The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started in Photography
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
In such a technologically savvy society and the prevalence of social media you may be thinking about flexing your digital muscles. A great skill I believe the majority of people can benefit from in 2020 is photography. Of course I am heavily biased as I’ve fallen in love with the art in the past couple of years but with the majority of human beings (in western society anyway) being active on social media platforms it helps to know how to take a decent photograph. I also think it’s a valuable skill for anyone in the arts/creative/marketing industries.
A lot of people feel as though you need years of practise and in depth knowledge of how a camera works in order to take a decent photograph. Of course, as you become a lot more experienced you will learn about techniques needed to achieve certain looks depending on what kind of photography you’re going into. But to get started, your knowledge can be minimal and you can find yourself taken top quality photos in no time.
In this post I will go over the fundamentals of photography and also give my recommendations for beginner cameras to look into if that is the route you choose to go down. I plan to keep this post as accessible as possible so even someone with 0 knowledge is able to understand and follow. I will try and limit my use of technical jargon and only give you the information you need to know. I will also cover tips for buying a camera aswell as some easy photo editing techniques.
The exposure triangle
Now if you want to carry on using the automatic settings in a camera you can pretty much skip this part as the camera will set all these values for you. But if you want to be able to use your camera in one of it’s other modes and have more control over the look and feel of your image then this is fundamental.
First things first. The term “Exposure” simply means how your camera is capturing the light in your image. Photography is all about light and the exposure triangle is made up of three different variables that will affect the amount of light your camera captures. People can sometimes get put off by this but when you dumb it down to the absolute basics it is actually pretty easy to understand. I will not get into the science of it all (simply because I don’t know all that much myself) but I will inform you of how each variable will affect the image you take.
This is simply how long the cameras shutter is opened for. When you take a photo, what the camera does is opens and closes the shutter for a predetermined amount of time and whatever is captured during this time will appear in the photo. Shutter speeds vary depending on your camera but they can range from as quick as 1/8000sec to as long as 30secs. You will use a quick shutter speed if you are capturing something moving fast. For example, sports. This will ensure your camera freezes the action and there is no motion blur. Longer shutter speeds are typically used if you want to show motion. This is normally the case for timelapses or capturing moving water.
However with each variable there are some trade offs that you need to be cautious of when you decide each value. For shutter speed specifically, the quicker the shutter speed the less light your camera will let in because it is opening and closing so fast. To rectify this you could of course increase the shutter speed or change one of the other variables. If you are in a controlled environment you can simply add more light into your scene. For longer shutter speeds you may have the opposite problem because the shutter is open for longer, letting in more light. Also, if you are using a longer shutter speed you may want to use a tripod otherwise the entire photograph will be blurry.
The fast shutter was used to freeze the motion of the girl on the bike eliminating any motion blur. The fast shutter was used to show the light moving across the frame leaving a trail.
Aperture is probably the variable that I like to have the most control over. You know how everyone wants that blurry background look? Well that is achieved with aperture. Aperture is much more geared towards lenses as opposed to the camera itself and it is measured in F stops. Don’t ask why, I really don’t know but to understand you don’t really need to know anyway. Every lens has a set of blades that open and close creating a circle towards the rear of the lens. Now stay with me here because it gets a bit backwards. The larger the hole, the smaller the F stop and the smaller the hole the larger the F stop. So for example, a lens that has an aperture of 1.4 is able to create a bigger hole than a lens that has an aperture of 2.8. Are you with me so far?
Because this hole can either be larger or smaller this will have an affect on the amount of light that is able to reach the camera’s sensor. So an aperture of 1.4 will be able to let in more light than an aperture of 2.8. This will therefore make your overall image brighter but will also have a drastic affect on the depth of field. Depth of field is essentially the ratio of how much of your image is in focus and how much is out of focus and it is how we achieve the blurry background look. Photographers will typically use a lower F stop if they want to isolate a subject from the background. This is commonly used in portrait photography. If you want more of the image to be in focus then this can be achieved by raising the F stop and this is common in landscape photography.
The aperture is what most photographers are concerned about when buying lenses. The more expensive lenses tend to have lower apertures or constant apertures. A constant aperture is a zoom lens that doesn’t change aperture even when you zoom. A cheaper zoom lens will typically increase in aperture the further you zoom in. These are the numbers that you can see on the front of a lens. Maybe you were like me and had no idea what the numbers meant.
Also, if someone says that a lens is “fast” it is referring to it’s aperture. A fast lens means it has a wide aperture. Something that took me a while to understand.
When the aperture increases the flower becomes less isolated from the background as more of the image is in focus.
This is the variable you will probably have to worry about the least as there is a drastic trade off depending on how you set it. ISO is essentially how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Think of it as artificial light. This is normally used as a last resort if a photographer wants more light in their image. Lower ISO means a darker image and a higher ISO is a brighter image. It is typically measured in the hundreds and doubles. A low ISO is 200 and a high ISO is considered to be around 3200/6400 and above depending on your camera.
The reason why it is usually a last resort is because the more you push the ISO the worse your image quality will be. ISO introduces “noise” into your image, which is essentially grain, decreasing the overall quality of the photo. Some cameras are able to handle higher ISOs better than others so are considered good low light cameras. Always adjust your aperture and shutter speed first before looking at your ISO. I typically leave my ISO in auto and allow the camera to set it for me. Newer cameras allow you to set a limit to your ISO. So if you know your camera does’t handle ISOs above 3200 very well you can set it so your camera will never automatically set the ISO above this value.
You will see degradation in your image the higher the ISO. You will always get a cleaner image at lower ISOs. Increased noise in an image is more noticeable in dimly lit photos.
Essentially all photography is, is trying to balance these 3 variables depending on your environment, the amount of light available to you and the type of photo you want to take. And because 90% of the time we can leave the camera to set the ISO for us we only have to worry about the other 2 values. Below is a diagram that really helped me when learning about what each exposure control did to the overall image.
Quickly though before I go on I should probably quickly go over sensor size. Different cameras will typically have sensors of varying sizes. Your smaller sensors will come in compact cameras but even then some compact cameras have bigger sensors than others. Now what is that you ask? What is a sensor? The sensor is basically what is capturing the light. So essentially the bigger sensor the more light being captured. Because of this many would argue that a bigger sensor is always best, but a bigger sensor means typically a bigger body and some people may value a camera that is easier to transport over it’s sensor size. You are still able to capture high quality photos no matter the sensor size. Bigger sensors are generally better at capturing the blurry background look because of it’s ability to capture more light.
The focal length of a lens determines the field of view for the image you are capturing. It is measured in millimetres. The smaller the number the wider the field of view. Also something crucial to remember is that the value relative to the field of view is dependent on the lens and camera you are using. By default we usually speak about focal lengths in Full Frame (FF) terms. A 24mm lens is considered wide and anything around 85mm and above is considered telephoto (in other words really zoomed in).
However because different camera systems have different sensor sizes this will impact the field of view because of its crop factor. For example, a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor is half the size of a Full Frame sensor meaning a 24mm lens on a FF camera will act the same as a 12mm lens on a MFT camera. It’s important to remember this if you do decide to buy lenses for your camera. If you have a compact camera, the fixed lenses on those are already converted to their FF equivalent so there is no maths involved.
My camera has an MFT sensor so my lenses focal lengths are half of what they would be on a FF camera.
All that make a bit more sense to you? Great. Now, let’s dive into equipment.
I say “Equipment” but the only thing you need is a camera and a lens. If you’re just getting started, no matter how many blogs you read or YouTube videos you watch I guarantee, you do not need anything more than a camera. Once you start to take photos and discover what kind of photographer you are then you can decide what other equipment you need. A portrait photographer will need different equipment to a landscape photographer.
All the cameras I am going to recommend are either cameras I’ve used myself or cameras that I’ve done extensive research on. I would not recommend a camera I wouldn’t buy/use myself.
Before we get to that though I think it’s important to quickly talk about the different kinds of cameras that are available to you.
These are your small cameras that are perfect for travelling. They will also generally be the cheapest option although an advanced compact camera could cost you well up to £1000. Compact cameras are great if you want more functionality than your mobile phone but don’t want to fully invest in something more advanced. If you’re a keen traveller, they won’t take up much space, most of them will be able to fit in your pocket. The downside of compact cameras is that they generally have small sensors meaning they are not the best for low light situations and also have a fixed lens, meaning you will not be able to change it a later date. The one you have is the one you’re stuck with.
Mirrorless cameras have become a lot more popular in the last decade because of their smaller form factor compared to a DSLR. They can be just as capable as a DSLR but can be a fraction of the weight and a lot more transportable. Because of the smaller size, lenses are also usually smaller than their DSLR counterparts. Because it has no mirror the viewfinder will always be electronic as opposed to a DSLR that uses a mirror to give you realtime feedback on what your camera is seeing. Mirrorless cameras are becoming more popular, with Canon and Nikon recently jumping on the bandwagon and may be the future of the photography industry. Mirrorless cameras are however often less rugged than DSLR’s and their handling may suffer as a result.
The OG if you will. The most common type of professional camera, but have now become a lot more user friendly in recent years with plenty of beginner options. DSLR’s will typically have the biggest sensor sizes which many would argue give you the best image quality but they also come at a premium price so I may not be recommending any of them today. (I am currently proof reading and I can tell you that I have actually recommended multiple DSLRs) However smaller sensor DSLRs are capable of producing amazing results and are very easy to use. These cameras are generally the biggest and tend to be more expensive than compact and mirrorless cameras. They tend to be very well built and ergonomically designed. Their size however don’t make them the best travel cameras.
Alright let’s get into the camera recommendations. I will try and recommend cameras of varying budgets but I will try and stick to the cheaper side as I imagine as a beginner you won’t have a ton to spend and also the less expensive cameras tend to be the easiest to use. I have included Amazon links to all the cameras but also check out eBay and you may be able to save some money on a used camera.
Compact Camera Recommendations
CANON POWERSHOT SX620
The cheapest camera I will recommend and is a great starter for anyone wanting to ditch their phone camera. Incredibly easy to use with a 25x zoom so can be used in a multitude of different situations. The definition of “point and shoot”. Will not give you amazing image quality due to the small sensor so if you want to make a bigger jump from your phone this may not be the option for you.
This camera has a 30x optical zoom meaning it is highly versatile. It is incredibly affordable and has a viewfinder which is uncommon for compact cameras. If you wanted to delve into video at some point it is also able to record in 4K. If you want slightly more be sure to check out the TZ100 and TZ200 which improve on some of the features but at a steeper price point.
Small form factor and sleek design the G9 X can be seen as an upgrade from the SX620. It does not have as big a zoom range but it’s lens is able to stop down to as wide as F/2 when at it’s widest. With the Canon badge you know it is going to be easy to use and also includes image stabilisation to counteract a shaky hand.
Sony RX100 III
The Sony RX100 line is known for being one of the most premium compact cameras money can buy. Now in it’s 7th iteration which will set you back around £1200 I can recommend one of it’s predecessors. Still in 2020 it has some top features and will still be a capable camera once you become more experienced in photography. It has a flip up screen for selfies as well as a viewfinder which stores nicely inside the camera body. Probably not the ideal camera for a beginner, Sony’s tend to be tricky to use but the functionality and amazing images you will be producing will make up for that.
Panasonic is held in high regard in the photography world. The LX15 is an example of a truly luxurious compact camera. With a fixed lens of an aperture of 1.4-2.8 it is more or less unrivalled in it’s class. The Leica branding also ensures exceptional image quality. It only has a 3x zoom meaning the lens isn’t as versatile as others in the list but if you are planning to always be close to your subjects then this may be the option for you.
Canon G7x Mark II
Perhaps the most popular camera amongst content creators and YouTubers, with good reason. A highly usable camera with a lens with a fast aperture of 1.8-2.8 you can’t really go wrong. If you watch any video of what camera to get as a starter or for vlogging 9 times out of 10 it will be this one. There is now a Mark III which is over £100 more expensive but I believe you can save on the money and stick with this earlier reiteration.
Mirrorless Camera Recommendations
Canon EOS M100
My first camera was a Canon EOS M10, a predecessor to this version and it kickstarted my love for photography so I will always have a special place in my heart for it. The Canon EOS M100 builds off of the M10 with is small form factor and smart design. It is made as a beginner camera and is a good way to get started with an interchangeable lens camera. This camera is in fact cheaper than some of the compact cameras listed and gives you a massive APS-C size sensor. The only downside is that if you do want to buy more lenses in the future, the EOS M mount doesn’t offer you as much as it’s competitors.
The Sony A6000 series is very popular amongst content creators with good reason. The A6000 was the camera that started it off but now we also have the A6300, A6400 and A6500. The Sony E-mount is a good eco-system to buy into and you will have multiple options if you ever decide to upgrade your kit. Built with an electronic viewfinder the A6000 has high functionality but does lack in the usability department. There is a steep learning curve for a beginner photographer.
The Panasonic G80 was the camera I bought after my Canon M10 and I instantly fell in love with it. Panasonic probably has the highest usability after Canon and the G80 gives you so many features at an affordable price. Now a few years old it can be found used for an absolute steal and is the perfect hybrid camera to get you started meaning it is capable of high quality photos and video. Able to shoot 4k and useful features such as Post Focus Mode it is the perfect companion for any budding content creator. With its Micro Four Thirds sensor which is smaller than APS-C it isn’t the best in low light and isn’t capable of producing high quality images at higher ISOs.
Olympus E-M10 MArk II
The Olympus EM-10 has a cool retro look so if you want to take photographs in style this is perhaps the best looking camera from my recommendations. It also sports a Micro Four Thirds sensor and it’s lenses are interchangeable with that of Panasonic giving you a whole host of upgrade options in the future. It has amazing image stabilisation and has Face detection focusing meaning the faces of your subject will never be blurry. However the viewfinder is on the small side and it is not environmentally sealed so will need to be weary when using it in slightly wetter conditions.
Canon EOS M50
The Canon M50 is a more advanced Canon M100. It has a slightly bigger body to host an electronic viewfinder. Like most Canon cameras it is very user friendly and you should be fine using it straight out of the box. It has a fully articulating screen which means it folds out aswell as up. This is highly desirable when out in the field as you can make use of the screen from multiple different angles. It also has stabilisation, albeit digital which isn’t as useful as optical but better to have nonetheless. If you want to eventually start shooting video it is capable of 4K. However the camera does have poor battery life so be sure to grab yourself some extra batteries if you do decide to buy it.
This is probably the most expensive camera I will recommend. It can be purchased for around £800 and even cheaper if it’s used. This is the cheapest Full Frame camera you can probably buy which is why I included it on the list. If the idea of going straight to full frame appeals to you but you don’t want to break the bank this might be the option for you. Keep in mind that the Sony A7 was first released back in 2014 so it is a bit outdated by todays standards but it is still able to produce amazing images. It isn’t a typical camera for a beginner but if you are willing to commit and learn your craft this will be a handy tool.
DSLR Camera recommendations
I will typically recommend Canon cameras to beginners, especially if you do want to go down the DSLR route. The 4000D is perhaps Canon’s cheapest offering to date. The camera itself will not blow you away, it has no touch screen or articulating screen. But if you need something to get you started and want that DSLR feel I strongly suggest you take a look at this offering.