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Introduction to Photography
by Harry Cutting

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Photo of man and girl
This Introduction to Photography lesson concentrates on improving your technique and skills. It's written for the beginning and intermediate photographer, or anyone who wants to brush up on the practical side of things. There's something to be said for picking the low hanging fruit first. Think of this introduction to photography tutorial as just that - the low hanging fruit, ideas that will improve your photography the most in the shortest time. Photo details

I'm assuming you already have a camera that's right for you. If not, see the equipment tutorial for guidance. Photo details > picture below


Teen girl photo



> Moving in close

> Watch your background

> Use your flash outdoors

> Growing into your equipment

> Developing a point of view

> Take lots of pictures




No technique will bring you quicker and more dramatic improvements in your photography than moving in close. Fill the frame with your subject. In a group photograph is it really useful to havePhoto of young girl close up two feet of space all around your subjects? Move in until you can see only faces. Squish your subjects closer together; put people in front and lower. Then move in close. Photo details

The same idea applies to scenic pictures. Study your image frame. Do you really need all that in your picture? Try getting closer (or changing the lens angle of view) to cut out some elements of the scene. Ask yourself, what am I intending to convey in this picture? Then remove everything that is not needed. Make pictures of various degrees of closeness.

Sometimes you may want to show vast sweeping views. But make sure you're not just taking the easy way out, photographing the big scene, all of it, just because you aren't sure of your intent. Once you know what you're trying to say then you'll know what to exclude from your picture.


It's easy to capture your main subject. Just point and click. But what's behind your subject can make or break the picture. When photographing people try to keep your backgrounds clean and uniform; avoid hot spots (bright areas) and dark angling shapes like power poles. Developing an Photo of three matadorsinstinct for this takes time, practice and awareness. Begin by simply being observant of your immediate environment: Where's the main light source? Where's the most distracting scenery? Is there a wall or solid expanse of trees in the area to use as background? Anticipate your picture and be prepared to move your subject(s) in front of the best background or at least away from the worst backgrounds. Photo details

Sometimes you may want to include some background features to show "atmosphere" - if you're at a theme park, for example. But instead of attempting to show something large and distracting in the background try arranging your subject(s) around a smallish discriptive sign post or statue. Arrange them so the background is acceptable.

Get in the habit of pre-arranging this all in your imagination, before the picture. Always be on the lookout for good picture locations. Always be asking yourself - where's the best light? where's the best background? Where is my best picture spot?

I made this picture of the three matadors before a bullfight in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They were surrounded by a hideous jumble of old sheds which looked awful as background. I quickly scrambled up a row of seats and filmed downward with my point and shoot camera to use the only background that would work.


We've all seen them. Pictures of smiley happy people with dark splotches and shadows across their faces. Or some dark shaded figure, presumably a person, standing before a gloriously well lit landscape. Hispanic family photoThese photos are disappointing because of the excessive contrast; there's too much of a difference between the light and dark sections of the photo. To even things out a little you only need to use your camera's flash - especially if it's a sunny day. This is referred to as "fill flash" or "fill in flash". Photo details

To use fill flash set your camera to Auto or Program and then set the flash to "fill-in flash" or similar; that's usually the flash setting marked with a lightning bolt icon. You'll be instructing the camera to always fire the flash but not to overexpose the scene. The dark shadows will disappear and even photos that are smoothly lit will have extra "pop". Turn the flash back to "auto" when filming indoors.

In the picture above the family was in total shade; behind them was a brightly lit scene of foliage. I added a little fill flash and - presto - a perfect exposure.

Fill flash slightly lightens those too dark shadow areas with just enough light to make them look natural. Or it will illuminate that shaded foreground person to match the background. In fact, most casual photography done outdoors (of people or subjects fairly close to the camera) can benefit from a little flash. Your camera will automatically know just how much is enough.


In photography, less really is more - especially for someone just beginning photography. If you're photo budget is small then you're in luck; if you can afford lots of equipment then you'll need to consciously restrain yourself. Photo details

Photo of horses and riders near a New England villageEvery piece of equipment, no matter how insignificant, demands a certain amount of time from you. Time to simply learn how it works, to learn what it is capable of, to learn how it can or cannot help you with your photography. If you are constantly acquiring equipment then you will be continually learning how the new equipment works. You may become a good equipment technician but perhaps not a good photographer. Or at least it will take you longer to become a good photographer. And a curious thing happens with photo equipment; people tend to force new equipment into their picture-taking. After awhile one can lose track of the reason they began photography in the first place: to express themselves in their photography.

Ansel Adams often spent weeks on location with just three lenses and one camera (and thirty pounds of film). Renowned National Geographic photographer Sam Abell once said he would be perfectly happy to use only an Olympus camera and two lenses. Henri Cartier-Bresson spent most of his photographic career using a Leica camera and three lenses. So keep your equipment simple, you'll be in good company.

For someone just starting out a simple point and shoot or an SLR camera with one or two lenses is perfect. Try and use a camera with a built-in flash, pop-up flash or a small attachable flash. Then concentrate on making pictures. Wring everything possible out of your limited equipment. Learn what you do best with the equipment at hand. By using very little equipment and keeping your photo life simple you'll be able to concentrate on your photography learning curve instead of your equipment learning curve. And after awhile, if you find you need more equipment, you'll know absolutely what equipment you really need to add.


Sometimes a tree really is just a tree. And often we grab a shot just because we instinctively know we should. Your one year old just stood up and walked across the room for the first time, say. But often when taking a photograph we are attempting to say something about our subject other than "I was there".Photo of school bus with children in window

This is tricky stuff. After all, you may take a picture of a beautiful landscape because you think it's, well, beautiful. But you might improve both the resulting photo and your enjoyment of making the photo by knowing - and showing - exactly why you find the scene beautiful. Is it the light streaking in from the side? Does it remind you of childhood bike rides in the country? Do you feel a bond with some element of the scene, say, the barn and farmhouse? Photo details

Two steps - There are two steps to developing a point of view in your photography. The first is understanding, or knowing, why you are attracted to your subject(s). In other words, why you do what you do; why you photograph what you photograph. This may seem absurd at first. Eventually though, by being conscious of what you're spending your camera time on, you'll begin to know.

For instance, you may be drawn to photographing children. But why? I'll be the first to agree that children are cute and make good camera subjects. But there's probably a deeper and possibly more important reason you're attracted to them. Maybe you'll discover that, above all else, you admire their spontaneity, for example.

Or perhaps you're drawn to make scenic photos. Try to uncover the why behind this attraction. Is it the ominous majesty of approaching thunderstorm clouds? Do you see trees as the primary source of beauty in a scenic? Or oceans or lakes?Young girl photo

The second step in developing a photographic point of view is showing the "why" in your photos. You'll need to integrate your point of view into your photography. For example, let's say you're the children photographer mentioned above and you've identified their spontaneity as the "why" that's fueling your photography. Knowing that this attraction, or point of view, is driving your photography will compel you to show more spontaneity in your photos. You'll strive to learn how to do that. Instead of static pictures of kids, say, your goal might be beautiful portraits of children whose face and body expressions imply their underlying spontaneity. Or perhaps you'll commit to making photos that convey more action and spontaneity by learning how to use props and tricks when filming children. You'll learn what it takes to create the right photo opportunities for you. Photo details

Or say you're that scenic / landscape photographer and you've come to realize that your photo fascination is really about weather. You're drawn to scenes and landscapes that have an obvious weather element to them. Knowing this will help you make more authentic (to you) landscape photography. You'll seek out situations where weather is likely to dominate. You'll begin to emphasize the weather more in your photography.

No matter what type of photographer you are or end up being, I can promise you that developing a photographic point of view is worthwhile. The greatest benefit may be that you'll become more selective in your picture taking, concentrating on and fostering situations that support your point of view.


Take as many photos as you can, especially if your subject is children. Try different poses, different backgrounds; try anything you have the time for. You can always toss out or delete the rejects later. Film and digital storage is cheap.

Your odds of capturing a good photo with just one attempt is very low; it seems that someone always blinks or looks the wrong way. But make twenty exposures and you'll get one or two worthwhile pictures. A wise photographer once said, "If it's worth a shot, it's worth a few dozen."

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