Each day billions of photos are taken all over the world, each representing a different story. They are stories of love, laughter, loss and much more—and the evolution from analog to digital photography has allowed those stories to reach more people, faster, than ever before. Today, digital photography is the norm for both professionals and amateurs alike. And it isn’t limited to those with access to high-end cameras, either.
Thanks to new technology, photos that once took days to develop can be viewed in seconds. Digital cameras allow photographers to tweak settings as they go, making adjustments in real time and improving upon the images they’ve already captured. And technology that once cost a small fortune for aspiring photographers now comes preloaded on the smartphones in our pockets.
Nothing accelerated the world’s access to quality photography equipment like the rise in mobile technology, which placed cameras in the hands of billions of people around the world. Now, anyone can take photographs that can grab the world’s attention. And traditional digital cameras have come a long way, too. Today, photographers have an array of products to choose from—DSLR (digital single-lens reflex), compact, and bridge cameras, to name a few—and each represents a sophisticated tool with its own ways of capturing a striking image.
Camera equipment may be more accessible than ever before, but it still takes skill behind the lens to make a photo that will stand out. To tell your story, you need to understand your camera’s many features, learn the basics of perspective, and consider the nuances of different kinds of photography—and it’s easy to get started. Whether you’re scouring digital photography sites or enrolling in professional courses, learning the fundamentals of digital photography will help you approach each image with careful eye. With practice, you’ll be able to tell captivating stories without ever saying a word. In this article, we will explore what it takes to do just that.
Learn Photography Online
What you put into photography is what you are going to get out of it. If you want to succeed in photography, your daily practices need to be productive and consistent—otherwise, your hard work may deteriorate. It’s up to you to prioritize this new skill.
One way to grow in your craft is to enroll in professional photography courses online. Just as mobile technology has broken down equipment barriers in photography, online classes make photography education more affordable and convenient, too. Digital courses provide you with expert instruction, just like a classroom setting would. But with access to online learning communities—and the growing trend of teachers making themselves available for online feedback and assistance—you might receive more individual instruction online than you would by stepping inside a physical classroom.
Many online courses are robust, with options for newbies as well as more advanced coursework to help seasoned photographers develop skills within a particular niche. This beginner’s guide to photography explains essentials like aperture settings, DSLR photography, ISO photography, shutter speeds, and all the other fundamentals you’ll need to get started as a photographer.
Mastering the Fundamentals of Photography
The best way to build a strong foundation in photography is to master the basics. These are the building blocks to your skillset—elements you will be practicing even when you don’t realize it. Some of those fundamentals include:
- Rule of Thirds
These are the tools you can use to tell your story, and the best way to hone your skills is to dive into the work. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If a great photo doesn’t come to you right away, consider it part of the learning process: Even when you feel like you know it all, new tips and techniques are sure to open new avenues for you to explore.
Treat each time you shoot as an opportunity to find your voice. Play with styles, images and camera settings to begin your exploration. Focus on the journey. Becoming a digital photographer doesn’t follow a set path—create your own by taking classes, studying the fundamentals and exploring the depths of your creativity. Only then can you learn who you are as a creative.
Advantages of Online Learning in Photography
Online learning provides you loads of benefits, including the ability to cross-reference other digital photography sites for additional tips. There are benefits to adhering to a course, but in an online community, you have more freedom to explore and tailor the lessons and its work to your needs. Keep an eye out for new outside elements that you can integrate into your work, even if they don’t fit the class.
Online learning eliminates the fear of falling behind, too—lessons move at your pace. Want to explore DSLR filmmaking a little more before moving on to ISO? Go for it! Or maybe life got it the way—work, family or something else required that you delay a few lessons. In a classroom setting, you might find yourself needing to retake the course another semester, but with an online education, you determine when you are ready to move forward. As long as you commit yourself to each lesson, the will results pay off, even if it takes a bit longer. If you have the discipline and time management skills, there’s no need to change your life to continue learning.
One of the most important parts of an online education is the value: Often, students can receive a top-notch education for a cut-rate price. With so many graduates frustrated with high student loan debts and low-paying jobs, online learning can open up possibilities without any financial risk or investment. E-learning allows you to explore a passion and decide if you want to learn more—without breaking the bank.
Get Started with Digital Photography
Follow along with Justin Bridges as he explains the finer points of using a professional camera.
Perspective and Digital Photography
Think about the photography you see in regular life. Personal photos on Facebook, advertorial shots on billboards, and product images in online stores are just a few of the different styles we come across every day. But through books, magazines, and even online influencers, we’re also exposed to more artistic images, from high-fashion portraits and nature photography to more niche content, like landscape astrophotography. The common thread between these advanced styles is attention to perspective.
What is perspective?
“Perspective is essentially how you orient yourself in accordance to your subject, whatever that subject might be,” says Sean Dalton, the lifestyle and travel photographer behind Photography Essentials: Understanding the Basics. Perspective has always been one of photography’s essential elements. By adjusting the lens’s view, an artist can add depth, meaning, and vibrance to the stories in their photos. Without an eye for perspective, your images can be flat or lack intrigue.
With the right angles, a skilled photographer can take a standard two-dimensional photo and give it life, depth, and the story it deserves. Photographers will often use familiar items to communicate size and scale—offering mental anchor points for our brains while providing the context we need to comprehend the image. Anything from a person to a home can help achieve this effect when used correctly.
Some ways photographers demonstrate perspective include:
- A fisherman holding up a catch
- A person looking into the distance of a landscape
- Including familiar objects—like coins, rulers, or people—for scale
But perspective isn’t just about communicating the physical realities of the scene you’re photographing. It’s also about making it your own and exploring the limits of your creativity and tools. Different angles, views, and subjects can open a world of possibilities. With so many accessible resources available online, anyone can begin to learn about perspectives, ISO settings, aperture and so much more.
To succeed in digital photography, it is vital that you learn proper perspective skills. Only then will you be able to capture the full depth of a landscape, tell the emotional journey of your subject, or show the overwhelming size of a natural landmark.
Camera angles have helped to frame characters in visual storytelling for many years: Orson Welles was digging up floors on the set of Citizen Kane for low-angle shots long before DSLR filmmaking became the norm. Today, you can still discover new ways to frame subjects and tell stories by adjusting your stance and sight lines. Learn how each of these angles and positions changes your perspective.
- Eye-level Angles: Taking a photo at eye-level is the most common angle used in studio work. It’s a straightforward way of saying, “We are equal.” Keeping your camera at eye-level gives your images a natural and relatable appearance. For this reason, many professional headshots are taken from an eye-level angle to ensure that there is no power structure inherent in the photograph—even if one exists in real life.
- Low Angle: Pointing your camera upward adds depth to your image while creating interesting effects. With your subject looming over your lens, the focus often becomes more intimidating. But a low-angle shot can also lend a feeling of wonder, like that of a child. In nature, it can allow most of the frame to be covered by sky. By placing your perspective under the subject, you frame them as larger than life.
- High Angle: Taking photos from above may add innocence to a story, as it can emulate the way an adult views a child. But depending the height of your camera’s angle, it can change from a parent observing a child to a hawk hunting its prey. Using this angle correctly can completely alter the story in your photo. And in nature photography, it performs the opposite function of low angles by filling two-thirds of the picture with the landscape.
- High Position: Shooting above eye level allows your photos to capture more of the background of your images. For a bolder result, use a high angle as well.
- Vertical Photos: Vertical photos are framed to be taller than they are wide. Using vertical angles can add depth to digital photography. From children’s parties to architectural projects, they can all be affected and boosted from skillful manipulation of vertical angles.
- Horizontal Photos: Horizontal photos are wider than they are tall. Horizontal angles are used to tell detailed stories in photographs. By using the rule of thirds, subtle messages can be incorporated into your images. If you have someone looking to the left in a landscape, place them along the right-hand “third line,” and they will be looking at two thirds of the image, rather than one third. This adds space and can be used to show freedom—or loneliness—depending on the colors and textures you decide to use.
ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture
Your perspective also changes when adjusting photography’s “three pillars”—ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. When you adjust a camera’s aperture, you are changing the camera lens itself: Your aperture settings determine how wide the lens is open when you take a photograph. The smaller the aperture, the less light travels down the lens to the light sensor inside the camera. A wider aperture means more light is allowed in, which is perfect for low-light scenarios. You might be amazed at how much a small change can impact your subject’s focus and story.
To get an action shot in the daytime, a smaller aperture and faster shutter speed may be appropriate. For a nice evening photo, a larger aperture and slower shutter speed might work better. This requires a balance—the larger the aperture, the lower depth of field—so you’ll soon be juggling your lighting with your focus. These adjustments can alter your image’s story drastically.
Using Perspective to Steer the Narrative
Digital photography is about telling the story of a scene. As a creative, it is your job to steer the narrative. Whether you are sharing what you see or helping a subject express their story, a photographer brings the tale into view. To do so, it’s essential that you have a firm grasp of key photography elements like perspective, camera angles, and the aforementioned three pillars. They are plot devices that shape characters, and each affects your narrative. With the tilt of a lens, you can turn a neutral subject into a menacing villain; an adjustment the other way could give them a childlike wonder. Much like writing a work of fiction, how you frame a photograph makes a world of difference.
In the end, you have to find your voice behind the lens, and in doing so, you will become more confident in telling the stories in front of you. Your growth as a photographer will run parallel with your growth into a storyteller—photography just happens to be the medium you chose to share your stories.
Learn More What Makes a Great Photo
Frame a Great Shot: Exploring Photo Composition.
Telling Stories Through Photography
Understanding the elements needed to take a quality picture is only part of the learning process. Real education comes through telling the story of the scene. Your photography needs to express something to the world. Otherwise, you just have lovely photos with no substance. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is up to the photographer to bring those words into the image. From photojournalism to casual cell phone photography, every shot has the potential to become much more. You have the best chance of capturing a captivating story when combining good composition, emotion, and action.
Keeping an Eye on Composition
“To make a good photograph great, there are two concepts that are important,” says photographer Porter Yates. “One is to have strong subject matter, and the other is to show that in an interesting way using composition and visual elements.” In his class, Frame a Great Shot: Exploring Photo Composition, he shares many factors that go into great photographic composition, from seeking out the right environment to layering different visual elements. Look for classes that provide you with these building blocks, and then experiment with different shots to see what fits your style. “It’s important to go out and practice,” says Yates. “I have a lot of bad photographs that I consider failures. It’s okay to fail. Learn from them, and you’ll become a better photographer.”
If you have access to your subjects, try dropping your distance and getting up close to the scene while you shoot. Whether you’re covering world events or a wedding, getting close to the subjects and the action almost always helps you find a unique shot. Humans are the ideal subjects for conveying a scene’s emotion. Little details like facial expressions and posture can help shape an image’s narrative, so shoot the front of the subject when possible. Framing your subject from a forward angle allows for a more emotional image.
Capturing the Action
Another vital element is action. Again, you can tell the story from afar, but your photos may suffer for it. Instead, get into the scene to bring out its movement. Bringing yourself closer reveals more details of the picture. The subject’s movements will be much clearer, and minute details can then come to life. It’s your choice where to shoot—what you pick could determine the clarity of your visual tale.
Types of Digital Photography
You can tell stories no matter what genre of photography you’re pursuing. In fact, if you can convey the feelings and action in challenging types of photography, you could assert yourself as one of the best in that field. Consider some of the most popular types of photography and how they share new narratives with their audiences.
Travel photographers allow viewers to see the world without ever setting foot outside. In travel photography, your aim is to tell as much as you can about a location visually, creating images that can stand on their own or enhance informative text.
“You can get so much more out of the places you visit through the lens of the camera,” says travel photographer Dan Rubin, whose course on travel photography makes a great primer for beginners. The job can take you literally anywhere. “Just this year alone, I’ve been to Australia, Tuscany, Naples, Barcelona, Doha,” Rubin adds. “This is a result of my love of using the camera to discover places that I travel before people ever hired me to do this.”
While some travel photography jobs are easy, many will challenge you. You might be expected to walk through well-known events in great cities, such as the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, or break off the beaten path in the Masai planes of Africa or the frozen tundra of Siberia. More often, you may be asked to document the everyday hustle and bustle in your hometown or a nearby landmark. But whether you’re witnessing the world’s wonders or walking down an empty street, travel photography is about finding a unique perspective—even if the location you’re sharing has been photographed thousands of times.
“It requires you to think ahead before you visit a place: to check the time for sunrise and sunset, to check the angle of the sun and the length of the shadows, to look at the weather,” says Rubin. “Research what angles are the best angles, and maybe then you can also discover some of the less popular and well-known angles in a place. Through that, you can discover some amazing ways to represent an iconic place in your own way.”
Learn Travel Photography
Try your hand at five different travel shots with photographer Dan Rubin’s Skillshare course, Travel Photography: Seeing, Shooting, and Editing.
Becoming a product photographer doesn’t just involve taking a photo of a product and sending it to the salesman. You’re selling the product, too—through your image. Many aspiring photographers overlook the potential of product photography, particularly as a storytelling device. But product photographers have to be able to take the photo in such a way that the viewer can imagine what it might feel like to own the product themselves. Product photography is the art of selling a 3D object through a 2D plane, and it’s a tricky genre to master.
“If you sell online, a picture is the first impression that customers get of your brand and product,” says Kristina Turner, owner of crochet studio Tiny Curl and the instructor behind Skillshare class Product Photography Basics for Your Handmade Business. “A good picture is sometimes the determining factor between whether they buy or not.” Perfectly hued backgrounds, proper lighting, and thoughtful settings all have a hand in crafting the narrative around a product shot. If shot in the wrong location or with incorrect lighting, a serious photo can look silly, or a light-hearted image can turn sinister—errors that can cost brands a lot of money.
Avoiding those common pitfalls is a seasoned product photographer’s forte. “Product photography is definitely a skill that you’ll get better at with practice,” says Turner, “so try different camera settings, a new camera, different lighting techniques, and different props.” With the right portfolio, product photography can be a rewarding—and lucrative—way of using photography to tell stories.
Portrait photographers make photos of people for many reasons. A couple at prom may enlist a photographer to help them commemorate the event. An author may be seeking a professional headshot for her book jacket. A young family may want photos for a Christmas card or birth announcement.
The stories you tell with photography will vary depending on your work, and each image is shaped by both the subject and photographer. For headshots, you want your individual subject’s image to look as professional as possible. That means making sure the light, the surroundings and the subject look clear, uncluttered, and eye-catching. For more candid or documentary moments, just make sure your subject is in focus, and that the lighting allows you to capture them as they are.
“I think a lot of a good pro portrait photographers’ job is to cut through the veneer. Most people in front of a camera just want to only present the person that they think looks best to the world,” says Brian Kelly, the photographer and director behind Skillshare Original Storytelling through Portrait Photography: Shooting Better Portraits. “You want to be able to punch through that wall, that senior portrait look that they’ll give you. You really want more of a candid authentic moment.” Kelly recommends using humor to put your subject at ease, or bringing a friend along for shoots to break the ice.
Landscapes may be one of the easiest photography genres to enter and one of the most difficult to master. Think about shooting a mountain: You might want to share the immense size of the rugged exterior, or maybe you want your viewer to feel the crisp chill of the snowy mountain top. Using images of physical spaces to share feelings—the brisk air of the mountain, for example, or the awe of a cliffside view—is what makes landscape photography so amazing.
Some photographers are drawn to landscapes to show the world of untouched lands. Others aim to profile the impact humanity has had on an area, or seek to share compelling images in urban landscapes devoid of people. Depending on the setting and subjects, landscapes could offer you all the time in the world to catch or just a moment. The variety of topics makes mastering landscapes that much more of a challenge. However, when shot well, they produce some of the most stunning images.
The Perfect Landscape Photo
Adventure photographer Alex Stead shares tips and tricks for capturing a sweeping landscape photo in his Skillshare Original.
Street photography has the potential to capture any story or emotion one might encounter in daily life. It can be one of the most gripping genres of photography, but it can also be the most comical or the most loving. Street photography is all about sharing the raw beauty, pain, or personality of a city’s occupants.
“I think my skills as a street photographer allow me to shoot anywhere,” says the cityscape photographer known as trashhand, whose Skillshare Original Street Photography: Capture the Life of Your City helps curious new photographers get started. “As long as there’s people around and streets to walk on, I can shoot it.”
In street photography, it isn’t always so much about what you shoot, but how you shoot it. Anything from a tearful goodbye on the subway to a feel-good church yard sale can become your story. Tapping into the people and emotions of your city will help you spot compelling moments—ones that you, as the photographer, can convey to outsiders with the proper framing.
“I wake up before sunrise every morning. When no one’s around and I’m walking those streets, it’s really personal,” trashhand says. “I get to have that moment alone with the city, really have that freedom…I’m looking for places that are authentic to that city.”
Sports photographers allow fans to relive their favorite Olympic and Super Bowl moments in vivid detail, but it can also relay the tragedy that carries beyond a failed title win or immortalize the greater cultural moments surrounding the game. At the 1968 Olympics, for example, John Dominis captured the iconic image of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos making a powerful, silent civil rights stance during their medal-winning ceremony. The moment almost immediately transcended the sports world and continues to serve as a talking point in civil rights history.
“The biggest difference between this type of photography and the photography that most people do is that you don’t get a second chance,” says Don McPeak, who teaches the series Sports & Action Photography For Beginners. “You don’t get a second take. You don’t have the ability to manipulate your environment… When you’re at a basketball game or a sporting event or a concert, it’s happening live. It’s in real time, and you have to be able to react to that.”
Gaining Confidence in Your Niche
It requires dedication, learning and a nonstop commitment to create narratives with professional photography. Whether you want to become the top name in your industry or just take likable pictures of your family, you’ll need to take time to hone your skills. Photography is not for the impatient or thin-skinned. Success requires patience and the ability to take criticism—even on your best work.
Regardless of your chosen path, each genre presents you with the opportunity to be a storyteller. With time and persistence, you will be able to call yourself an excellent photographer. It’s all about being consistent. If you don’t have it yet, now is the time to develop a strong work ethic.
Expressing Yourself Through Photography
As with any art form, photography may eventually become a career, but expression must arrive first. It’s up to you to decide where your career goes. Start out by practicing your fundamentals day in, day out. Work on your composition, explore aperture settings, play with balances. Eventually, you’ll find that the basics start to come naturally, and you’ll be able to shift your focus to the objective of your shoots. These early lessons will serve as the foundation for the more complex and artistic endeavors you take on.
By this stage, you might already have a grip on your voice. Continue exploring what inspires you. Discover what you aspire to create. Focus on critical factors that shape your brand voice. Apply your fundamentals, partner them with your interests, and begin to explore your style. The photography scene is meant to be eclectic and constantly evolving. Push yourself to try different techniques, perspectives and moods. If you feel the urge to study something new, explore it! Trust your process, continue to learn and continue to create. Only then can you find your voice.
Consistent effort does more than help you acquire the fundamental skills needed to be a photographer. It also enhances your ability to express yourself through your photography. All of the skills mentioned above are essential to telling your story. As digital photography tools become easier to access than ever, you can capture a wonderful moment and preserve it forever.
Mobile cameras have ushered in many incredible advancements in photography, but don’t disregard traditional digital photography—or worry that methods like DSLR, ISO, and bridge photography will become obsolete. No matter how much the medium advances, photographers can count on the value of their fundamental skills to endure. Just think back to the minor news frenzy that erupted a few years ago, when President Barack Obama appeared in a selfie with Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Was this the future presidential photography? Well, yes and no. While selfies are now part of the art form, presidential photographers like Pete Souza still use their trusty cameras, so have no fear over which type of camera you prefer to learn. Make your pick and start practicing.
In fact, getting acquainted with more than one type of camera can be beneficial in itself. Once you have the hang of one camera, consider expanding your skill set to include another. You never know what possibilities this might lead to in your career. By adding mobile to your work, you allow yourself the opportunity to take many more photos on the fly. Meanwhile, adding DSLR photography to your repertoire could open you up to filmmaking opportunities. As long as you keep your mind open and continue to learn, you can always find a way to work.
Make today the day you begin your digital photography journey. Grab your camera—or your iPhone—and pick a class to get started. You don’t know where this journey will take you, so make today your first step on the road to becoming a digital photographer.