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Submitted on
November 23, 2007


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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 SLR or a compact digicam.

I hope you find it useful :)

:star: FOCUS :star:
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.

Here are some examples where only part of the picture is in focus.
never by detail24 Oh, The Mirth... by Blood-Of-A-Pirate Group Shoot 05 by neolestat Out Of Control- II by Xerces

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.

Here are some examples where everything (or almost everything) is in focus.
Yellow by WakenTheDead l'heure bleue by detail24 Solitude by foureyes It's Coming Out AGAIN by ketene

No focus
And sometimes no specific point of focus at all can really work, as shown in these examples.
In a rage of fury by Paintingwithlight3 Beach House by intao sofia's ghost, detail by equivoque

If you want to learn more, check out these great tutorials.
:thumb70248019: Apertures by StuMac1985

There are other factors to consider relating to depth of field, such as focal length and image format size.  There's a detailed Wikipedia article about Depth of Field, which you can find HERE if you want to read further.

:star: ISO/FILM SPEED :star:
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.

Here are some examples of pictures taken at a low ISO.
Raminta 02 by neolestat Necklace by arhcamt Mystic Bridge by Simon-P T.C. by sicklygothgirl

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.

Here are some examples of pictures taken at a high ISO.
:thumb70067520: Diagonal Light Love by contains-mild-peril Who I Really Am by DistortedSmile Reflections by AbsinthChaos

This tutorial shows the effect of shooting at different ISO settings in colour and black and white.
ISO Tutorial by StuMac1985

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.

:star: COMPOSITION :star:
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, and it makes much more sense when there are visual aids, so check out these two tutorials for more information.

Rule of Thirds Tut by JohnnySix A quick guide to composition by jsmonzani

Here are some examples of pictures which follow the rule of thirds.
Don't call me cute by Pixelcoma New Model by ErBungle  Just Shy. by mike-harrison shallow dpth of field by indigodaisy

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.

Here are some examples of symmetry at work in photography.
She tied me up by JonnyBalls Octopussy by neolestat

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.

Here are some examples of negative space being used.
Pink Thought by pinkeyes See No Evil by ketene The House Of The Rising Sun by Wings-Of-A-Messiah Give me Light by Perdeeta

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

Heart Delivery by Wings-Of-A-Messiah wimpy by Matth30 Saturday In The Park by rjcarroll canibal by Val-z

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.

Here are some examples of beautiful colour photography.
Straw-veryIII by Amiba Gracious Mama Africa by Gwenhwyfar28 Meaghan Monster 1 by KissTheMastersFeet

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.

Here are some examples of gorgeous monochromes.
Bandeau of Opulence by Blood-Of-A-Pirate savior by detail24 Virginity by LoganX78 Eclipse - dxd by dxd

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.

Here are some examples of photographs with low saturation.
kens cat by andrewfphoto :thumb61165897: Deranged by Taragon :thumb43037534:

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.

These tutorials detail techniques for converting to black and white.
Super Dramatic BW Conversion by MoonlitxReverie True Black and White Tutorial by Oni-mt

:star: AND FINALLY :star:
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 news article on dA and people would fall asleep reading it.  There are loads of tutorials on dA that can help you get to grips with many aspects of photography, like these ones.

Photography Dictionary by Slupton Photography for Beginners. by lewcid Photos: Top 5 mistakes by jsmonzani

Don't forget to visit the Photography forum on dA, located HERE, and if you want to share your work and meet other dA photographers, check out these photography groups and projects.  

:iconphotolust: :iconphotohunt: :iconfriendlyphotography: :iconcameraartsclub: :iconphoto-hut:

This article is also available in collectable tutorial format HERE.

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 article is to be a starting point not a technical bible.
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vivekdigihub Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013  Professional Photographer
thank you..
deviantART muro drawing Comment Drawing
RockstarVanity Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2013
You're welcome! I hope it comes in useful :)
beari Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2009
Great article! A lot people aren't capable of explaining so much to beginners (as I've been finding out) but this truly helped to educate me more. Hopefully my work will become more experimental now :)
visionsandvoices Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2008
"On Photography"
Susan Sontag

"The Nature of Photographs"
Stephen Shore
i think these should be mandatory reads for any photographer, "The Nature of Photogaphs" for everyone everyone, and "On Photography" mainly as a starter for everyone interested in the theories behind photography, and who actually want to learn what their images say.
saundersfoto Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2008   Photographer
some really good tips here.
superphilman Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2008   Photographer
None of the examples for the rule of thirds follow the rule of thirds. NOT ONE. Monochrome also means "one colour" so a sepia photograph is also monochrome.

Although these faults stand out to me, I'm sure to a true beginner would learn something from it. I read it because I was intrigued to know what someone would say "artist photography" was, when I say it's learning all of the rules to the highest level, then knowing how to break them and them still be present.. it's hard to explain, but I like to think I'm there.
bassthumpa Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2008
Excellent article. Very helpful. Thanks :)
LadyAnubis Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2008

Thank You!!!...


eschlehahn Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2008
A very interesting and useful article here. Thank you for all the work to create this. :hug:
Iphso Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2008
This is really helpful, thanks :)
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