To start with, shoot anything and everything. It doesn’t matter if you shoot in full auto or semi-manual or whatever mode, just get used to your camera. When I started, I took my camera with me everywhere and shot anything that was even semi-interesting. Once you get used to your camera and you have shot many different subjects, you can begin to focus on what you really enjoy, whether is be food, people, graffiti or abstract photography.
In the beginning it is all about trial and error. Learning what works and what doesn’t. Use the exposure guidelines outlined below, but don’t get angry if you can’t remember or understand it at first, eventually, as you shoot more, you will begin to understand, and eventually it will become second nature.
To start out with you don’t need to buy the most expensive gear you can find. For Canon, I recommend getting either a Rebel T5 or 50D, 60D or 70D (depending on your budget) any of which should be the kit version along with a 50mm, 1.8 lens. The 50mm is referred to as a prime lens, which means that it does not zoom, but they are wonderful and practical in so many different scenarios. You could even, if you wanted buy just the body of the camera and the 50mm lens, but the zoom is great to have in some scenic and other types of photography.
If you are ever going to post process your images, which, by the way, is definitely okay to do and is in no way ‘cheating’, you should be shooting in RAW not JPEG or any other image source. RAW allows for the most post-processing with the least compromisation of the image. If you really want JPEG files of the originals you can set your camera to save both, but you will need to make sure that you have enough and large memory cards to store the information.
While we are talking about memory cards, there is a big difference between generic and name brand memory cards. The speed is not just a matter for videographers either, photographers shooting in RAW often use more memory than video. This means that the best option is to buy a name brand memory card that has a high memory speed, for instance SanDisk Ultra or SanDisk Extreme Pro.
And now the fun stuff! Learning manual controls! There are three main settings that factor into manual exposure, these are aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Below is an image that displays visually what each setting does, but I will explain in more depth as well.
Aperture is the size of the inside of the camera lens, which when large lets in a lot of light and focuses on a large depth of field, while when small only lets in a little amount of light and focuses on a very short depth of field. Lower aperture is great for portraits when you are close to your subject and want to blur out the background while having a sharp focus on the subject itself. Higher aperture is great for landscape photography when you are far away from your subject, but you want the whole thing in focus.
Shutter speed is how fast the shutter closes once the shutter has been released, the slower it closes the more movement it will capture, while a fast closure will still anything moving. You would want a low shutter speed to do light painting or to capture waterfalls without completely freezing their movement. On the other hand, a high shutter speed would be very useful when it comes to capturing a hummingbird or a sporting event, so that it freezes the subject without motion blur.
ISO is the level of sensitivity to light the meter inside your camera is. The lower the setting, the less sensitive the meter, while a high ISO setting leads to a more sensitive meter. Both high and low can be used in dark and light situations depending on what you are trying to capture, but generally the darker a room, the higher you want your ISO, while a bright room would need a low ISO. You would want a low ISO for taking photos outdoors on really sunny days or if you are indoors and you are taking photos of a bright subject, for instance something in a light box. While you would want a high ISO for indoor, low light photography, like most wedding receptions, or for light painting. High ISO often leads to noise in photos, noise is graininess, like when you look at old photographs. Lower ISO produces a much smoother image.
Once you understand the basics of each component, you will need to learn how they work together. Something that I brought up a few times was light painting, which would need a very slow shutter speed to ensure that all of the movement is exposed to the shutter and a very high ISO so that the light can be seen by the sensor, the aperture would then be set to compensate for the distance between the camera and the subject. In contrast, to photograph a close-up of flowers, you would want a higher shutter speed which would compensate for any movement from the wind, while a low ISO would be needed because of the amount of sun outdoors, and a low aperture would be used to blur out the background so the focus is just on the flower.