Understanding your settings
The first step in turning your camera off automatic is to understand what the different settings mean. The three most important settings are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. The ISO refers to how sensitive the image sensor is, and the higher the number, the more light is let in. However, with a higher ISO, you'll also see more grain in your photo. Next, the shutter speed refers to how long the shutter is left open, and the longer the shutter is open, the more light is let in. Finally, the aperture refers to how wide the opening of the lens is. The smaller the aperture number, the wider the lens is. For example, an aperture of f/2.5 means the lens is open more than an aperture of f/9.0.
When you’re first learning to adjust these three settings, it’s helpful to change your camera to one of the semi-automatic settings. The two settings you should start with are aperture priority and shutter speed priority. Aperture priority, often shown by a symbol of “A” or “AV”, allows you to set the aperture, while the camera sets the ISO and shutter speed. The shutter priority setting, often shown by a symbol of “T” or “TV”, allows you to set the shutter speed. Play around with these settings in different lighting situations and see the different effects each has.
Recommended DSLR Camera for Beginners
Shoot in well-lit areas when possible
Without the larger lenses of DSLR cameras, smaller point and shoot cameras tend to be more limited in the amount of light they can let in. Because of this, the camera has to change other settings in low light, such as ISO and shutter speed, and image quality can suffer. To let in more light, your camera might raise the ISO or lower the shutter speed. Because a high ISO will make your picture look grainy and a slow shutter speed can cause camera shake, there are a couple of things you can do to let in as much natural light as possible.
The first is to look for locations filled with natural lighting – but not in direct sunlight! If you must shoot during the middle of the day, try to find an area in partial shade. It’s even better if it’s near a sunny area, because the reflected sunshine can add some extra light. If possible, shoot during the “golden hours”, the hours right after sunrise and right before sunset when the lighting is soft and natural. Also, you'll find that using natural light, rather than your camera’s flash, can greatly improve your pictures.
A second tip when shooting in lower light is to place your camera on a steady surface, such as a tripod or table, and lower the shutter speed to allow as much light through the lens as possible. If you’re a beginner at photography, the shutter priority setting will allow you to set the shutter speed yourself while still letting the camera take care of the rest of the settings.
Follow composition rules – but also break them!
Most of us have probably heard of the Rule of Thirds: draw an imaginary grid of two horizontal and two vertical lines on your image, and try to place the focal point on one of the intersections. That’s a good starting point, but remember, rules are made to be broken! Try centering your focal point as well. One thing I try to do when framing my photo in the camera’s viewfinder is to allow enough space around the edges for cropping later, so I can change it if I decide the photo would be stronger by moving the focal point.
Find interesting subjects everywhere
Look for subjects all around you to photograph. For example, a rock by itself might seem uninteresting, but what if you used a group of rocks to frame your subject? Practice thinking about how to turn elements of the world around you into interesting photos. Doing this will help you see things with the eye of a photographer.
Put your own spin on your work
While learning from other people’s work is a great way to improve your skills, don’t always try to copy their work. Make your photos your own by switching things up a bit. For example, look for unusual angles to shoot from – try shooting from high up or low down, or through some plants to frame your work.
And finally, remember to enjoy yourself! You'll find yourself much more motivated to continue learning and improving if you’re having fun along the way!