Advice and Guidance for a Photography Newbie?

Advice and Guidance for a Photography Newbie? June 25, 2011

UPDATE 06.26.11: Here are some pics I took at SF Pride 2011 [Facebook Album].

Like many people, I have always wanted to dive a little deeper into photography.  A very long time ago, I had a film Canon EOS and really loved the process of taking pics.  Over time I went through various stages of digital picture taking eventually ending up, like so many, solely using my phone camera to capture life around me.

It really is amazing how far technology has come in such a short time.

After doing a year of daily pics in 2010 and then failing at the same project for 2011, I am diving back in. My search began with some helpful conversations with photographer friends and plenty of input from the Facebook crew. After comparing prices, features and how current I wanted my technology, I was still equally open to Canon or Nikon.  In the end, I found some GREAT Craiglist deals on a Canon XSi and a 18-135mm lens, so it is TEAM CANON for me!

So now I have to figure out how do use the darn thing.  I never really knew what all the buttons, dials and settings meant on my last fancy-schmancy camera, so I am not as much overwhelmed by the changes in camera technology, but by the reality that I pretty much have no idea what any of it means.

I am more or a “learn as you go” kinda boy. I’ll read the manual to get some basic foundational info, but for the most part, it’s trial and error baby, trial and error. I also know that some of you are WAY into all of this, so I would be a fool not to at least try to sponge off some of your knowledge and passion.  So if you are so inclined, help a newbie out!  Here are some basic questions for you to offer your thoughts:

  • How do you organize and store your pictures?
  • What inexpensive and user-friendly software do you use to edit photos?
  • How do you share your photos on your blog, facebook, twitter, etc,: smugmug, picasa, flicker, etc.?
  • If you happen to have a Cannon XSi, any pointers, tips and or must-have accessories?
  • What am I not asking or thinking about that I should be?
  • And finally, now that I am part of Team Canon, am I allowed to talk with The People of the Nikon Way?

I’ll probably be starting some kind of photo blogging project to help me stay disciplined, but for now, I’m going to just try and figure out what all the lights and letters mean 😉

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • @07352f96fa9c961b173bea77896dcc72:disqus Thanks for the comment . . . really did not mean to offend you so apologies if I was too flippant in my post. I will def take a look at some of the book suggestions.

  • @twitter-15786735:disqus Hey man!  Hope you are well. Good advice.  I did get Apature and am now trying to get organized over 7K pictures from my past. Any lens suggestions?  I have a 18-135 at the moment.

  • @facebook-681477273:disqus Thanks so much for this great advice! Very helpful!

  • @runshootnyc:disqus Thanks, awesome advice!

  • @c9cb5636b8618932ff5643cb3f87d926:disqus  Thanks for the advice. Will this one help to also give me some basics on aperture, speed, etc.?  Also are there are any good online or continuing education classes that give a good overview and introduction?

  • @google-95c70be409de7b44c8599b0eb9e8d984:disqus Thank you!

  • @yahoo-FFK6RDTP6YXNRRBNOFNJFKIJNQ:disqus Thanks for the advice. I am so very heartened by the passion with which folks express ideas about what they love to do.  I am not really sure I have the time or resources time to dive in as deeply as you clearly have, but i do get your point.  My intention at this point is to have fun and certainly do not want to offend any photographers who see this as their craft.  I have not delusions about what I shall capture, but seek to try.  Here is a first run at some pics I took a few weeks ago at Pride.  Not a more colorful and expressive place to be . . .

  • Sorry it has taken to so long to get back to you on this.  Thank you for the challenge as I begin diving into a new hobby.  Here is a first try at capturing the things I love . . . faces, expressions, etc . . .

  • lovesettlement

    Some lovely portraits.

    (Sorry about the single word comment below.)

  • lovesettlement


  • You miss the point. I’m not dissing digital, as I have been using digital cameras for 15 years now. What I am trying to point out is that 99% of the people pointing their electronic boxes at stuff use a “quantity over quality” approach. Having to do some real work will force people to slow down and think a bit, something that the current generation that demands instant gratification can’t grasp…

  • Jhogan

    I hear this a lot since I’m a photo teacher in Palo Alto and we use light room for all of our DAM (digital file management) & preliminary post production;120 high schoolers shooting is a lot of files! If you really want to get into taking great images I recommend the book, “The Elements of Photography” by Angela Ferris Belt. She does a great job of breaking the visual language down into digestible pieces and even has some fun exercises.

  • Jhogan

    There is more to photography then film. The film vs digital argument needs to be abandoned. Its just another tool. You can create and learn on either platform.

  • Anonymous

    my suggestions (from a newbie as well)

    – study the work of other photographers you like and analyze what you like about them–subject matter? composition? location? angle? lighting? color? etc.
    – find subjects you find interesting and shoot them a lot
    – pay attention not just to foreground but the background–no more trees or poles sprouting out of the tops of people’s heads
    – learn how to control depth of field so you go shallow when you want to and deep when you don’t
    – make a list of basic camera functions you need to master understanding of in terms of how they impact your photograph (ISO, aperture setting, shutter speed) and create exercises for yourself or find them on the net to see how they impact each other
    – get a filter for yr lens so if something hits the front of the camera, it hits yr filter not yr lens
    – check out canon’s photo editing software (should have come with yr camera). i haven’t used it but a photographer i talked to recommended it. and it’s free. i got the impression it was more for editing and less for organizing but don’t really know
    – study photos on sites like for inspiration
    – buy some books on photography
    – post yr favorites on sites sites like FB. “likes” from friends are terrific encouragement

  • Listen to some photography podcasts.  You can learn a lot and the podcasts are free: This week in photo; tips from the top floor and photofocus are my favourites.

  • [Ansel Adams didn’t want people to suffer as much as he did, so he wrote
    five instructional books which were eventually edited down to his
    classic trilogy, “The Camera,” “The Negative,” and “The Print.”]

    Excellent books that will improve anyone’s skills far better than the most expensive camera/lens combination around. The technology may be dated, but the structure and approach are timeless…

  • Want to become a real photographer? Lock up your digital rig somewhere and buy yourself a used all-manual 35mm camera body along the lines of a Pentax K1000 or Nikon FM series. Pick up a fixed normal lens, a wide angle (28 or 35mm) FIXED focal length lens, then a good portrait or telephoto (between 85 and 135mm). NO zooms. No flash either – get a solid tripod instead. Get some decent black and white film, some D76 developer, some film processing reels, a good darkroom thermometer, and a Gra-Lab timer. Find a dark closet or bathroom in the interior of your home or office where you can load film into reals without light leaks. Learn how to load film in the dark, pour developer into a tank and manually agitate it, control the temp using hot and cold tap water, and how to remove processed film, squeegie it off, and hang it to dry. When you get to the point where you have something recognizable as images in your negatives, then you can move onto the next step is to learn how to print a contact sheet using RC paper and a piece of glass. When you actually have to do some work to produce a decent image instead of pointing in the general direction of something pretty and pushing a button, you will slow down a bit and learn how to THINK. Only then will you begin to learn something about photography…

  • David

    A nonspecific but fertile tip: take a class or join a camera club, maybe the computer club has a group. Do things with other people  like nature photography, portraits, etc. and discuss your results with the instructor or leader. Have some fun. That’s a great way to learn the things you want, you can ask your specific questions, get hands-on demo help, etc. Plus, it’s a new enrichment add-on to your personal circle of friends. 

  • Good fun. A friend in Kenya requested a video camera and I see the Editor’s choice now that Flip camera has been discontinued. A friend says the download on it was much too slow for use in rural Kenya.

  • Neil Robertson

    I use a directory structure to store my images (note that if you use a photo organizer, you’re locked in to that software).  I have a directory _Scanned Slides (I still shoot film) and within that, my main subjects (land, underwater, flowers, easter eggs, etc).  Within that, a directory for each year, and then a directory for each shooting day (YYMMDD).  Individual images are named YYMMDD#nn where nn is sequence within day. 

    Also, for organizing, consider a couple of things:

    – Edit your pictures and delete all but your best shots.  Then go back and remove some more.
    – Designate where and how you store your image master copy, or at least think about it.  For example with a shot you like, you may PhotoShop it a bit – do you keep  the original?  You may have a number of different variants of a shot (different size and cropping), so how are you going to organize them?
    – Personally my slides are the Master copy.  On the computer, I tend to add attributes to the filename, like whether it was cropped or edited or resized
    – Realize that when it comes to photo sharing, the first question isn’t “what web site”, but what are your objectives – why do you take photos, who are you shooting for, what do you want to do with them
    – If you want to compare photo sharing sites, the best way is to try them and note the limitations (and don’t consider a website as your master copy or you’ll be crying one day)

    The main thing about taking digital photos is that there is almost no difference between shooting digital and shooting film as far as:

    – Lighting
    – Composition
    – Choosing subject matter
    – The affects of Depth of Field, Shutter Speed, Aperture, and Film Speed

    So Bruce, the biggest photography question you face is whether you want to understand what you and your camera are doing, or whether you prefer to remain in the dark and just stay on auto, like you’ve been doing up to now.  If you’re serious, then:

    – Learn how to use your camera and read the manual.  “I’m a learn as you go guy” is an excuse to stay oblivious.  Really.
    – Think about photography in terms of:
    – – Light
    – – Shutter speed & movement
    – – Aperture and depth of field
    – – Composition

    As far as gear is concerned, consider:

    – Off camera strobe (or strobes – two is usually better)
    – Tripod

    For editing, I am very happy with the following no-cost programs:

    – IrfanView:  Most excellent, simple to use, does most things you want to do to a photo as a whole
    – GIMP: A low rent PhotoShop style program

    Good luck with your shooting and have fun.

    Cheers, Neil.

  • Congratulations on your new purchase. Although you picked up a Canon, I wouldn’t let yourself fall into the petty Nikon vs Canon arguments. There’s much each can learn from the other.

    Organizational: Software. 
    You can use iPhoto, Aperture or Lightroom for organization (priced low to high) . They each have their benefits. Face Detection in iPhoto is pretty neat. They each do a small bid of editing too; Lightroom and Aperture having more tools to work with. Still the editing tool of choice is Photoshop.

    Organization: Filing. 
    I don’t bother renaming photos for sessions, clients, etc. I prefer to use keywords/tags for searching my Library of images. Therefore my images are organized in folders, each containing 1000-images as they came from the camera: 00000-00999, 01000-01999 and so on. This way the folders don’t get too large for previewing in Finder if you have to.

    I have a Flickr account, Facebook and Zenfolio. Each has it’s own place; one for personal, another for professional and another for clients downloads and ordering.

    Canon Accessories.
    Depends on what you like to shoot. I wouldn’t recommend a 70-200mm lens if you shoot macro, there’s a nice macro lens for that.   A GOOD tripod is always  good investment. A cable release or wireless release is nice to have. Extra batteries and extra memory cards are a must. Almost anyone could use a folding reflector, don’t go cheap a good one is worth the investment. Otherwise, let me know what type of photography interests you and I can give better advice. 

    Happy Shooting,Efrain

  • I’ll try to be brief.

    I also organize in folders named YYYY MM DD Title. On the Mac you should just get Apeture right now. It’s $79.99 on the Mac App Store which is a bargain being that before the App Store launched I think it was $299. I’m not sure about organizing in Aperture but  a quick Google search should help. I use Adobe Lightroom but Aperture is very similar. The only major difference is the price, Lightroom runs around 250 and it has great noise reduction.

    I also have the XSi and have been able to get very good results with it. After using it for three years and taking over 10,000 pictures  I’m pretty confidant that I know what I’m doing. I have found that the using a higher ISO generates a lot of noise. But with Lightroom 3 the noise reduction has had great results. Download trial versions of each and see which you like better.

    I also shoot RAW which saves exactly what the camera captures. It’s equivalent to a digital negative. The files are larger and you have to use a program like Aperture to convert them into JPEGs but you have a larger latitude in being able to adjust things. For now shooting RAW + JPEG would be a good option. You can easily share the JPEGs and if you take that one in a million shot you’ll still have the higher quality RAW file to work with either now or at a latter point. I’ve gone back to some RAW files that I took back in 2008 and have been able to get better results then I did back then. A combination of experience and better software.

    Check out Take lots of pictures and experiment.

  • I’m where you’re at, as well. I bought a Canon SX30 for our trip to Spain. The camera can do so much more than I understand, so I’ll be taking a ‘basics’ class in August.

    Someone else posed the question, ‘why do you want to take photos,’ or something to that effect. For me, I like to have the memories for myself and to share with others. Therefore, I’ll post a picture or two on Facebook every few weeks or so, but it has to have wide appeal, given the diversity of people on my pages.

    I went to the Kodak website and put together a photo album of my shots in Spain. You drag and click the photos you want to include, pay the price, and they send you a nice book, the size/extent of your choice. For me, this works well, as I have a hard copy of the photos and can hand it to a friend, without burdening them with the 300+ photos I have on my computer.

    Have fun!

  • Guest

    I suggest you actually find a basic photography primer and read it. It may be the difference of learning to photograph in five years or thirty years. You have already been taking photographs for a while (your film Canon EOS and cameraphone). If you had read a primer when bought your film-based camera, you probably would be taking good pictures right now, and would not have asked any of the questions above.

    However, you are probably 20-25 years away from mastering photography in this piecemeal self-study. That’s fine. The pioneers of photography did it this way. Ansel Adams didn’t want people to suffer as much as he did, so he wrote five instructional books which were eventually edited down to his classic trilogy, “The Camera,” “The Negative,” and “The Print.”

    The basic concepts of photography haven’t really changed. You are recording an image by controlling how much light falls on a flat recording surface.

    Note about equipment discussion: mediocre photographers debate Canon v. Nikon. Slightly better photographers discuss point-and-shoot cameras. Good photographers discuss tripod ballheads and legsets.

    It’s about the same thing with any craft. Want to teach yourself how to cook “trial and error”? Again, 30+ years to gain proficiency. Be prepared to ruin thousands of dollars of ingredients every year in your quest to reinvent the wagon wheel.

  • CalOldBlue

    So I’m currently a Nikon guy (D700); have been shooting 35mm for about 50 years (Nikon for about 15, the last 8 digital). 

    My thoughts… your questions are all good ones, but I’m troubled by your comments about the plethora of buttons dials and settings.  You may want to take a step back and develop an understanding of the basics of photography: aperture, shutter speed, depth-of-field, composition, light, ISO settings.

    An understanding of how these interact and combine in creating a photograph is more important than your workflow.  These are about creating memorable images; the latter is just finishing and filing.

    After shooting for 40 years, I finally took some courses (these were Nikon, but any decent photography course will help) that helped me understand the concepts of composition.  I had the rule of thirds figured out; there’s much more than that.

    Once you have a firm grasp of these basics, and maybe taken a one day seminar or two, then understanding how the dials, knobs, and doo-hickeys affect what your camera does then becomes meaningful and allows you to intelligently select the settings that will help you capture the image you want.

    Happy shooting!

  • Phil

    Same advice I give for shooting video: don’t be shy – get in as close as possible with as wide an angle as you can. 

  • Ken

    I recently took a Basic Digital Photography class from McKay Photography Academy — it was offered at a good price through Groupon. It was a good class, I learned a lot, and they offer others at different levels (intermediate, advanced) in the Bay Area. They talked about how to use the buttons, dials, and settings, and they also talked about how to take good photos. They had people there who were experts in Canon, Nikon, and others.

    Check them out at, and see if you can get the Groupon rate.

  • Pam

    Correction:  Full frame is 36mm x 24mm, not 26mm x 24mm.

  • Pam

    Hi Bruce,
    I organize and store my photos by year or by subject:  “Family Sports” or “2011”.  This just sort of evolved, and is not that easy to work with, but I haven’t come up with a better way.  I suggest you think about it before you decide.  By date is difficult if you don’t remember when you shot it.  (When did we take those shots up in Tahoe?)  By subject is difficult if you don’t remember which subject you chose.  Of course, it gets more difficult with more pictures.

    I store my pictures in one big directory with subdirectories named as above.  Canon (which I also have) stores in a subdirectory named yyyy_mm_ddy.  It helps to add a name to these subdirectories as “yyyy_mm_dd_Grant_Hockey” or “Grant_Hockey_yyyy_mm_dd”.  All photos are backed to an external drive.  I’m in the process of backing up also to a third drive.  I shoot RAW, so it is not practical to back up those photos online (too slow with current upload speeds).  I’m still refining my backup process.  I am vulnerable to a single event that hits all my equipment at once – virus, lightning, etc.

    I also use Picasa to find photos, and find it particularly useful there.  I mostly use Picasa web albums for sharing.  I have heard that it works for simple editing.  Photoshop Elements is also recommended by some.  I use Shutterfly for photos and photo books and – mostly for a fancy photobooks.

    My first digital single-lens reflex camera was a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, which is very similar to your XSi.  I shot all my photos in JPG Large.  I quickly found how limiting that is, and when I had a chance to learn Photoshop in a class at our local adult school (Piedmont High), I grabbed it.  I am far from expert, but a lot happier with my results than when I was shooting JPG.  (And I am still learning.)  A basic class in digital SLR cameras at your local adult school or junior college would probably be helpful to you.  There are also many good books available, but a class would probably be more helpful at your stage of learning.

    For accessories, lenses, etc., first decide how serious about photography you are, and how much money you want to invest.  It is easy to say to buy the best lenses you can, and the best flash, etc., but we are talking some serious money here.  Sometimes it is better to say:  “Well, I’m just not going to be able to get some/most night time pictures.”  There are also considerations of weight and size.  (How much are you willing to lug around?  What are you going to carry it in?  Does that lens require a tripod or monopod?)  With those caveats in mind, IS (image stabilization) and “L” lenses are wonderful.  See the Canon web site to see what they make.  They even have user reviews. also has user reviews that I have found varyingly helpful.  I use Lowe Pro camera cases/backpack, always with the “AW” – all weather – in their name (tucked-away rain cover).

    You need to know that most SLRs do not shoot the equivalent of a 35mm frame (26mm x 24mm).  Canon makes two full-frame cameras, the 1Ds Mark III ($7000 list) and the 5D Mark II ($2500 list).  The rest are APS-H (27.9mm x 18.6mm) or APS-C (22.2mm x 14.8mm).  Yours is APS-C.  APS-C can use EF-S lenses.  They are cheaper, smaller and lighter, and some are very good, but you can’t use them if you upgrade to a larger sensor.  Even APS-H needs full-sized EF lenses.

    The most important item that you have neglected to mention is composition.  How do you decide, either at the time you shoot, or later when you edit, what you shoot and how you shoot it?  I have found a wonderful book:  “The Photographer’s Eye” by Michael Freeman that deals with this.  I even accidentally stumbled into a class at our local adult school.  It will take a while to work through this.  You have to practice what you read about, then go on, or go through once, and then go back to practice.  Educating my eye is turning out to be more difficult ultimately than the technical aspects of photography.

    (Nikon makes a wonderful lens cap.  Canon doesn’t.  So I use Nikon lens caps on my two Canon lenses.  That probably causes some consternation!)

  • Argonhollums

    I use Aperture (Apple’s Lightroom equilivant) on my mac, but there are probably more how to guides with lightroom since it us PC & Mac. Since I teach Aperture at tge Apple store here for a living I prefer it.

    Aperture is how I organize all my photos in projects, albums, folders, etc.. And I just keep the actual photos on a external hard drive.

    You can do so
    E very good editing with Aperture and lightroom, but ultimately Photoshop is king due to it’s sheer power and the ability of layers.

    I use Flickr:

    I shoot Nikon so not sure about Cannon, but learn to shoot RAW!! It allow for some mistakes up front that can be fixed later on (especially white balance)

    Find a good local shop that might allow you to rent lenses so you can try before you buy, and they might even have some used lenses!!

    You’ve got to have fun and see if you can go on a few shoots with other photographers that can answer questions along the photo walk and help with immediate feedback, rule o thirds, the golden ratio, leading lines… Etc…

    Bless you and miss you!

    In Trinity,

    D.G. Hollums

    Friend me on Flickr if you join

  • E. Leys

    I don’t see a way to edit.

    Oh well, I *thought* I was writing, “You will learn more about what you like to look at, you will understand why you are taking photographs, and before you even trip the shutter you will have insight into the long term worth of what you are about to do.”

  • E. Leys

    By and large, your questions seem to be organizational.  I can’t really help with that, I’m a pretty low volume shooter.  I stuff things into a common directory unless I’m shooting some event that may go to other people, in which case I’ll give a computer directory a meaningful name and organize the appropriate photographs within it.  And unfortunately I use full Photoshop for editing…not at all cheap, not particularly user friendly.  However, if you as a Canon user have none brand specific questions, well phrased questions can be asked within any photographic locale.

    So why am I writing?  Well, you asked what you weren’t asking or thinking about.  I don’t really have much access to the full range of your thoughts, but it’s probably important for you to understand why you are taking on photography and what you hope it will mean for you…   A record of events?  Self expression?  An increased knowledge of what looking at and/or seeing things is about?  A means to utilize and appreciate direct and reflected light in all its guises?  Cataloging birds, expressions, people on the street, people you love, places you find yourself?   All are valid…and maybe only full understanding will come with time and experience.  It’s all cool.

    So here’s my actual, related, advice…    = Take photographs you like to look at. =    That’s it…and it’s a perfect feedback loop.  You will learn more about what you like to look at, you will understand why you are taking photographs, and before you even trip the shutter will will have insight into the long term worth of what you are about to do.  If you can take pictures you like to look at a day later, a month later, ten years later, you will have achieved the perfect meaning you can draw from your own photography…and it will be your own absolutely unique vision.