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aielee's avatar

What are some good subjects/exercises for learning how to take a decent photograph?

Asked by aielee (65points) March 11th, 2008

My boyfriend got me a beautiful digital Leica for my birthday. I want to do the camera justice, but terms like ISO and shutter speed and all those numbers become a jumble in my head. I think learning by doing might be a good method for me. Anybody have any advice?

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15 Answers

paulc's avatar

The Rule of Thirds is a great way to start learning how to frame and compose shots. Its not the only way to do it but its a totally effective technique and worth getting good at. Most importantly, take tons of photos and critique them yourself – find out what you liked and what you didn’t.

squirbel's avatar

One of the main things my photography instructor taught me was to look at the world through your viewfinder – and snap everything. You have to take lots of pictures to get the works of art. He told me of how National Geographic photographers spend up to 10 rolls of film to get that one breathtaking photo.

Of course, you have digital – so cost is less of an issue! Learn the rule of thirds!

Here are some keywords to search google with:

ISO speeds and light conditions
fstop techniques
aperture photography

Those will get you on your way to your new hobby :)

Have fun!

sarahcooley's avatar

the rule of thirds is definatly something good to learn. I also find that when you learn photography from film and then move to digital, all the speeds and numbers make more sense.
I definatly think that you should look at other photographers work. Discover a style that you like, and think about what you want to shoot and what you want it to look like. Then don’t stop until you achieve that style

aielee's avatar

Thanks guys, I will work on the rule of thirds and take looooots of pictures. Are there any art school tricks for memorizing things like ISO speeds? I’d like to venture away from the automatic settings, but like I said—the myriad of manual settings and their purposes get lost in my head.

andrew's avatar

I apologize ahead of time… It’s been a bit since I’ve been really into photography. Traditionally, ISO measures the speed of the film, so a higher number means that it takes less light to produce an image. On a digital camera, a higher number means you can take pictures in darker situations, but you also see more “noise” in your photo.

There has to be an easy online explanation of aperture, shutter speed and depth of field and their relationship to each other.

tomsyelloplanet's avatar

ISO is one of those controls I like to keep at a constant, in both film and digital. It basically means the higher the number, the higher the sensitivity of the CCD (the thingy that records the image). Auto cameras that switch ISO by itself tend to raise it as high as possible in low light conditions so you don’t get a blurry picture from your shaky, shaky hands.
But, generally the higher the ISO number, the worse the image looks (tiny green and red spots all over the picture). Also, you won’t be able to make the image too big before it starts to become grainy.
Understanding ISO helps to understand the relationship between it and aperture and shutter speeds, since film speed determines the other settings.
If it’s moving away from auto settings you want, I suggest ISO 400 for most shooting for acceptable, softer looking pictures. And of course, a little experimentation when needed.

DeezerQueue's avatar

I would google some learning photography sites to get a good understanding of what terms you recognize and to learn some new ones. Since you’re working digitally, you can see the effects changing some of your settings will have, which is a vast improvement over analog cameras.

One of the most important differences between digital and analog is figuring out what your intention with your photography is; online or print? You need to know what size photograph you’ll be taking in terms of pixel size for that purpose alone. It can be confusing at first, until you actually put it into practice.

Finding a few good sites will get you well on your way to learning about noise, hot pixels, artifacts and chromatic aberration, and choosing a post processing software in eliminating them from your photographs once you have them. Sometimes even a craptastic photo can be turned into an interesting image with some help from post processing software. They range from the high end (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop) to cheaper (Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo and Adobe Elements). Picasa and Irfanview are free, but have limited capabilities. has an incredibly user-friendly discussion forum, and you’ll even find a section there specifically for Leica users, where you’ll get lots of feedback and help. I can’t recommend DP Review enough.

Pay a visit to as well, nose around and see some striking images that will give you inspiration and applications of photography guidelines like the rule of thirds and the golden hour.

Photography is really a journey, an exploration of not only your camera, but yourself and the world around you, how you see it and how you will come to see it through your lens. Remember that even the best of photographs have cluttered floors with unpublished work that other human eyes will never see.

Poser's avatar

Exposure = Intensity x Time

Intensity refers to your aperture or F-stop. The smaller the number, the larger the aperture and the more light that comes in. The “speed” of your lens refers to the largest aperture of the lens. The larger your aperture setting, the smaller your depth of field.

Time refers to your shutter speed. They are indicated in seconds or fractions of a second. A good rule of thumb for choosing your shutter speed for a shot without using a tripod is based upon the length of your lens. For whatever length of your lens (in mm), use no slower shutter speed without a tripod. For example, with a 200 mm lens, you’d want to use a shutter speed no slower than 1/200th of a second to eliminate blurriness caused by hand-shake (unless, of course you’re using a tripod). Of course this is just a rule of thumb, and if you can make it work, go for it.

Referring back to the above equation, you can see that proper exposure is a ratio of your shutter speed and F-stop. You manipulate these to get proper exposure and the desired effect. For example, a fast-moving object shot at a slower shutter speed will produce a blurred effect—not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you’re going for. Higher F-stops produce higher depth of field, so if you had two or more object at different distances from the camera, a higher F-stop would be more likely to get them both into focus.

The length of your lenses is one way to alter the look of your photos. I read once that a great way to appreciate all that each of your lenses has to offer is to shoot for a certain amount of time with only one lens. Most people starting out in photography want to slap on their longest lens, but I found that shooting with short focal length lenses helped me to take better photos overall. For one thing, it forced me closer to my subjects—something that many people are reluctant to do, but which is often quite necessary. Don’t be afraid to fill your frame with your subject.

Research different composition techniques. Rule of thirds, leading lines, framing, balance—all great ideas to get you thinking and shooting like a photographer.

Finally, remember to move. Shoot every subject from different angles, and you’re likely to find great photos in the most mundane places. Remember that we see the world from eye level with the equivalent of a normal lens (50 mm or so with a 35mm equivalent camera), so shooting your photos from here is booooring! Get up high, get down low. Long lenses, short lenses. Make your photos show the world in ways that no one has ever seen it. Look at other people’s photos (flickr is a great site for this) and critique their photos. Find photos you like, and then figure out why you like them. Find photos you don’t like and then figure out why you don’t. Carry your camera everywhere, and look at the world as if you’re looking for your next photo.

aielee's avatar

Wow, thanks flutherers for the brilliant info. I think I’m going to have to print out these posts and the relevant support documents to keep in my camera bag. I’m a graphic designer, so all this information will also be valuable to me in choosing photography for work. I love fluther.

sharl's avatar

All great answers really. Another approach might be to tackle some of the themes at JPG. That would give you deadlines and a goal, and who knows you might get some in print!

steelmarket's avatar

Subscribe to Shutterbug and Pop Photography and read through them every month. You will get a wide exposure to both amateur- and pro-oriented articles, as well as begin your exposure to other photo concepts and equipment. They also have frequent ads for photo trips, cruises, etc. where you can travel and be tutored by a pro.

BronxLens's avatar

Photography assignments

Mix writing with your photography to make your work multi-disciplined

Opposite of what my colleagues said above I respectfully suggest you shoot very few photos; I suggest this as an exercise only, not necessarily as your modus operandi for everyday photoshooting. The idea is that editing yourself while in the process of taking photos teaches you to be more attentive to your surroundings, your subject/subject matter, etc. In essence, to be more disciplined. I read about a master photographer (don’t recall his name) who allow himself to take only a dozen or so images in an entire day – not an exercise for the faint of heart! Also, what people don’t mention often is that after the shooting-spree you now have to sit down to the time consuming chore of reviewing & deleting dozens/hundreds of useless images, which if done on the field, eats your battery supply.

tigran's avatar

I agree with BronxLens, taking more photos is not going to make you better. You just have to get that desire to shoot something, but keep in mind the elements in the frame, the way you want them to appear, or remove them by switching angles, light and distance from your object.

The best way to learn is to look at a photo you like, and try to recreate the style. Be it the lighting in it, the angle or the contrasting colors and elements. Pay close attention to where the light is coming from. Is it just one source? or are there reflective surfaces that add cool effects? There are multiple ways of achieving the same lighting effects. You could use the sun, a lamp or reflective surfaces bouncing light from an indirect source.

But once you start experimenting you will understand why you need to know about ISO and other technicalities. But for now, just forget about them!
If you are curious though, ISO is only required when there is not enough available light to shoot at the speed you want. I would recommend setting your camera to Av mode, and setting a low F number. The low F number allows for more light to come in, and gives you faster shooting speeds to avoid bluring the photo.

Marmeduke's avatar

Totally agree with tigran. It’s far better to wait until something stikes you as photo-worthy than to squeeze images out of every boring scene that presents itself. For that reason all the ‘rules’ of composition and technical details are secondary.

There’s a great quote that goes something like: ‘Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photo is like consulting the laws of gravity before taking a walk’ !!

Trust your instincts and slowly absorb some background principles like the rule of thirds. Plus get to the point where all the camera controls are second nature so you can focus just on what interests you.

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txtelevision's avatar

If you are really interested in photography, you must learn exposure. It may seem overwhelming at first, but knowing what the elements of exposure (Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO) do to your final picture is really important. It isn’t that hard, and once you understand it you will have full control of your images, and can move on working on your composition.

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