Have you just gotten a new camera, but now you’re totally confused about what you’re supposed to do with it? Or maybe you’re just looking for some guidance on how to take your photography to the next level. Well, you’ve come to the right place. My name is Leah and welcome to the Wandergraph and the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography. I am a professional photographer who specializes in real estate photography, though I have done my fair share of portraits and travel photography too. This Beginner’s Guide to Photography will take you through the main things you need to know to get a jump start in your photography journey.

A Beginner’s Guide to Photography

My ultimate goal with this guide is to provide you with the basics for taking a good photograph and hopefully make this new world a little less confusing. The topics in this beginner’s guide to photography are some of the things I wish I had known when I first started.

Your Gear

You do not need super fancy gear to get started in photography. I started on a hand-me-down iPhone 3. Some of the information in this article will actually be relevant to phone users as well, so if that’s all you have, that’s fine. When it comes to gear, the most important part is knowing how to use it. At some point, you may outgrow your gear. Eventually, the camera and lens combo that you have may not allow you to capture the kinds of images you want. This is when it’s time to upgrade.

The Importance of Light

Photography is literally defined as drawing with light. The art of taking photos is all about capturing light in a beautiful, meaningful or aesthetically pleasing way. Photographers use light to set the mood, tell a story or capture their subjects in an appealing manner. So, learning how to read and use light in your photography is incredibly important. Here are some of the common kinds of light you may find yourself shooting in:

Natural Light

When a photographer says natural light they mean, quite literally, whatever light is available outside. As you start taking more and more photos, you’ll notice that natural light changes all the time.

Golden Hour

Golden hour is the time of day right after the sun rises and right before it sets. Light during golden hour is gorgeous. It’s typically soft and golden with long and gentle shadows. It’s the perfect time of day for almost any kind of photography.

Midday Light

Midday light on a sunny day is typically very harsh with lots of shadows and contrast. Shooting in midday light can be very challenging, but that’s what makes it fun. Harsh, midday light is great for playing with the patterns of shadows. It’s also great for shooting indoors near windows.

Overcast Skies

On overcast days, the whole sky acts as a softbox. What this means is that the light from the sun will be more evenly distributed over your scenes. Shadows are less harsh and scenes are less contrasty on overcast days.

As a photographer your lighting situation is changing constantly. Knowing how to shoot in different kinds of lighting, and how these different kinds of lighting affect the look and mood of your photos is essential to becoming a better photographer.

Understanding Exposure

Understanding exposure is one of the more difficult parts of photography. I’ve been shooting for nearly fifteen years and still mess it up more often than I’d like to admit. That’s okay! I have a guide here for understanding exposure and getting out of auto mode and another one with tips for shooting in manual mode.

Exposure simply put is how much light reaches your camera’s sensor (or film if you’re on a film camera). There are two main things that go into creating exposure and a third thing that helps you set the first two. These three things together are often called the exposure triangle. Let’s talk about them:

Shutter Speed

This is how long your camera’s shutter is open. A fast shutter speed means that your shutter is only open for a very short time which means that only a little bit of light is getting in. A slow shutter speed means that the shutter is open for a longer period of time which means that a lot more light is reaching your cameras sensor.


Aperture is how wide the hole in your lens is. A wider hole means more light can reach your sensor while a smaller hole means less light will reach your sensor. Aperture can get confusing because the numbers that represent aperture seem reversed. An aperture of f2.8 is actually really wide while an aperture of f22 is really tiny. I shoot in primarily aperture priority mode so I wrote a whole guide about aperture you can read here.

Shutter speed and aperture work together to create an exposure. If you change your aperture you will need to change your shutter speed (or your camera will change it for you) to create a correct exposure. If you’re shooting with a super wide aperture you shutter speed can be faster. The same is true for the opposite. Super narrow aperture = slower shutter speed.

The Third Thing – ISO

In film photography ISO is how sensitive the film you’re shooting on is to light. In digital photography, this isn’t explicitly true for your camera’s sensor, however it’s an easy way to think about it. Essentially, ISO determines how bright or dark your image turns out. Now, ISO doesn’t create your exposure, but it does help determine what your exposure will be. A higher ISO means your image will be brighter, while a lower ISO means your image will be darker. This will help you determine how fast your shutter speed and wide your aperture should be.

Composition – Some Rules to Follow and Then Break

In photography composition is just as important as light in setting the tone and conveying the emotion of a scene. Photographers use composition to show the world how they see things. Understanding composition will help you craft beautiful and powerful images. Here are some of the basic rules for composition to consider when beginning your photography journey:

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is the first composition rule that most photographers learn. This rule refers to dividing your frame into 9 equal parts. Your camera may have an option to to do this for you, but when you look through your view finder imagine that there are two vertical lines and two horizontal lines that divide your frame into nine equal boxes like in a game of tic-tac-toe. When you compose your image position your subject along one of these lines to create an aesthetically pleasing photo.

Leading Lines

Leading lines are essentially natural or man-made lines that help guide your viewer to the subject of a photograph. Think a winding road guiding you to a mountain, a pathway that leads to a house, a shoreline leading you into a sunset. Leading lines are everywhere and can add so much interest to a photo.

Framing Your Subjects

Framing your subject with elements that are natural to the scene can add a ton of depth and interest to your photo. For instance, using the branches of a tree to frame a house, or using an archway or doorway to frame a person. Like leading lines, using the natural elements of a scene to guide the viewers eye creates depth and interest in your photo.

These are just the very basic fundamentals of composition. There are a ton more compostion-y things you can do to create beautiful and interesting images. But, rules are meant to be broken. Practice these fundamentals first and then see how you can change your composition to create even more interesting photos.

Post-Processing and Final Touches

beginner's guide to photography

Post-processing and editing is the final piece to creating beautiful photos. There are whole classes and YouTube channels dedicated to processing and editing photos, so we’re not going to get into detail on how to process and edit in this beginner’s guide. Just know that processing and editing your photos is how you create your final image.

Programs like Lightroom and Photoshop allow you to do basic edits to your photo like brightening or darkening or correcting color. But they allow you to do so much more like adjusting curves and clarity, adding grain or changing the whole color palette of a photo. These things help add depth and emotion to your photo while allowing you to create a polished final image.

Telling Stories and Conveying Emotion With Your Photographs

beginner's guide to photography

You may not think that that simple photo you took of a flower could be conveying any type of emotion of telling any kind of story. But it is. For you it might just be saying “here’s a photo of a flower,” but for someone else it may be evoking memories of spring times past or stories of young love.

Photography at it’s heart is a medium for telling stories and conveying emotion. Combining the elements in this guide is how you’ll tell the stories you’re hoping to tell and convey the emotion you’re hoping to convey. Lighting and composition are probably two of the bigger factors in creating photos that get an emotional reaction out of your audience. Both of these things help set the tone and mood of a photo. They can determine whether a photo will be perceived as joyful or sad, filled with rage or peaceful. Editing and post-processing is where we ensure that the emotion or story we’re hoping to conveying is cemented. With all of these elements together we can create beautiful images that get our message across to our audience.

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography

This beginner’s guide to photography is meant to be a bare bones representation of the basics of photography. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a photographer it’s that there’s always something more to learn. However, the information in this guide is all stuff I wish I had learned earlier in my photography journey. Hopefully, you have found it helpful. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below!

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Hey there! My name is Leah and I'm a photographer, blogger and wanderer from north Texas. I've been doing photography for nearly a decade now and absolutely love it. My day job is real estate photographer and in my free time you can often find me at a park taking pictures of leaves and flowers. Outside of that my fiance and I love to travel. We spent nine months backpacking through Europe and now spend our free time attempting to plan and going on shorter trips both in the States and abroad.

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