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.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
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.
F O C U S
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.
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.
C O M P O S I T I O N
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 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!