10 Photography Tips – Learnt From Professionals

31 May 2014
Read Time: 3.2 mins

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days on the Gold Coast with a group of professional photographers who also happen to be Instagram super-stars. Learning from the experts, I can now proudly add ‘f-stop’, ‘depth of field’, ‘focal point’, ‘subject’, ‘shutter speed’ and ‘ISO’ to my photography vocabulary.

Below are 10 tips for beginners (like me) who want to try their hand at the art of photography:

 How's the serenity? Sunrise at Burleigh Heads

1. Get up early

Boy have we been getting it wrong all these years, thinking that getting out of bed before sunrise was for suckers, or people with a committed interest in fitness. If you want good photos, you’ve got to chase the light, baby. The first hour of sunrise (and sunset) is known as the ‘golden hour’ – photographers swear by its ethereal and light-tastic powers. You can download a number of apps that help calculate the exact time for golden hour anywhere in the world, to guide you towards the light.

But you still need to know how to use the camera, am I right! Keep reading...

 Aussie Baywatch scene at Snapper Rocks

2. Do the maths

Gold Coast local and famed photographer Sean Scott told me the secret to photography is first figuring out how the aperture, the ISO and the shutter speed work together. Almost like a perfectly balanced triangle, these three elements are the building blocks of photography.

The shutter speed: determines how long the lens will open and let the light come in for.

The aperture: determined by the f-stop (or focal stop). It works a bit like the pupil in your eye:  the brighter the scene, the smaller the pupil. In low light, the pupil is bigger to let in as much light as possible. As a general rule: if you want to let more light in, you need a lower f-stop number and for less light, a higher number – it might sound counter-intuitive – don’t worry, just go with it!

ISO: the level of sensitivity of your camera in ratio to the available light. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive to light. A low ISO is always a good idea; because having a base ISO of 100 allows you to get the highest image quality. However, ISO is also linked to speed so if you’re trying to capture a moving bird, you’re going to need to up the ISO for the camera to catch it. For example: with an ISO of 100, your camera sensor needs one second to capture the scene, whereas with an ISO of 800, you capture the scene in 1/8 of a second.

 Composition consideration: Natural Bridge rain-forest, Springbrook

3. The Rule of Thirds

Now that you’re getting your head around the equation of how the camera works, we can start to talk about technique and the beloved composition. Many gifted photographers do this unconsciously, but that doesn’t mean beginners can’t spot how it’s done. When you look through the viewfinder (or the iPhone screen), imagine that it’s divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. It’s most pleasing to the eye when the main features (or subjects) of the photo are placed at the intersecting points of these lines.

 Surfer as the subject: Early morning at Burleigh Heads

4. Sense of depth

Particularly when photographing landscapes it really helps to create a sense of depth, which helps the viewer feel like they are really ‘there’ and adds a three-dimensional feel to a two-dimensional image. Creating a depth of field is easily achieved by placing an object or person in the foreground to help give a sense of scale and to put the bigger picture into perspective.

5. White Balance

If your photos have a blue or orange tinge to them it’s probably because your white balance is off. White balance is all about ‘colour temperature’ – high temps give blue shades, while low colour temps give orange tinges. If you’re using a digital camera, check the settings for your light source. Is it set to match the scene? I.e. natural, fluorescent, tungsten – this will affect the white balance and how natural your photo looks.

 Setting up the shot, Springbrook National Park

6. Get on that tripod

Shaky hands? Any serious photographer needs a tripod, especially for long exposure shots (remember, long exposure: when the shutter speed is slowed down to allow in more light). They come in handy particularly for landscape photography and when you need a stable level to shoot from.

 Harmless obligatory feet in sand shot

7.Back it up

When you get serious about photography you’re going to want to employ some technical support to keep your work safe in-case your hard-drive crashes, or you somehow manage to delete your memory card. Doh! There are some great wireless solutions to back your photos up to a ‘cloud’ of some sort or invest in a secondary hard-drive to back-up your work.

 Come prepared: bush-walking with professional photographers

8. Share

So you wanna be an Instagram super-star? Build your followers and start sharing your work. Who knows, you could end up like one of the pros I hung out with on my Gold Coast trip, going from 0-60,000 followers in less than two years.

 Great light: sunrise at The Spit

9. Learn from your mistakes

Even pros can accidentally leave their manual focus lock on or miss the shot because a setting was out. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them, read your camera’s manual and don’t be afraid to ask fellow photographers for tips and advice.

10. Step into the Lightroom

Post-edit; it’s not cheating – it’s simply using a program that helps accentuate all the work you did setting up the composition and lighting earlier. Now is your chance to use your intuition to crop, sharpen and tone your photos.

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.