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April 24, 2009
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Who is this tutorial for?
This article is for beginner-level photographers and is meant as a guide and a reference resource, not an all-inclusive photography theory encyclopedia. The more advanced among you will no doubt think of things that aren't included here, but the aim of this tutorial is to be a helpful starting point not a technical bible.

When you're just starting out in photography and have made the leap from snapping pictures of pretty things to intentionally creating artistic photographs, it can be difficult to know where to go next. Sure, there are lots of beautiful photographs out there that catch your eye but when you haven't had the experience (or spent lots of time learning the theory) to know exactly what makes those photographs beautiful it can be hard to progress by trial and error alone.

While there's no quick and easy secret to taking 'good' photographs, and there's a whole world of experimentation and education out there waiting for you to jump into, there are some aspects of artistic photography that you'll want to think about every time you pick up your camera. The techniques and camera functions detailed in this article can be used by anyone with a camera, whether that camera is a top of the range DSLR or a compact digicam.

Instead of just pointing your camera at something you like the look of and clicking the button to take the photo, think about what part of the picture you want to stand out.

Shallow depth of field
If you're taking a photo of a beautiful flower or a person's face, you'll probably want it to stand out against the background so that all attention is on the subject itself. A good way to do this is to use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field, meaning that the thing you're focusing on will be sharp but the rest of the picture will be blurred. To get this effect, you should set your camera/lens to a low f-stop number.

Broad depth of field
Sometimes you'll want everything in your picture to be sharp, like if you're taking landscape shots or every part of the scene you're photographing is important. To do this, set your camera/lens to a higher f-stop number, creating a smaller aperture and a broader depth of field.

I S O / F I L M  S P E E D
When shooting on film, a film which has a low ISO is slower, meaning that it requires longer exposure to light to expose it. Film with a high ISO is faster, meaning that it will work better in lower lighting conditions. Where does this fit in to digital? Pretty much all digital cameras have a range of ISO settings, and these can be used to your advantage when creating interesting images.

A low ISO (like 50, 100 or 200) will produce pictures with less grain and are good for shooting in bright lighting conditions (like a really sunny day, or when using a flash or studio lights). This will also (generally) create less saturated images, although many cameras allow you to adjust saturation separately. If you want to shoot at a low ISO in conditions without much lighting, you'll need to use a longer shutter speed.

High ISO
A high ISO (like 400, 800 or 1600) will produce pictures with more grain and are good for shooting in low lighting conditions (like at concerts, by lamplight or at night) and can work really beautifully in black and white. Grainy colour photos are generally less desirable, but it's always a personal choice and there is no right or wrong.

It is worth remembering that different models of camera will behave differently at the same ISO settings. For example, if you're using a new top of the range DSLR you'll be able to shoot at 600 or 800 ISO with hardly any grain but if you're using a cheaper older compact digital camera you may get a noticeable amount of grain at 200 ISO.

Composition is an important creative element in photography, and while there are many 'rules' and methods for composition, there is no definitive way to compose a photograph properly. Here are a few compositional techniques to consider.

Rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is all about dividing the frame into 9 sections - 3 across and 3 down - and then composing your photograph in a way that follows those sections. For example, having the most important part of the picture filling one third of the frame, or aligning the horizon two thirds of the way up the frame.  It's very difficult to explain this principle in words but there are lots of great tutorials on dA which demonstrate the principle in action.

Symmetry can turn a good photograph into an amazing photograph. It can enhance the appearance of structural elements, draw attention to one part of the image and make a picture look more designed.

Negative space
Negative space refers to areas of an image where there's nothing (or very little) going on. This can create a feeling of bleakness or emptiness, create a peaceful vibe in a photograph and result in a quirky and memorable image.

There are no hard and fast rules for composition, and some of the most interesting images are the ones that break the rules.

C O L O U R / M O N O C H R O M E
Whether you shoot in black and white or colour (or use an image editing program to turn colour photos to black and white) is up to you. Most cameras have a black and white setting, although you can shoot in colour and convert to black and white later in an image editor. If you're shooting on film you can either make the choice before you shoot or use an image editing program to alter the appearance of scanned negatives.

Colour photos are great for emphasising strong and striking colours, for example in fashion or landscape photography. Colour photos tend to look more modern but can look snapshotty in certain contexts.

Black and white photos are excellent for showing off shape, form, light and shadow and also have a timeless, retro look. Black and white is often favoured for street photography, and can be used to create elegant portraits and striking architectural shots.

Somewhere in between
While you might not want bright colours, you might not want a photo to be black and white either. You can desaturate the image (either in camera, if your camera allows alterations to saturation, or in an image editor) to create a more subtle effect.

Converting an image from colour to black and white can be a simple process, usually achievable extremely quickly with a digital editing program, but to create a really great result there are many ways you refine the process to get a more impressive result.  Search dA's Tutorials > Photography section for 'black and white conversion' to learn more.

A N D  F I N A L L Y
There's so much more to creating artistic photographs than what has been explained here. Subject matter, lighting, lenses and other camera equipment are all vitally important but to fit all that in here would make this the longest tutorial on dA and people would fall asleep reading it. There are loads of brilliant photography tutorials on dA that can help you get to grips with many aspects of photography, so you're in the perfect place to learn AND the perfect place to get feedback!
:new: UPDATED VERSION HERE (December 2011)

This tutorial started life as a news article in November 2007. Since it's submission until now (April 09) the article has been fav'd/loved/whatever-it's-called almost 500 times which I figure means that people are finding it useful. Since tutorials submitted as deviations are easier to bookmark (using the favs and collections feature), I finally got around to submitting this as a deviation. And it only took me a year and a half!

:bulletblack: The original article with illustrative images -->…
:bulletblack: The art nude version of the original article -->…
:bulletblack: The photo from the preview image -->…

The reason that the news articles have illustrative images and this tutorial doesn't is that it seems pointless to start asking a bazillion people if I can use their work here, especially since if they decided to take their work off dA or replace it with a newer version in the future I would have to keep adjusting the tutorial to add, remove or change images. The description of this deviation will always contain links to the illustrated news articles, so people can easily find them if they want to.

You can read this tutorial in...
:bulletblack: FrenchHERE translated by *JoelTrousset and
:bulletblack: Spanish HERE translated by ~JacquiJax part of #GlobalTutorials.

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Add a Comment:
WolfMessenger Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
this will become very helpful for my future :)
RockstarVanity Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012
Aww, I'm glad it's useful :)
LenseFairy Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012   Digital Artist
Thank you very much for this! I'm getting my first digital SLR camera soon, so hopefully my photos won't have so much of that awful grain! < 3
RockstarVanity Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2012
You're very welcome. Have fun with the new camera! :hug:
shifugicanaru Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
Thank you so much for this :) Now I know what is ISO, huh, since ive tried my camera last night and beginning
to hate the grains my camera produces :love:
RockstarVanity Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011
Yay! When I first started, someone on here pointed out to me that a lower ISO will result in lower saturation as well as less grain and it was a total lightbulb moment for me :aww:
MajorNilsen Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks- this was a great tutorial!! Just got a new camera & tying to figure out what settings the f-stop/ iso should be set on. Thanks for the info!!
RockstarVanity Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011
I'm glad it's been useful :hug:
SPisharam Featured By Owner May 12, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Very useful and easy to follow tutorial! Thank you :)
RockstarVanity Featured By Owner May 22, 2011
I'm glad it was useful :)
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