Learning the basics

edited May 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum

I've been using the Nikon D3100 for about a year and I've learned the basics but I want to dig deeper into photography. Can someone give me some tips that could be useful when I'm taking portraits inside/outside and some tips when I'm out in nature taking pictures?


  • edited May 2015
    Of course a small selection of suggestions could fill a nice fat book, and you would still be on your own to a great extent, because much of what you need is to see what is there and decide what you want to show. It can help just to browse the web and look at books and see what appeals to you, and what helps you to tell the stories or show the ideas you want.

    However, a couple of quick ideas that might help distinguish your shots from ordinary snapshots (though those can be very useful, pretty and informative).

    Try coming closer than you might think is reasonable. Our eyes and brains are very good at zooming our attention in and out, but when we translate our vision into a flat picture, many details that seemed prominent turn out to seem insignificant in the total picture. Unless the point of a picture is the whole scene or the composition of shapes, try narrowing it down.

    Watch out for light. Harsh lighting and outdoor shadow can make faces look bad. Beware of on-camera flash, which can cast harsh shadows. Natural light can make a very nice portrait, but you have to be careful.

    If you're not coming in close on a face or a body shape you might try to associate a person with something that distinguishes that person. How does that person relate to his environment and why? One of the most famous historic portraits, made at at time when the convention was posed pictures of people in studio settings and romantic scenes, was of the engineer and shipbuilder Isambard Brunel. Would it surprise anyone that Brunel was ambitious and powerful? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel#/media/File:IKBrunelChains.jpg

    Another example of a great portrait artist worth a look is Arnold Newman: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/arnold-newmans-incredible

    Note especially the portrait of Stravinsky, a very famous example not only of a portrait, but of how an artist can violate some of the usual rules.

    I recommend that you read up a little on basic composition, which can help greatly in scenic and nature photographs. Getting the basic shapes and sense of movement into a composition can help make the difference between a ho-hum snapshot of something you liked to a real picture. Many photographs are rich in content, but some are interesting for entirely visual reasons, the content barely an issue. And of course some of the best, like that portrait of Stravinsky, are both.

    On a more mundane level, when doing landscapes, make sure that your depth of field is adequate. Don't overdo it or you will lose some sharpness to diffraction. In DX format, don't go much above f/11 if you can help it. Watch out for unnoticed foreground objects that can be out of focus or intrude. It's not at all uncommon to make a nice shot and then realize afterward that there's a little blurry branch or clump of grass in the foreground, or electric wires that you didn't notice. Make sure too that your horizons are flat. Nowadays with digital you can level in post, but try to avoid tilt, which can nag at you later.

    One could go on and on, and as any reader of this forum can see, I tend to. Enough. Remember too that your digital camera is good for many thousands of shots, and you can erase any. Take lots of pictures, experiment, make mistakes, be silly, and keep deleting until you get something you like.

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