10 Common Beginner Photography Questions - and Answers!

When you first start out in photography it seems like you have a million questions buzzing around in your head - how do people get those blurred background? Why is my subject out of focus? Why don't my portraits look good? Why do my images have that strange colour tint? 

 So, in this post, I've tried to take the most common questions I've been asked from beginners over my (many!) years of blogging and teaching photography, and give you the answers! In most cases, I've linked to a post here on the blog which goes into more detail for you on that particular subject so you can get all the information you need. 

Ready? Let's go!

Photography Tips for Beginners | 10 common beginner photography questions - and answers!

No...actually, wait.....before we get a crackin' with our 10 questions, I just wanted to quickly let you know about resource I have for you that you’l LOVE- my 90 Day Photography Learning Blueprint! Find out what you should be learning, and in what order. #nomoreoverwhelm GO HERE TO GRAB IT!

Q1 - How do I get a those blurred backgrounds?

It's actually pretty easy to get those blurry backgrounds when you know how! 

It's mainly due to switching to AV mode, and using a large aperture (smaller F number) to throw the background out of focus. You will also want to make sure your subject is a good distance away from the background, otherwise you won't get much blur. 

I've written a full, step by step guide to getting a blurred background that should help you get those yummy backgrounds you are looking for (along with a free cheat sheet that you can print out so you don't forget a step whilst shooting) Click here to read the  guide to getting a blurred background

Q2 - Why is my subject soft and out of focus?

Having your subject out of focus can actually be due to a number of things, but the usual culprit for beginners is too slow a shutter speed, which results in a "soft" image due to motion blur.  In fact, your camera will regularly give you too slow a shutter speed when you shoot in AUTO, especially if you are shooting indoors, so it's a common problem! 

Therefore, always try to make sure that your shutter speed is high enough.  As a rough guide, make sure you use a shutter speed of at least 1/125 for pictures of people, and much higher for activities where there is any kind of motion, like running about.   If you are photographing children, try not to fall below 1/250, even if they are relatively still - children are squirmy little monkeys that can take off at a moments notice, and having a higher shutter speed will help account for that!

If you don't know how to change your settings yet, try getting some more LIGHT onto the scene first. Move your subject closer to the window, or open up the curtains or pull up the blinds - anything that gets more light onto your subject will enable your camera to use a higher shutter speed even in AUTO.

If you are already shooting on AV mode, then choose a smaller F number, which gives you a larger aperture and therefore let's more light into the sensor, which in turn gives you a higher shutter speed! 

Q3 - Which lens should I Invest in first?

Such a tricky question!

The most common "starter" lens after the kit lens is the 50mm F1.8 (either the Canon or the Nikon version depending on your camera model)

However, if you have a cropped frame and mainly shoot indoors, or you would prefer a zoom, then there are a few more options that might be better for you. 

Read this guide to starter lenses to find out more of the available options. 

Q4 - I've heard photographers shoot in RAW - do I need to? 

This is personal choice, but my recommendation is that you should switch to RAW, but only after you have some basics down. 

My reason for this advice is that you are far more likely to make exposure or white balance mistakes when you are still learning, and both of those are much easier to fix in RAW than in JPEG.  

There is a downside to shooting in RAW, and that is that you have to edit your images a little, but all you need to do is add some contrast, saturation and sharpness to get a similar image that you would get in a JPEG.  

If you don't feel ready to edit your images, don't make the switch yet.  But when you feel you are ready,  you can read more about how to make the transition to shooting in RAW right here. 

Q5 - Why do my photos have a strange colour tint?

Any strange yellow or blue colour tints on your images will be due to an incorrect white balance.

White balance is simply the colour of light, and different types of light emit different colours.  It can either be cool, which is bluer, or warmer, which is more yellow.  Our eyes (clever things that they are) can "read" and adjust for different colours of light, so we don't see it in the same way, but our camera's need to "guess" at the temperature of the light and make changes accordingly. If it get's it wrong, your images will have that strange colour tint.  

If you want to be sure of getting images with natural tones, then I suggest setting your white balance in camera.  The cheapest way to do this is to use a grey card - they cost around $10 and are worth every penny. 

If you are not sure how to use one, don't worry, I've got you covered. You can read a step by step guide to using a grey card right here. 

Q6 - I want my subject's eye to pop and sparkle! How can I get this? 

You want something called "catchlights" in your subject's eye.  A catchlight is simply when you have  light being reflected in the eyes of your subject - they are the white areas you can see in the eyes in the example below. 

They help to make your subject look alive, and give depth and life to any portrait - without them the eyes look lifeless and empty.  The good news is they are incredibly simple to achieve - it really is all about how you position your subject! 

The easiest way to get catchlights is to simply ensure that your subject is facing into the light - if indoors, this would be toward the window or open door (tip - open doors give FABULOUS catchlights!) You'll see that their eyes catch the light and start to sparkle. 

If outdoors, either look for open shade (where your subject is in shade looking out onto the light) or on an overcast day, looking slightly up.  If you are unsure, just look at your subject's eyes!  You will see the light reflecting in the eyes as you look at them - if you can't see it, keep turning your subject until the light hits them. 

Q7 - Why is my subject underexposed?

Your camera's default metering mode is evaluative, which attempts to "even out" the light in the image.  This can often result in a perfectly exposed background but an underexposed subject, especially if you have a strong light source BEHIND your subject. 

Although the absolute best way to get good exposure is shoot in manual mode and spot meter from your subject, I understand you might not quite be ready for that yet 😀

The good news is you can also adjust the exposure when shooting in AV mode, using something called Exposure Compensation. It simply means that you are telling the camera to add MORE exposure to the scene, so that your subject becomes correctly exposed. 

You can read more in depth about exposure compensation and how to use it here: How to Use Exposure Compensation  

Q8 - Why pictures look grainy! Why is this?

Pictures that were taken with high ISO's will result in noise or grain in the images - that speckled look over an image which makes it less sharp and clear. The higher the ISO, the more noise there is likely to be. Here is my guide on how to reduce the noise in your images, either in camera, or in post processing. 

Q9 - Do I really need to shoot in Manual Mode? 

It's not absolutely essential, but it is definitely preferable.  My suggestion would be to spend at least a couple of weeks practising on manual mode, as I really think once you have done it, you will not want to change back!  But even if you do, you will always have that knowledge of shooting in manual mode, which actually helps you get better pictures in ANY mode.  

It's scary at first, which is why this is something I cover step by step in my Auto to Awesome class so that you make the change very gradually, taking over one element at a time.  By making sure you understand what each element does individually, you will be better poised to take control. I promise after a few weeks you will wonder why you didn't do it sooner! 

Q10 - How can I capture natural images of my children?

That's the million dollar question!  I love lifestyle and documentary photography, where there is no posing, and I find that is the best way to capture images of children - just letting them be who they are.  Try to interact with your children as much as possible too: I know that's hard when you are fiddling about with settings, but eventually that will become second nature to you, and you will then find that you become more attuned to capturing those moments since you are not so focused on your settings. Here is a guide to capturing lifestyle images of your own children, and also some 8 Tips and Tricks for Photographing Children