photography tutorial for beginners

The One Thing You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Photography

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I have seen it happen so many times. An otherwise amazing image ruined by one simple mistake. It’s a mistake that so many beginning photographers make. Luckily, it’s one that can easily be corrected.

Of course, I’m talking about light. Light can either be a photographer’s best friend or their worst enemy. Paying attention to light, both natural and artificial can improve your photography almost instantly. This quick and easy photography tutorial for beginners will help you get started with looking at your natural light options before setting up your shot.

The Golden Hour

When working with natural light, or light produced by the sun, there are certain times of day that are better. The type of light you want can also depend on the overall mood of the image.

As a rule, early in the morning and late afternoon are considered to be the best times of day for most photography. This is because the sun is in the optimal space in the sky for the best lighting. During this time of day, the angle of the sun produces softer shadows and contrast is lower.

When the sun is higher in the sky, during the middle of the day, it creates harsher shadows and more contrast. This can lead to issues with overexposed images, or an unflattering image if you are working in portrait photography.

photography tutorial for beginners

Where’s Your Light At?

Now that you know what time of day to shoot at let’s talk about where to shoot at. More importantly, what direction you should be facing.

Do you think about where the sun is at when you are taking your pictures or do you point and shoot? One of the quickest ways to step up your photo game is to be mindful of where the light is in relation to your subject.

It is important to remember that the direction of light is named by the way in which it hits your subject rather than in relation to your camera.

Backlighting: This is when the light source (the sun in natural lighting) is directly in front of you, hitting your subject from behind. It can sometimes be difficult to find the correct exposure with backlighting.

Front lighting: This is when the light source is directly behind you, hitting your subject head-on. At times, it can cause exposure issues and wash out your subject.

Sidelighting: This is when the light source falls onto your subject from one side or another. This casts a longer shadow on one side This type of lighting creates the most dramatic effect when the sun is lower in the sky, casting long deep shadows.

Reflected Lighting: When light is reflected off of one surface, such as water or glass, onto another it creates a soft effect. At times, it can also take on the color, texture, or pattern of the material it is reflecting off of.

Diffused Lighting: On days when the sun is hiding in the clouds the light can create a soft tone in images. This is called diffused light. This type of lighting generally has fewer shadows and contrast than days with brighter more visible sun.

Dramatic Lighting: If you are lucky, you can catch amazing skies when the timing is just right. These often occur before or after a storm. ( Do be careful, though!) These skies can provide for fantastic variations of tones, shadows, and contrast.

Twilight: Just after the sun goes down the lighting provides a rich blend of cool light tones.

Night: Night shots can be some of the most difficult for many photographers. While we don’t have the sun to work with at night, we have a variety of other light sources including streetlights, moonlight, and many others. Long exposures, which are the key to impressive night shots, give us the opportunity for a host of beautiful images.

photography tutorial for beginners

What’s The Temperature?

Another important concept to understand when working with light and photography is light temperature. In essence, there are warm tones and cool tones. Warm tones tend to give your image deep red and orange hues. Cool tones will give your image beautiful blues and grays.

Knowing the optimal time of day and the right conditions for the light temperature that you want to work in will help you to target the mood that you want for your image. For example, if you want to do a dark, brooding image you would want to shoot during a time that offers cooler tones.

When working with portrait photography, warmer light temperatures are often preferred. However, your personal style will dictate this. One thing about photography and art, in general, is that rules are meant to be broken. Once you get a basic understanding of how to properly work in different light temperatures you can use this to create a variety of different styles and form your own signature look and feel for your images.

Light temperature is measured on the Kelvin scale. Kelvin is a unit of absolute temperature. It may seem a little opposite at first. Color temperatures over 5000K are considered cool colors ( these include blues, grays, and whites). Colors down around 3000K are considered warmer temperatures (these include yellows, oranges, and reds) Gray is considered neutral in the Kelvin scale. This is why many photographers use a gray card to calibrate their cameras before doing a shoot.

We will talk about color temperatures and how to properly calibrate your camera in a later tutorial. However,  as this can be a tricky topic if you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comments!

photography tutorial for beginners

Take Your Photography to the Next Level

Are you just starting out with photography? Perhaps you’ve been working with a camera for a while but want to up your game. What are you waiting for?

Coming in early spring of 2018 we will be doing a weekly photography challenge and we invite you to join us! We will be holding it on the blog, on Facebook, and on Instagram so be sure to follow us there!

Still working on your own photography skills? In the meantime, you may be interested in my post listing the 10 Absolute Best Sites to Get Free Stock Photography to use on your blog or other projects.

Grab a copy of our helpful photography lighting cheat sheet and mark your calendar! We can’t wait to see what you come up with for our challenges!

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Writer at Ghastly Girl
Ghastly is a special needs homeschooler and mom living with Lupus and Bipolar Disorder. She is passionate about helping other moms living with mental illness or chronic illness, celebrating awesome kids, and herding cats.
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26 thoughts on “The One Thing You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Photography”

  1. Omg, perfect timing! I just ordered myself a camera and will definitely reference back to this post to show off my new found skills. 🙂


  2. This is a really great post. I definitely need help with my photography. In the winter, it’s tough to find good lighting for photos for my blog. I used to photograph my crafts on white foam board with another piece on the back for a completely white background. I’d go outside (not in direct sunlight) to get any decent light. My pictures always had a blue cast on the white areas. I guess that’s what you are talking about with light temperature. I’ve never heard of that before. Now I photograph on fake wood so that I don’t get weird whites. It would be even better if I just learned how to use my camera right! Thanks for the tips.
    Heidi recently posted…Easy Classroom Door Idea for SpringMy Profile

  3. Great tips! I think it’s important the we learn the basics if we’re planning to take photographs especially for our blogs. These are truly helpful.

  4. This is a very timely post for me. I just got the Canon T6i last week, and am going through serious growing pains with it! I want it to be instantly as easy as my cell phone….I know that won’t happen, but it’s still driving me nuts! I do recipes and restaurant reviews. I’ve kind of gotten the hang of lighting and angles in my kitchen, but yesterday we went to a restaurant and I got SO frustrated because I couldn’t figure it out there. Thank you for these tips, and I’ll be following them for sure!
    Karyl | Karyl’s Kulinary Krusade recently posted…Hoisin Pork and Rice Noodle Stir FryMy Profile

  5. These are great tips. Since I have to take tons of photos at events, lighting can be my best and worst friend. Thank you for the advise; I’ll have to use some of these this weekend!

  6. I dabble in photography as a hobby and have/is learning something everyday it seems. Lighting was a BIG thing for me. Once I learned about it, I got better. Still a work in progress though. Your tips are great advice for me to keep in mind!

  7. Great advice!!! I modeled for years and years and I can’t tell you how many of my days started in the middle of the night to be hair and makeup ready for sunrise. I hated waking that early but it was worth it for the amazing photos due to

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