A Year of Photographic Lessons – Journey of a Novice Photographer

About a year ago I decided to try and take my photography to the next level – to go beyond basic snapshots and try and get the wow factor into my images. I hope this article covering my photographic experiences of 2013, and the lessons I’ve learned gives you some ideas for 2014.

This is the story of my year of photographic lessons – maybe you can relate, or are on a similar journey.

Note: the images in this article are in chronological order with my early work near the top, and my most recent images at the bottom. Hopefully you can see where I’ve started from and how much I’ve progressed in a year. You can do this too!

Photography lessons novice 01

STEP ONE: – join a photography club

The single biggest thing that made a difference to my photography in 2013 was joining a local club in Dublin, Ireland (www.offshoot.ie). This proved to be the turning point for a few reasons:

  • It was an opportunity to learn from like-minded, enthusiastic and friendly photographers; and a chance to be inspired by their stunning work.
  • Organized field trips; providing some amazing photo opportunities including; a fire breather, light painting, model shoots, etc.
  • Learning by practical sessions – new techniques like portraits and lighting, or macro to introduce new areas of photography I had never explored previously.
  • Joining a club, above all, provided an opportunity to learn, as well as inspiration and motivation to get out taking photos more often, and to do it better.

Photography lessons novice 02

STEP TWO – try entering competitions

Competitions are one aspect of photography clubs which tends to put a lot of people off. However, I found that the competitions are very useful to help concentrate the mind on a particular topic, or learn a new technique. For example: long exposure or macro photography, which I had never tried before.

Getting expert feedback from judges can be invaluable – usually they will want to help you improve, and will provide helpful feedback on your image, e.g.. exposure, cropping, etc. Competitions are also a chance to show your off your work, and let’s face it, we all like some recognition. So winning competitions doesn’t exactly do any harm.

STEP THREE – Learn the basics

It’s important to get to know the basics on the technical side. It’s no substitute for the photographer’s eye, but the lack of technical skills might prevent you from capturing the image that you want. The good news is there are loads of great sources from the photography club, great websites like dPS, flickr, books, and podcasts. The big lessons for me included:

  • Exposure and how to control it with aperture and ISO – is the image too bright or too dark
  • How to get sharp images by adjusting focus modes, shutter speed and using a tripod
  • Depth of field – controlling what is in focus
  • Composition – some of the classic components of a good image, like using the rule of thirds
  • Cropping images – using software to crop to the important part of the image, and remove distracting elements
  • How to do the basics in photo editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop to crop images, correct exposure, resize images and more importantly, to build and safely store your library of images

Getting a good understanding of the above should make a big difference in the quality of your images.

Photography lessons novice 03

STEP FOUR – know your camera

I try to consider the basics above and the results are improving. I generally manage to get a few images that I really like, and I think the occasional one at least that has the wow factor. With a modern DSLR you don’t need to understand all its complexities but you do need to know the key features, to get the most out of it. You don’t want to miss a shot of a spectacular sunset while you trawl through the manual, so understanding the main controls are essential including:

  • Focus – manual and auto focus modes
  • Image stabilization
  • Metering modes
  • Manual mode – controlling aperture, ISO, and shutter speed
  • Image file type – Jpeg or Raw
  • White balance

A big milestone for me as I got to know my camera, and got more confident, was stepping out of Auto mode and going Manual. I can attest, when you get it right, it really works. When you get it wrong, delete – it’s the busiest key on my keyboard. I still need to get my head around the focus modes, white balance and some of the more exotic possibilities like HDR.

STEP FIVE – get the right gear

Photography lessons novice 04When I joined the club I must say I had a bit of camera envy – mine being a Nikon 8 megapixel E8700 bridge camera, of 2004 vintage, which had served me well. People in the club correctly told me that it’s not the camera that makes the difference but the photographer. My vintage Nikon was great for many situations, but couldn’t match the quality and versatility of a modern DSLR.

Unfortunately, when I bought it on a family visit to New York in 2004 I explained to my wife that this $1100 camera was a lifetime investment. After some negotiation with my wife, I made a new lifetime investment in 2013, and am delighted with my Nikon D7100, although I’m still trying to come to grips with its incredible capabilities. I would definitely recommend a tripod also as one essential piece of gear that will improve your results, and help you to with long exposure, night shots and getting sharp images in focus.

Don’t rush into buying a whole load of gear however, wait until you find that your current camera or lens is holding you back.

Note: the images below were all taken with my new D7100.Photography lessons novice 05

Photography lessons novice 06

WHAT’S NEXT – plan for 2014

So where to next? What does 2014 bring, I hear you ask. Now is the time to put a plan together!

  1. Make a calendar of the many sports and cultural events that might provide new and varied photo opportunities
  2. Projects – to develop your skills; e.g. one day in your city, monochrome (B/W), sports, nature, architecture
  3. New things to explore – some new techniques or skills to master to take you out of your comfort zone and try a new area such as long exposures or portraits

Photography lessons novice 07

Most of all – think before you shoot

This was the biggest lesson of all for me – use everything you have learned to get the best possible result. Use your knowledge of the exposure and composition. Try a different camera angle or point of view, depth of field, lens, or shutter speed to try and create an image with the wow factor.

Above all get out there taking photos and enjoy, there is no substitute for practical experience.

Photography lessons novice 08

Further reading

For more tips for beginners – head over here.

Photo Nuts and Bolts – know your camera and take better photos, a dPS ebook.

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How the Shot was Done: SNK Police Cosplay


I do a lot of cosplay (short for costume play) photography with friends, and I was asked by some to do a cosplay crossover photo shot (Shingeki no Kyojin / Psycho Pass) with them. They sent me some reference shots from which I decided to create a slightly futuristic, detective movie kind of look. I also thought I’d experiment with shooting to fit a wide movie crop to suit the look of the shoot. In this article I’ll show you how I set up, shot and processed two photos from the shoot, including the one above. If you’d like to see more photos from the shoot, you can do so here.

So on to how the shot was done . . .

The right location

Our location for the shoot was the rear of Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a futuristic looking building with lots of metal, glass and interesting angles in its construction. For the shot above I wanted to take advantage of these textures to accentuate the futuristic look, so we first went to the alcove depicted below in this behind the scenes photo.


Lighting the shot

It was dusk so there was little light getting into the alcove from what became camera left. I wanted to keep that light in the shot as a fill, but my key light was going to be a ring flash – my Orbis ring flash. This kind of light gives a dramatic look with almost no shadow. It’s stark and flat but works well with this kind of scene. In my first test shot I noticed a fantastic unexpected effect of the brushed metal backdrop: anistropic reflection. This created a bright diagonal streak across the back of the shot.

To get the right balance of fill to key, I set the camera to 1/125sec f/2.8 ISO160 and adjusted the power on the flash to get the right brightness for the shot. This ended up being towards the bottom end of the flash power. Following is a lighting diagram and the photo as it came out of camera:



Processing the image

In post processing the major changes I made were to increase the contrast and clarity, as well as a significant temperature move towards blue, and tint shift to green. With a movie aspect ratio crop and heavy vignette, plus a few small tweaks to the exposure settings, I ended up with this final photo (below).


The second location shoot

I love the self-conscious, melodramatic, slow motion walking scenes in movies, and these guys’ outfits were perfect for a shot like that. I wanted to keep a consistent look with the first shot, but give this one its own twist. To do this I took the group out into an area with more space and a cool geometric glass patterned wall as the backdrop. I added a pair of flashes behind the group for some rim lighting, but I deliberately chose to keep them in view for some dramatic lens flares. I replaced the ring flash with an on-camera flash and balanced that to be under the exposure from the rim lighting. This gave me a low key dramatic look (drama was the theme of the night!). Again I set the camera exposure to just give a hint of the background – 1/40sec f/4.5 ISO500 – and dialed the power of the flash to get the balance I was after.

Rather than try and pose the shot, which would look too forced, I got them into a staggered starting position and simply asked them all to walk toward the camera. To get them in an appropriate mood and make them feel badass, I played this tune (which I consider to be the best slow walking music ever) on my phone and it totally did the trick.

Following is a lighting diagram and the photo straight out of the camera.



I processed this photo in essentially the same way as the previous shot, to get a consistent look and feel between it and the rest of the photos in the shoot. Please visit this gallery to see all the images at a decent size.


I really love cosplay photography because I get to go crazy and pull out all the creative stops, to make over the top photos, that suit the over the top characters and plot from anime. I’m fortunate to have fun, creative and energetic friends to work with to create these shots. If you’d like to see more of my cosplay and other photo shoots, you should like my Facebook page where I post photos regularly, and occasionally discuss how they were made.

Which of the two shots is your favourite, and why?

Models featured in these photos:

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25 Wonderful Christmas Light Painting Images

Light Harted (Reindeer Light Painting), Hertfordshire

Last week we shared a tutorial and image collection on taking beautiful Christmas Bokeh images which got shared around the web like crazy. As a followup we thought it might be fun to share a collection of a different type of Christmas image – those that include some aspect of Light Painting.

I am Santa Claus

Light Painting is a technique whereby you create spectacular images by moving different types of light through a scene while you take a longer exposure. The results can be quite striking – as you’ll see from the images in this post.

A Magical Christmas!

Have a Light Painted Merry Christmas Everyone!

says it all!!

He's Been, He's Been, Santa's Been! [Explored]

Merry Christmas Everyone!

December 25th is...


Merry Christmas

Time to put the tree up!

Elf In Cone Shaped Containment Field

Feliz Navidad!!!


Major Oak

Happy Holidays!

from the dark, our best wishes flickr friends!

The Magic of Christmas

Eat, Drink, and be Merry!

Sparkler Christmas Tree at the Skyway Bridge

Absolut Christmas

Merry Xmas Everyone!

Santa hangs the star

Way Harder Than it Looks

Merry Xmas [Explored]

Want to see more light painting? Check out our previous post:

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How to Take Beautiful Bokeh Christmas Images [With 39 Stunning Examples]

Pin It
LOVE 10/50

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… and in our forums I’ve noticed more and more great Christmas images being shared – some of which feature a technique that is always popular at this time of year – Bokeh Christmas lights shots.

Christmas tree lights II

The technique takes a bit of experimenting and practice but is relatively simple to do. You need some Christmas lights and a camera lens with a reasonably ‘fast’ aperture (or a large aperture).

#ds385 - Red Wool Socks

The key is to shoot at the larger end of your available aperture – this throws the background (and foreground) of your shot out of focus and any Christmas lights in the foreground or background will become little balls of light.

Dreaming about bokeh

As you’ll see in most of the images featured in this series – the technique is particularly good if you also have some element in your shot that is in focus. This ‘subject’ might be a person, a pet, a Christmas decoration or something else.


You can make the little balls of light bigger by increasing the distance between your in focus subject and the out of focus lights in the background.

Holiday bokeh

While most of the images in this series have the Christmas lights in the background of the image (behind the subject) it is also possible to create the little bokeh balls of light by putting the lights in the foreground of your image (in front of your subject). You can see this in the image below. The impact is a little different as the bokeh balls will cover part of your subject.

335/365: ¿Que puedo hacer con estas luces que no se haya hecho ya?

Another popular technique is to create different shaped bokeh. You can make stars, hearts or even little snow flakes like the image below.

Joyeux Noël!  Merry Christmas!

To get these different little bokeh shapes is pretty simple. You just need to make a little cutout ‘mask’ for your lens. Rather than go over how to do it here check out this video tutorial that will walk you through it here.

My Cat's Starry Christmas

Love a Good Buzz - 347/365

The other way to change the shape of your bokeh balls is to experiment with different apertures. You’ll find that in most cases the larger your aperture the rounder the ball – but go for a slightly smaller aperture you may find your bokeh becomes more hexagonal (or Heptagonal or Octagonal… the number of sides will depend upon how many blades your lens has).

christmas kiss

The different ways of using this bokeh Christmas lights technique is only limited by your imagination. Here are some more examples to give you ideas. Enjoy!

Letters to Santa

Christmas Ball-keh (Explored!)

bright lights

Day 4 - 25 Days of Christmas 2007

Brighton Clock Tower

magic of the season


Light way


Seasons Greetings - Explore 28.12.09

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas to all my Flickr friends.

Blurry Christmas....

What to my wondering eyes should appear ...

Have a Very Bokeh Christmas

Warm Fuzzies





50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0

Merry Christmas

Bokeh Hostage + 65/365

...and to all a good night!


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25 Images Using Framing in Composition – Weekly Inspiration


By lagusa

Framing in composition

This week I want to showcase some images that use framing in composition to create a successful image. It is one of the most difficult elements to master, but one of the most important in terms of create depth in your images. In a nutshell this is what frame is all about:

  • adding a foreground object into your scene that frames, or helps highlight your subject
  • sometimes involve stepping back from your original composition and looking for elements to use as a frame
  • usually using a shallow depth of field to put the foreground, framing element out of focus
  • the frame is there to set the scene, and draw the viewer into the image


By Eva Ekeblad

By Mayr

By B Gilmour

By Paul

By Brian Smithson

By Judy van der Velden

By Les Bessant

By myheimu

By Katerina Zaitsava

By Moreno Berti

By gwynydd michael

By Danushka Senadheera

By Tarik Browne

By Sid Das

By Sue Hasker

By Freaktography Urban Exploration and Photography

By Edward Simpson

By Chris Beckett

By Hersson Piratoba

By Tom Parnell

By Roberto Saltori

By Kevin Labianco


By Jan Maklak

By Nina Matthews


Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

25 Images Using Framing in Composition – Weekly Inspiration

The post 25 Images Using Framing in Composition – Weekly Inspiration by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

30 Foul Weather Photos for Inspiration

By John

This week I want to give you a little push to get out of your comfort zone. Turn of the television and get outside and shoot – no matter what the weather. As a matter a fact, in spite of the weather is even better!

Take your photography up a level

Many photographers pack up their gear and head home at the slightest sight of inclement weather. But some of the very best and most dramatic images are to be had if you are willing to brave the elements. Just make sure you are prepared and stay safe. Take the follow precautions:

  • a rain cover for your bag
  • a rain cover for your camera, it’s not water proof!
  • rain gear and boots for yourself, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than being wet or cold or both
  • stay a safe distance away of lighting – you are after all carrying with you a lighting rod (tripod)

Having said that, I hope these images inspire you to do what most others do not as this will almost certainly take your photography up a notch. Being willing to do what’s hard or unpopular is the key to standing apart and making some “wow” images to amaze your friends.

Here are 30 foul weather photos by photographers who did just that, enjoy!

By QtrFlash

By Evan Bornholtz

By Marcus T Ward

By arbyreed

By Marcus Böckmann

By Masashi Mochida

By Gabriel Anast

By Mark Dumont

By Boston Public Library

By Robyn Jay

By Mark A Coleman

By Navaneeth Ashok

By Jean Piere Candelier

By DaveTBear

By hinderik

By Marilylle Soveran

By ap.

By M Gleason

By phani_astronomy®

By Viola & Cats =^..^=

By jimmedia

By Pam Link

By Joe Vahling

By Simon

By Rehman Chughtai

By Roy

By Hartwig HKD

By Héctor García

By David Yu

Added – extra photo just for our commenters that wanted “fowl weather”

By Kevan Davis

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

30 Foul Weather Photos for Inspiration

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57 Fabulous Bird Images

By John&Fish

Birds provide a wonderful opportunity for photographers to practice their skills. So today we thought we’d put together a bit of an image collection that feature them in the hope of inspiring some of you to get out and photograph some of our feathered friends (if you do take some great bird photos please share them in comments below). Click each image to find out more about the author and see it at full resolution.

By John&Fish

Looking for a little instruction in bird photography? Check out these tutorials in our archives:

By Vinoth Chandar

By John&Fish

By John&Fish

By Keith Williams

By Pörrö

By Isidro Vila Verde

By Valerie

By John&Fish

By John&Fish

By John&Fish

By David

By Jes

By Art G.

By StormPetrel1

By Steve Wilson – over 2 million views Thanks !!

By Victor Alvarez

By Tambako The Jaguar

By Hamed Saber

By Matthew Paulson

By Ian Kirk

By David Cook

By Pedro Szekely

By John&Fish

By Anne Fröhlich

By Danny Perez Photography

By Dario Sanches

By Gonzalo G. Useta

By Steve Wilson – over 2 million views Thanks !!

By Andy Morffew

By John&Fish

By John&Fish

By dogwatcher

By John&Fish

By Takashi Hososhima

By Christopher Michel

By Tambako The Jaguar

By Dawn Vornholt

By Dario Sanches

By Dario Sanches

By John&Fish

By John&Fish

By Jayanth Sharma

By Englishpointers (Hate Sleep Apneoa)

By Eduardo Amorim

By Cloudtail

By Zanthia


By Tarique Sani


By John&Fish

By Isidro Vila Verde

By John&Fish

By Ibrahim Iujaz

By Lip Kee

By Krystian Olszanski

By Valerie

By Stuart Williams

Inspired? Check out these tutorials on photographing birds:

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

57 Fabulous Bird Images

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30 Fabulous Photos of Pencils

By Rilind Hoxha

It is going to be a rainy weekend where I live and I’m looking for a photographic project to amuse myself with.

One challenge I love setting myself on such weekends when I’m trapped inside is to take an everyday item and to photograph it. Take the humble Pencil. It is something that most households would have… particularly those of us with kids. We probably see them every day – so why not make it the focus of your attention for the weekend.

Here’s how 30 other photographers have tackled the challenge of photographing pencils!

By Bernat Casero

By Manjari Gopal

By Rex Boggs

By J L

By J L

By Jen Son

By Yann Gar

By David Blaikie

By @Doug88888

By Vineet Radhakrishnan

By Pietro Izzo

By Shane Mayer

By Arjan Almekinders

By Christian Yves Ocampo

By Emi Yañez

By Kabilan Subramanian

By Lynda Giddens

By Marc Dezemery

By becca.peterson26

By D. Sharon Pruitt

By Bada Bing

By Manjari Gopal

By Jeff Carson

By Natalie

By Michael Chen

By Andrés Nieto Porras

By Jason Hickey

By Nico Cavallotto

By Petri Damstén

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

30 Fabulous Photos of Pencils

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25 Spooky Portraits

Halloween is almost here so today we thought we’d put together a collection of slightly spooky portraits (click each to be taken to the photographers page).

By the way – if you’re taking some halloween portraits this year please share yours in comments below!

scary movie 2.0

beautiful people

halloween rejects

I'm Not Dead.

the girl who lived (not quite hermione granger)

self-portrait as Jack & Sally from the Nightmare Before Christmas

“And a nameless longing filled her breast, - A wish, that she hardly dared to own, For something better than she had known”

wash away everythin' that you thought you'd found.

the Orchestration of Sleep


ghost train


self-portrait as a skellington

disregard of standards

Night Hunter

Happy Halloween!

October 19th 2008 - Ghosts of the Past

Walking Dead



the Witch

Poster of a Girl

Killer 064/365

Groundlings Spooky Groombridge 015

Just Insanity !

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

25 Spooky Portraits

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27 Great Panning Images [and How to Take Them]

At The Speed Of Light

We’ve covered the topic of how to use ‘panning’ to photograph moving subjects previously here on dPS in Mastering Panning and The Art of Panning – so today I thought I’d put together a bit of an image collection of some panning images. Enjoy!

3 Wheel Motion! (+GIF)

Sunset Boulevard

Lance Amstrong Oslo Grand Prix 2009

Paris Fashion Street (v2)


Horizontals: Girl on a bicycle

Longchamp Horse Racecourse- Paris, France - Hippodrome de Longchamp

Colorful Family

nmr014 2011 - Explored (Front Page)

Top Speed (Infrared)


Family Portrait: The Wheelbarrow Race

Shovler Flight

Fast like the wind (Panning) # Explore

think in 40 years from now...


The Bond That Remains Intact

Never grow up, stay there!

The man, The animal, The skill

Rollin' on chrome

Ferrari F40

Tokyo biker

Autumn Art


First clue: Bicycles!! (Rotterdam)


Want to know more about how to take Panning Images?

Check out these tutorials on Panning in our archives:

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

27 Great Panning Images [and How to Take Them]

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