Professional photography marries technical acumen with creativity and art. That is why it seems like a difficult skill to master. However, with the right eye, attitude, and drive, anyone can become a professional photographer.
If that is you then this guide will help you be right on your way to become a professional photographer. We have compiled all the basic things you need to start on your journey along with tips and tricks that will help you take great photos.
What Kind of Gear do you Need for Taking Professional Photographs?
The first step to taking professional looking photos is to get the right gear. However, with the wide variety of cameras, lenses, and other accessories available in the market, choosing the right ones can be a daunting task. Our advice, start with what you have. Here is a list of some of the basic gear you will need to start your photography journey.
There is a huge variety of cameras available in the market from more sophisticated mirrorless cameras to the more basic SLRs or digital cameras. Choosing the one that is best for you depends on a number of factors:
What kind of photos do you want to shoot?
If you’re looking to photograph nature, for example, you can go for a DSLR with a good zoom lens. If you want to shoot portraits, a mirrorless camera will give you the best quality and control. Nighttime photography will require a camera with the right low-light photography settings. Action or sports photography is best done with an action camera.
How familiar are you with camera settings?
If you’re a novice looking to enter the world of photography, a simple digital camera or point-and-shoots are a good way to get started. If you already have some photography experience you are better off with smaller format APS-C or Micro Four Thirds mirrorless and DSLRs.
What is your budget?
Full-frame Mirrorless and DSLR cameras are expensive. Digital cameras and point-and-shoots are more reasonably priced but don’t offer the same variety of shooting settings or quality. Compact cameras like action cams are available in a variety of prices.
Choose the camera that best suits your needs and pocket. We recommend starting off with a budget-friendly DSLR to kick-off your photography career. DSLRs are versatile when it comes to settings and range plus they are user-friendly so you don’t have to be a camera expert to take good photos from them.
Professional photography requires the right lighting. You need to find good light sources to make sure your shots are properly illuminated. You can work with natural sources of light, but more often than not, you will need to create your own light to get the perfect shot.
For beginners, the best way to light their photos is by using flexible LED light panels. They are affordable, portable, and can be powered by batteries. This means you can take them along with you wherever you go and set them up without hassle.
Supporting accessories like tripods, Gimbals, flash, lenses, and more can help you take better photos. Whether you need them or not depends on the kind of photos you want to take. For example, Gimbals are great for travel photography. However, be careful not to over-invest in accessories. They are useful but all you really need to take a good photo is a good camera and the right mindset.
What are the Basic Camera Settings you Need to Know?
Once you’ve chosen the right camera for yourself, it is time to get familiar with it. There are a plethora of settings you can play with when it comes to cameras, specifically DSLRs and digital cameras. While it is a good idea to learn about all of them, for starters, you need to focus on three basic settings that are required to take good photos.
Aperture is the whole inside the lens that looks like a pupil. Just like your pupil, it controls the amount of light that goes into the camera. This means the greater the aperture setting, the more light enters your camera.
Aperture settings are controlled by an f/stop scale. This scale varies from f/1.4 to f/22. As the aperture gets wider, the f/number gets lower allowing more light to enter the camera. Lower f/numbers are recommended for low-light photography. However, it isn’t as simple as that. Low light settings also influence the depth of field, making it shallower. This means you won’t be able to capture the breadth of a scene fully.
Aperture settings are the first ones you should set on your camera. But pay attention to their relationship with the other two settings in this section to know which setting to choose.
The aperture settings have already outlined the amount of light in the lens. Shutter speed determines how much light you want to allow into the camera for a particular shot. This setting is important because it will vary drastically with the kind of photo you want to take.
For example, a really fast shutter speed (1/4000) is required to take action shots while a really slow shutter speed (30 seconds) is appropriate for taking low-light photography or night shots. Normally, you can use a shutter speed of 1/250 to get a sharp and crisp photograph. Mastering shutter speed settings is key to mastering professional photography.
The light passes through the aperture, gets filtered by the shutter speed, and reaches the sensor. This is where ISO settings come in play. These settings determine the sharpness and overall quality of your shot.
Generally, a low ISO setting reduces the amount of noise and grain and gives the best quality picture. But the ISO setting you choose depends on the nature of the scene you’re shooting. For example, if you’re shooting outside on a sunny day, an ISO rating of 100 might be enough to shoot a clear photo. The same photo shot inside must have an ISO rating 800 or higher to really capture every detail.
These three basic settings are important for setting the right exposure for your camera. For novice photographers, exposure is the key to taking amazing photos. Learning about exposure helps you control the amount of light captured in every frame. Here is a diagram of the exposure triangle to better understand how these three settings are related.
Exposure is an essential element of any good photograph. You have to master this concept before you move on to learning about framing and composition. We recommend experimenting with variations of these three settings under different shooting environments to get the hang of how they work individually and with each other.
What Factors do you Need to Consider While Taking Photographs?
Once you have the basics down, it is time to focus on some other aspects of taking good photographs. These settings will essentially help you get an even better understanding of how to get the right exposure for your shots.
A light meter is a sensor in your camera that measures the amount and intensity of light. When you’re ready to take a shot, this meter measures the reflected light and determines the optimal exposure for your shot.
Most DSLRs and other digital cameras have in-built metering modes that allow you to select how you want your camera to measure light while shooting. Here is an infographic from Matador Network that showcases the different types of metering modes found in digital cameras.
Learning about metering modes is important because it will help you take photos that look just right and are not under or overexposed. Learn more about metering here.
Nearly all kinds of cameras come with some pre-set modes that you can use to take certain kinds of photos. These modes are great for beginner photographers because they automatically set the camera exposure and other settings to what is required for a certain shot. For example, landscape and portrait modes are the most common preset camera modes found in most cameras. You can also find ones for low-light photography or action/sports photography in most DSLRs.
While these modes help you take better photos, it is important to learn what each mode does exactly to take full advantage of these settings. Use this guide to learn more about different camera modes.
Focusing and Depth of Field
Focusing is one of the most integral parts of taking a good photograph. Whether you’re shooting with a simple point-and-shoot or using a mirrorless camera, you have to set the right focus setting to get sharp photos.
Cameras usually have an auto-focus option that is a one-and-done solution to taking clear photos. However, as your photography chops grow you will realize you need more control on the focus settings. That is where the manual focus settings come in play. This gives you the freedom to be creative with your shots.
Depth of field defines how the object focused in your shot will look like as compared to the background. For example, a lower depth of field will make the foreground in your photo sharper while blurring the background. You can control the depth of field through the aperture settings. Learn more about focusing and depth of field to take clear and sharp photos.
Simply looking at your photograph right after taking it is not a good measure of its clarity and sharpness. This is because LCD screens in digital cameras aren’t the best quality and are also affected by the light you’re viewing them under.
So, how do you know if your photograph has the right exposure? You look at its histogram. A histogram is a powerful tool that gives you a mathematical review of the exposure of your photo after you’ve taken it. Use histograms to get better at using the right exposure settings.
White balance is an important camera setting because it affects the overall aesthetics of your photos. It determines how warm or cool the colors in your photograph will look or whether your photo will look blue, yellow or orange.
All digital cameras have an auto-white balance setting that is okay for amateur photography. But as you learn more about colors and dimensions, you will notice that the auto setting doesn’t work that seamlessly, especially under tungsten lighting. Here is a tutorial to help you set the right white balance for your photos.
Focal Length and Crop Factor
You must have seen camera lenses come with a measurement in ‘mm’. This is the numerical value for the focal length of that particular lens. The focal length determines how much of a scene can be captured using a single camera lens. It also determines how large a subject will appear or the magnification of your photos.
However, the focal length of the camera lens itself can vary depending upon the camera you attach it to. This is due to a phenomenon called ‘crop factor’. Essentially, each camera has a specific sensor size. If you have a full frame camera, the focal length of the lens will remain unchanged. But if you are using an APS-C camera you will need to factor in the crop factor for that particular camera to know the exact focal length.
Understanding how focal length works will help you take sharper photos that have the right perspective. This video tutorial gives a great introduction to focal length and crop factor and how you can choose the right lens for your camera.
Polarizing filters are great for removing glare from non-metallic objects like water and glass. This makes for better photos with naturally saturated color. These filters do this by only allowing light to enter the lens from a certain direction, creating natural shadows and preventing glare.
You can replicate the same effect in post-production but learning about these filters helps you skip that step. Here is a guide to help you learn when and how to use polarizing filters.
How To Create the Right Composition for Your Shots?
Once you have exposure down, let’s move on to some other factors that will help you take better photos. The first is the composition of your photo. The composition of your photograph defines how different elements come together to form a whole.
This where you can get really creative and play with different angles and lights. However, there are some composition rules that can help you take balanced and aesthetically pleasing photographs. Here is a look at some of those rules.
Rule of Thirds
No guide to photography is complete without talking about the rule of thirds. This rule helps you take amazing photos and is just versatile enough that you don’t end up taking similar looking photos.
This rule states that you should divide your image into three sections both vertically and horizontally, just like a tic-tac-toe board. Then place your subject where two lines intersect (or anywhere else on the lines). This will help you create a stronger composition by allowing the viewer’s eyes to drift more naturally and creating appropriate white space.
Balance in your photo can refer to both the angle of your photo and the color and texture contrast. This is one aspect of composition that has to do more with the overall feel of the photo than any technicality. Balance photos are usually easier on the eyes while imbalanced ones create uneasiness.
You can choose to keep your photos artistically imbalanced for effect or balanced for more aesthetic appeal. It really depends on the type of photo you’re taking. Learn more about how to create balance here.
Rule of Space
This compositional technique comes in play when you’re shooting a subject that is looking away from the camera or looking out of the frame. The rule of space states that while shooting such a photo, your subject should have enough space to look into. Think of all those artistic photos where the subject is gazing out to the horizon. Now imagine you don’t see the horizon in the photo. It will look disjointed.
The rule of space is a powerful tool to take dynamic photos that look and feel grand. Learn how to employ this rule here.
Eye lines are great tools for focusing the viewer’s eyes on a specific part of your photograph. This is done by using the people as subjects in your photo and directing their eyes in the direction you want your viewers to focus on.
Eye lines also help you produce tension and gradient in your photo. Essentially, they help you naturally sway the viewer’s attention to a specific part of the photo instead of focusing right on it. Here are some ways to use eye lines to your advantage.
How Do you Take Sharp Images?
Once you have the hang of composition, your photos will start looking more balanced and aesthetically pleasing. Now you need to focus on making them clearer and sharper.
Here are some tips that will help you take sharper images:
Blurry images occur when your shutter speed is either too fast or too slow. Faster shutter speed helps prevent motion blur and keeps your images sharp. You need to keep your hand incredibly steady to take sharp photos with slower shutter speeds. As a rule of thumb, keep your shutter speed 1/30 per second for full frame cameras and 1/45 per second for cameras with a crop sensor.
Blurring images are usually as a result of you being unable to hold the camera still or still enough. Stabilizers like tripods and Gimbals are a great way to ensure your camera remains steady when taking photos.
Digital cameras offer different kinds of focus modes. Choose the one that best suits the image you want to take. For sharper images, we generally recommend single-point focus mode since that will make one aspect of your photo super sharp. Otherwise, use manual focusing to choose the points you want to focus on in your photo. You can also use your camera’s focal lock to help you out.
A good camera lens can make all the difference in the world. A better lens means sharper photos. Off course new lenses can be costly but think of it as an investment. Sometimes even the best lenses might not take a sharp photo. This is because you might be using the wrong lens for the kind of photo you want to shoot. For example, if you’re using a good quality prime lens, you will be able to take sharp images up to the recommended focal length only.
This one’s a no-brainer. A cleaner lens means a better and sharper photo. Clean your camera lenses regularly to make sure they do not have any dirt or debris stuck on them. A good practice is to cover your camera lens when you’re not using it or even in-between shots to make sure the lens remains clean.
As discussed above, a higher ISO means more noise and grain. Lowering the base ISO as far as it will go can make your photos look crisp and sharp. However, bear in mind that the ISO setting will need to be changed according to the light, so make those adjustments accordingly.
When shooting photos, light is your best friend. But you have to work at maintaining that friendship. Good natural light makes for the best photographs but even when there is an absence of good lighting, you can create your own. An off-camera flash can be used to bounce light off of walls and ceilings to create the illusion of natural light in your photos.
Every camera lens has one aperture setting where the lens takes the sharpest photos. Find it and stick to it like glue. For most lenses, this aperture is two to three stops down from the widest aperture. However, this is also affected by other settings like shutter speed and depth of field. Experiment with different settings to find the best ones for your particular lens.
All digital cameras have in-built image stabilizers that you can turn on and off. These stabilizers are a great way to ensure your photo doesn’t have motion blur, especially when you’re holding the camera. When using a tripod, it is advised to turn image stabilization off because it can actually make your image look less sharp.
A raw photo carries all the image data from the scene you are capturing. This makes them larger in size so make sure there is enough room in your memory card. However, raw pictures give you the freedom of editing that JPEG simply does not. With RAW images you can add all the sharpness you want to your photo without compromising its quality. Just be careful not to overdo it, too sharp an image is hard to look at.
Photography Tips from Professionals
After learning about all the technicalities of taking a good photo, we can now talk about some tips and tricks that can help alleviate the quality of your photography skills.
Here are some photography tips professional photographers stand by.
Inspiration can hit anywhere anytime. So it is a good idea to keep your camera on your person at all times. This will also help you capture photographs in different kinds of light and you’ll never miss capturing a picturesque sight. Another pro tip is to take lots of photos of everything you see. Especially pay attention to the mundane things around you. Most of the times they make for the best photographs.
Just like any other skills, photography requires planning and practice. Taking similar photographs is great for becoming familiar with your camera settings and honing your craft. But it can get boring really fast. What helps is planning a list of shots you will like to take. Make the list as versatile as possible. Then start working on ticking off things from the list. This will help expand your skill set and make you a better photographer.
Digital cameras come packed with different settings that you can play with to get creative shots. Once you have a hang of all the basic settings, start experimenting with different setting combos. This is a great way to get to know your camera better and it gives you the chance to take creative, artsy photographs. Don’t be afraid to break some photography rules and really have fun.
Overexposing highlights is one of the most common issues novice photographers face. Imagine taking a picture of the sky with all its hues and colors but your photograph just shows a big white blob. That is because the highlights are overexposed. To overcome this problem you have to work with the three basic settings we discussed above. First, check to make sure your ISO is lowered to the minimum, then check the shutter speed (a faster shutter speed will overcome this problem), lastly, make sure you’re aperture isn’t set to a crazy value (like f/32, f/45). This should take care of the issue.
A tripod is a great tool to use when studying photography. It helps you keep your camera steady and prevent motion blur in your photos. It is also helpful in creating balance in your photos. Plus, you can take your own photographs using a tripod and remote control. This is especially helpful when you’re learning to take better portrait shots. Gimbals are great devices that let you do all the things a tripod does with the added benefit of balanced movement. That is why they are great for action or sports photography.
Clear filters help prevent dust and debris from settling on your camera lens. A lot of photographers use these filters to keep their lenses safe, especially when the shooting environment demands it (For example, anywhere you need to wear protective eyewear). These filters are easily available in different price ranges. However, you need to be careful to choose one that doesn’t affect the quality of your lens. Some cheap filters can cause your photos to come out blurred.
Just like with any other skill, you need to invest in learning to become a better photographer. There are a number of great workshops and courses that can teach you everything from photography basics to more advanced photography skills. These courses and workshops also give you the chance to meet other photographers and learn from their experience. If you’re looking to take up photography professionally, these events are a great place to network.
You must’ve been inspired by someone’s work to get into photography yourself. Just like that first spark, browsing other people’s work can help you keep your drive alive. You can also learn about new trends and techniques in photography and be inspired to go on your very own venture.
The auto-settings on your camera are your best friend, especially when you’re learning the ropes of basic photography. Just like training wheels, these settings help you take great photos. However, the main aim of photography is to get off the training wheels to ride the bike and that is what you should aim to do. It is easy to get comfortable with the auto settings but they limit your creativity. To really explore professional photography you should learn how to manually set each camera setting to suit each particular shot. The results of such shots will amaze you.
Post processing is an important part of basic and professional photography. Even when you take a perfect photo, it needs to be tweaked a little to be the best possible. This is the reason why you need to learn basic post-processing. There are many editing software that can help you in this area.
Learning basic photography can seem like a daunting task but a few simple steps can help make the process easier. While learning all the technical stuff is important, remember that photography is about creativity and fun. So don’t get bogged down by the nitty gritty too much and enjoy your photography journey.