From being an esoteric hobby or the preserve of professional photographers, photography has now become accessible to one and all.  All you need is a mobile with a camera and since you have a range of models and a few affordable ones too, anybody can be a photographer these days. If your mobile phone has a camera, you just have to turn on the camera, wait for a few seconds, find something of interest, point the camera at it and shoot.  You then check if the image is good to be retained or spoiled too badly to deserve the delete button. That’s it - that simple.

Photography will seem very simple, but tell you what, photography has enough complexity to fascinate the intrepid explorer and engage him for a lifetime.  And if we spend a little time understanding what it is all about, we can add tremendously to the joy of engaging in photography and turn it into a lifelong passion.

This is obviously not meant for the advanced photographer, but, as the title suggests, for the novice – a person who has never clicked or has occasionally clicked in a very casual way without bothering to understand much about cameras and photography.  So it’s all about the basics.

What is photography?

Photography comes from the Greek words “photos” meaning light and “graphein” meaning to draw. This is a good way to describe photography -  “painting with light”.  Just as a painter dabs paint on canvas so also a photographer uses light to create images on film or digital sensors. Once we look at it like this, photography becomes an art form and not just the output resulting from a mechanical click. Today the scope and definition of photography has been broadened to include the process of recording images produced by light or other radiation, on any light-sensitive medium but it shouldn’t make much difference to the tentative beginner.

What you need

A bellows type film cameraCredit: © Valdore | Dreamstime.comWhen you are starting off it is best to keep it simple. Photographers can and do collect a whole lot of cameras, lenses, tripods, flashes and what not. There is a flourishing industry that keeps supplying newer and better cameras, accessories and supporting gadgets and equipment, but for a beginner, all that he actually needs is a camera.  Any camera will do.  I say this because I started off with an old bellows type film camera that used 120 film and then moved to a Kodak Retinnette 35 mm film camera before moving onto A photograph taken with a mobile cameraCredit: © Vinod Pillaidigital compact cameras. Along the way I also used my mobile camera on many occassions, even though I have a regular Digital SLR.  Some mobile cameras produce reasonably good quality images.

If you have an old film camera lying around, you could consider using it, although you will have to remember that the recurring expense on film rolls and processing is a negative factor. Moreover, the world is into the digital age and film photography is fading away into obscurity. If you can afford a  new digital camera,  you A modern compact cameraCredit: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photoscan look at one of the point-and-shoot compact cameras. The Nikon Coolpix  S9100 retails for about $330 while the Canon Powershot  S95 costs $430. There is also a cheaper Canon model – Powershot SD4000 IS - that comes for $270. If you prefer Sony you can look at Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 which can be bought for about $300.  These are considered to be good cameras for beginners.

What you need to know

Photography has evolved considerably in the last decade or two and there is much scope for learning.  As a beginner one can avoid getting entangled in the complexities for now and concentrate on some of the basics to get going.

  1. Photography is painting with light; instead of a canvas on an easel, we have a film roll or digital sensor inside a camera.
  2. Although you can master the camera settings later, you need to know that there are three important variables that control the way the camera records the image  –
    1. Aperture - which refers to the opening through which light is allowed into the camera. A diaphragm regulates the lens opening and the amount of light that is allowed to pass through and fall on the film or sensor. The aperture is measured in f-stops and will typically range from f/2.8 to f/22 or f/2 to f/16.  What must be remembered is that f/2.8 will allow a lot of light to pass through as the camera’s diaphragm will be wide open while f/22 will allow very little light as the diaphragm is almost closed so that the lens opening is minimal.
    2. Shutter speed – which refers to the length of time the camera’s shutter is open, to allow light to pass through to the film or sensor.  Typically you can have speeds from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second.  Here again a speed of 1/60 will allow much more light to pass through than a speed of 1/1000.
    3. Speed or ISO – refers to the sensitivity of the film or digital camera.  Typically it starts at ISO 100 and goes up to ISO 6000 and higher. If the ISO or sensitivity is high (ISO 800 or more) the film or sensor can record images even in low light conditions whereas if the ISO is low (ISO 100), the film or sensor will record images only in normal light conditions.
  3. All cameras have an auto function, where the camera will measure the ambient conditions and adjust the aperture, shutter speed and ISO automatically so that you get an acceptable quality image. This is very useful for a beginner, as it will allow you to click and get reasonably good photographs without getting frustrated with the first attempts.  However the beginner needs to take a look at the aperture, shutter speed and ISO that the camera used, so that he or she can get an idea and over a period is able to figure out the proper camera settings without having to rely on the camera’s auto function.
  4. Composition is something that you, the photographer, need to take care of while the camera takes care of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings, when you opt for the auto function.  Composition is a very important element that decides how good your photograph is, and yet composition is difficult to define. What you have instead is a set of rules to make sure that you have a good composition. For a beginner, it is enough if you realize that your photograph will look good only if the composition is good and that is determined by what comes within the frame, what gets included and what gets excluded, from what angle and distance the image is shot - how the image is framed.  The elements of the image should ideally lead your eyes to the central point of interest. Start photographing from different angles and distances and see the different effects. Also observe the photographs of top photographers and how they have composed their photographs. If you keep clicking and observing carefully you will develop an eye for composition.
  5. Once you develop the confidence and skills to produce good images, you may want to leave behind the auto function and explore the aperture priority mode where you set the aperture and the camera takes care of the other settings. Or try the shutter priority mode where you set the shutter speed. 

    If you have reached thus far, you would have been bitten by the photography bug and would want to take your photography to the next level.

    The road ahead

    Fortunately, there are a lot of exciting challenges ahead, in terms of gear and in terms of deepening your learning and skills to keep pace with the breathtaking pace of improvements in technology and equipment as well as photographer skills and quality of images. You may want to buy a digital SLR camera? And new lenses? A reliable tripod? Or look at better post production? Well that is a slightly different journey which will have to be looked at later............

    Credits (Photographs) :

    A bellows type film camera  © Valdore |

    A Photograph taken with a mobile camera © Vinod Pillai

    A modern compact camera  Copyright (c) <a href=''>123RF Stock Photos</a>