he teaches to improve or create something completely new in the genre of photography you're already interested in. Highly recommended to stand out among the rest.
Before we go, let's look at one of my images and go through the aspects mentioned above.
Let's talk about the image above.
I was shooting in manual mode for the entirety of the shoot.
I thought about positioning and knew I wanted to be at their eye level.
I felt the rule of thirds would hinder this image as the background was of a large park. But I did offset all subjects slightly to the left.
It was a pretty sunny day, and I knew I would have to control it. This is shot under a tree - with flash. I cut the harsh sunlight with shade and controlled the rest with flash.
Depth is created pretty well (it could have been better), with the foreground being out of focus - the background is out of focus as well.
This image was taken close to golden hour (about 4 pm) on Mother's Day weekend. I set the appointment to start at the time with the overall light quality and color in mind.
All in all - I would say the above image is pretty decent when going through the checklist. If there were only one subject, the shoot would have been much easier. I also shot this at different angles and heights and chose the best one to edit.
You can create something just as good (and most likely better) - in a relatively short period of time if you follow the exercises we've discussed. Before long, you'll think that taking photos is easy - the real challenge after that is building relationships with people and business owners (if that is something you're interested in).
Above All Else, HAVE FUN AND ENJOY IT!
Photography is a way to express yourself. You don't whip out your digital camera, throw it in a camera bag, get on location, get your iso settings, correct exposure, and take the shot... to be miserable in the process.
Take it easy. This should be fun, enjoyable, and creative. If you are, stop thinking of photography as only a means to make money... instead, focus that energy on helping people (like I'm doing now) or learning something new. Remember, photography is art - expressive and subjective - enjoy what you're doing, and it'll show... in so many ways than just one.
That'll About Do It!
WHEW! That was a long one, right? Well, I enjoyed every bit of the planning, writing, and publishing of it. I hope you enjoyed it just as much and learned a thing or two along the way.
This is the fourth version of this article. It has been re-written and re-structured each time. From this point going forward (seeing as I think this is a great foundation) - I plan to only add to it. So either save this post or subscribe to our email list to be notified of updates to this article - along with other articles that we publish.
This blog is my way of giving back to the people who have helped me in my journey (and continue to be there). I hope that in the future you're willing and able to do the same.
I'm here to help if you have any questions, concerns, or requests from me. You can reach out by commenting below or reaching out on Facebook or Instagram.
Until next time folks, be safe and keep creating!
How should a beginner practice photography?
As often as they can - with whatever they have. Don't worry about the gear you have or your current skill level. Everyone has to start somewhere with something - too many people use these two aspects as an excuse to get started. Practice as often as you can with whatever you have (and read our article).
What are the basics to photography?
The basics to photography is the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) - as well as basic composition (rule of thirds). If you can get a good hand on those - you can take great photos in any situation.
What are the 3 basics of photography?
The three basic elements of photography are Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. This is also known as the exposure triangle - seeing as they all worth together to give you ideal exposure - yet can work separately to give other 'effects' (silhouettes/shutter drag).
How can I practice taking photos?
I would recommend finding a great blog post (like ours) or another online/in-person entity that has something great for beginners to follow. Having direction and confidence in that direction yields great results for beginners (and allows someone to guide you and look over your work). Structure and guidance can help a beginner a lot.