Learn Photography - camera skills, situational skills, photo principles #intentionallylost

Who is this For?

This guide is designed as a reminder of key photography principles for anyone who doesn’t practice photography on a regular basis. Are you planning an epic vacation and you want to come home with images you’re proud of? Do you have a quality camera that you haven’t used in years and you want to start practicing your photography with purpose again? Or maybe you're at the beginning of your photography journey to create photos that make people stop and appreciate them. This is for you.

What do you need to complete these exercises?

  1. A desire to take photos that are elevated past snapshots.
  2. Ideally you have an advanced camera with full control over settings. You can do the exercises with a phone camera or in full auto mode, but you will get more benefit for your time by learning the purpose of your camera settings.
  3. You DO NOT need any photo editing software to follow along on these exercises. If you continue on to the Basic Photo Editing Tutorial, that's when you will need something basic like Apple Photos, Affinity Photo or Luminar.

These resources are all free! Bookmark this page and come back to it any time to work through these exercises. Or you can download the resources to your own machine and work through them at your leisure. 

MECHANICS of A Successful Photo

Sometimes the doing of a thing is more important than the outcome of the thing. Don’t worry about making excellent photos during these exercises. Just go practice.

Practice These Photography Refresher Exercises Before You Travel

These are actionable videos. Follow along on the worksheet and make a photo using the camera settings we are talking about. You may also want the Photography 101 graphic.

For these exercises - the doing of a thing is more important than the outcome of the thing. Don’t worry about making excellent photos during these exercises. Just go practice. The idea is to have the learning out of the way before you embark on that next vacation or photography project. Try to work through these exercises for two or three weeks leading up to your next travel or photo opportunity.

I like to think of making a photo in two parts - the mechanics of operating your camera, and separately the theory or principles about what makes a good photo.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using your camera on auto mode. I know; I'll be kicked out of the classy photographer guild for saying that, but it's true. I learned manual camera settings by using auto mode. I would take a photo with my camera set to Auto, look at the settings my camera picked, then switch to manual mode and adjust my shutter speed, iso or aperature and see how my results differed.

How to Follow Along with These Exercises: When you practice enough, these adjustments become second nature, but of course they're super confusing when you're first learning. Watch the video for each section and then execute a photo that matches the camera settings indicated in the exercises below each video. 

Camera Settings - shutter speed


Camera Settings - Aperature and f-stop


camera settings - Focus Points


Principles of A Successful Photo

Of course there is more to making good photos than being able to operate a camera. A photo that is sharp and well exposed is only a “mechanically successful photo”. The strength of a photo lies in its clarity of message or ability to elicit a feeling from the viewer. It is very possible to make a mechanically successful photo without making a truly successful impactful photo. A good photo accomplishes both. A good photographer accomplishes both consistently and on purpose.

These next two videos cover things that I wish somebody had shared with me when I started practicing my photography seriously.

What is a Good Photo?

In this video I give some explanation using my own photos as examples. The scale is based on a 1 to 10 ranking that is often used in photography competitions starting with 1 as a throwaway image and moving to a 10 as an exceptional image.

I also start the video explaining taking a photo vs making a photo. A good photo can be made anywhere with any subject. You don’t need to be standing in front of a majestic wonder of the world or using the latest and greatest gear to make a good photo.

Directing Viewer Attention

How does a viewer's eyes travel through a photo? These are physiological triggers that affect everyone the same whether they are a complete novice or an experienced photographer. While we can manipulate these focal points with editing software, an image should first be captured with these principles in mind.

  1. Eyes are drawn to the points of highest contrast in an image - to the brightest point first and then to the darkest point.
  2. Eyes are drawn next to the sharpest point in an image
  3. Next a viewer’s eyes go to the point of highest color contrast; which is not necessarily the most saturated pixels in the image.
  4. Remove distractions that don’t contribute to the story or strength of the image. Your viewer will identify these next and any distractions will draw attention away from the primary subject.
  5. Finally the viewer assesses the image as a whole and only at this step should you think about the rule of thirds or the golden ratio. Those are still relevant, but I find that they get in the way more often than they help. Brights, darks, contrast and sharpness are far more powerful for commanding attention.

My goal with these free videos was to cover the questions that I was asking when I was learning photography. If you're an advanced photographer and ready for some more in depth travel photography discussion, this full series will be ready very soon with an additional eight videos and three hours of extra content. They are broken down into different travel photography scenarios for landscape, action or motion, street, long exposure, cultural, and wildlife. Review and practice just the scenarios you'll be photographing on your next trip or get inspired to plan your next photography trip.

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If you found these photography exercises to be helpful or if you have questions, leave them here in the comments. 
Photography Refresher Exercises - Essential Concepts