Getting started with photography, our best primers for beginners - 11 minutes read

If you've recently picked up your first dedicated digital camera, or you're eager to move beyond automatic settings and unlock the full potential of your photography and video, you've come to the right place.

Not knowing where to start with photography can feel daunting. A canyon of technical principles and dense concepts can feel like a mountain too high or, at worst, act as a gatekeeper to enjoying photography.

We're here to tell you, don't let that deter you. We all start somewhere, but once the learning begins, it never truly ends.

Think of this article as an introduction, a place to get started and an invitation to join the party. Over the years, we've chronicled the rise of digital photography and written our fair share of technical breakdowns, tutorials and how-tos. Here are some of our best articles for getting started with photography and how to level up to advanced concepts when ready.

Getting started

Getting a new camera is exciting, no doubt. Sometimes, even the most seasoned among us could use a few basic reminders to properly set up our new best friend.

We'll start with a bit of choose-your-own-adventure:

Click here for a beginner's guide to your first camera

Click here for a more advanced guide to setting up a camera

Even more advanced setup

Have the basics down but running into particular issues with your specific camera? Please hop on over to our Digital Photography Review discussion forums. Since January 1999, they've been home to the best digital photography forums on the internet.

In addition to our editors, industry engineers, inventors, and working professionals have been known to pop in to answer questions, share advice, or shoot the breeze over what they love (and don't love) about their gear. If you have a question on settings to use or how to get the most out of your camera, chances are there will be an answer on the forum. Just visit your relevant channel (i.e., Canon channels for Canon cameras) and ask away!

Seek answers in the DPReview forums

Choosing a memory card

It may seem trivial, but choosing the right memory card for your camera could be the thing that saves your hide later. Beyond knowing which format your camera uses, and if your camera has two slots or one, there are a myriad of industry specs to consider. Want to shoot video? What specs matter most? We help you pick the right card for you in our primer on memory cards.

A beginner's guide to memory cards

Cleaning your sensor

Even seasoned pros are nervous about cleaning their camera's sensors, but it doesn't have to be scary. We'll walk you through the process with some tips and techniques for sensor maintenance and what not to do.

How to clean your camera's sensor

Cleaning your lens

Cleaning a lens isn't quite as scary as cleaning a sensor, but even here, there are some common mistakes even the most seasoned photographers continue to make; give yourself a leg up and avoid them. Your lens and photos will thank you for the extra love and care.

How to clean your camera lens

Organizing your gear

As you start to delve deeper into photography, you'll begin to acquire more gear and accessories. To get the most life out of your investments and to make sure you can find them when you need them, it's essential to have a system to organize your camera body and lenses, hard drives, cords, dongles, adapters, card readers, notes, hard drives and other assorted ephemeral trinkets. We have a guide to start creating a system that works for you for years to come.

Organize your gear on the cheap

Getting started with outdoor photography

We're in the middle of winter in Seattle right now; in fact, as I write this, we're receiving a dusting of snow. At this time of year, it can feel hard to get out and even harder to know what to photograph. We've assembled some tips on what and where to shoot when it gets cold.

Cold weather shooting tips

Getting started with landscape photography

In our ten-part series on landscape photography, we'll start with composition and examine how elements such as masses and lines come together to create a photographic vision. In each installment, we build on this foundation with lessons on balance, juxtaposition, negative space and more. It's a great way to get started and move quickly to nail down the fundamental understanding of landscape photography. By the end of the series, you'll be ready to capture the natural world around you.

Landscape series

8 creative tips for shooting waterfalls

Photographing waterfalls can be a tricky endeavor – especially when shooting in conditions where the light can change drastically depending upon the weather conditions. If you've ever struggled to get the waterfall shot you envisioned, you've come to the right place. This article will cover everything from basic tips to more advanced techniques to make shooting waterfalls a breeze.

Dive in

6 tips for better wildflower photos

Shooting wildflowers can be an intimidating endeavor, especially if you're looking to capture grand scenes and vistas. Navigating the crowds, finding the perfect composition and nailing the shot can all be overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way – in this article, I'll help you navigate these challenges so you can enjoy the experience and make the most of peak wildflower season.

Stop and smell the wildflowers

Getting started with macro photography

You don't have to look far to explore the tiny worlds around us. Get up close and personal with everyday objects, insects, flowers and more with macro photography. We caught up with renowned macro photographer Don Komarechka, who demonstrates a few simple techniques that can improve your macro photos in a big way.

Macro stater guide

DIY tips for lighting the shot

Understanding light and how to control it can help amp up your photography. Everything from people to landscapes can be perked up with subtle fill light, or go for a more dramatic look. But lighting gear can be expensive, and you won't know what you want or need until you've learned what you light and how to modify light. (I'm begging you, please, don't run out for a ring light because you saw it on social media.)

We've assembled some DIY home hacks you can try out on the cheap. By experimenting first, you'll be better prepared later to spend your hard-earned cash on the right gear for you.

A beginner's guide to lighting tools

Focus stacking, what is it and when to use it

Ever wonder how landscape photographers get stunning sharpness throughout their images, even when shooting in challenging conditions? The answer is simple, but the process can be difficult. Focus stacking isn't for the faint of heart, but this tutorial should help to shed some light on the process.

Time to look sharp

Buying your first lens

We purposely put this item lower in this guide, under all the intro to learning stories. The first thing you should not be doing when you are new to photography is buying lenses. A kit lens is okay to start with. You need to practice and learn what you like and don't like about the kit lens you have. Only by learning and doing will you know for sure what you want to invest in next. Please don't rush into it; gear can get expensive, and you don't want to regret the purchase or sell it at a loss right after buying it.

What you need to know before buying your first lens

Processing your images

After you've taken your photos or videos, you may want to dive into color correction. You'll ideally want to have a properly calibrated monitor to get the most out of your image editing. It stands to reason that if your monitor is too blue, you may unknowingly end up editing all your photos too blue.

Read our Intro to Color Calibration series starting with "Color measurement basics and how colorimeters work." Then, once you have the basics down, move on to part two of the series, "How monitor calibration actually works." This one's a bit more technical, but understanding these fundamentals is worth the effort if you plan to print your work.

Read "Intro to color, part 1 "

Read "Intro to color, part 2"

Display your work offline

However you feel about social media, without a doubt, sharing photos online has become the de facto way most people distribute their photography today. For as much as we pixel peep around here, the fact of the matter is that there aren't many large display installations or prints being made to take advantage of all the available visual fidelity today's cameras provide.

If you're ready to move beyond online and get the most out of your files, might we suggest a photo book? Making a photo book can be a fun exercise in learning how to edit for a story, sequence images, and make them a sharable keepsake that lasts beyond the flicker of a screen.

Read "How to plan your first photo book"

Don't forget to save your work

Now that you've set up and used your camera to make your amazing images, don't risk losing them. A backup system is crucial in ensuring your precious memories don't join the digital ether in the future.

Learn how to set up an archival system

Embrace failure, and you'll be in the right headspace to keep learning

As you learn, there will be times an idea will not click, or you're not getting the results you want out of your photography. Don't give up. There will also be times when others will try to discourage you or act as gatekeepers. They may have some valid points; take the lessons, but don't get discouraged. The important thing is that you keep trying and learning.

What I love about the photo and video world is that you're limited only by your creativity and ambition, the desire to discover new tools and ways of getting better at wielding them. Photography can be difficult, but if you're willing to learn, open to feedback and offer help when asked, it can also be a nurturing and fulfilling family.

Becoming a lifelong learner

Advanced learning series

If you've gone through this beginner series of how-tos and learning and want more, head over to our advanced learning series. We go even deeper into the technical side of cameras and break down the science of imaging. There's a lot to learn, so go at your own pace. As you go, if you have any questions, pop them into the comments or head over to the forums to tap into the collective knowledge of the DPReview community. Some topics can get pretty 'heady,' but the important thing is that you're here to learn, and we aim to support your growth.

Graduate to the advanced learning series

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BONUS: Behind the scenes with the DPReview studio test scene

If you want to learn more about cameras, another place to start is by looking at one way we evaluate cameras.

Our studio scene tool is designed to measure image quality, meaning there's a lot of stuff on this scene, and none of it arrived by accident. Every inch tells a different story about camera performance, and learning how to read it can go a long way in learning how cameras expose. We help you get started with some resources to learn how to read it.

An introduction to our studio test scene

A DPReview history of the test scene

What do you want to learn?

This is just version one of our beginner guide to photography. We're thinking about articles for the next year and want to hear from you. What skills and tutorials would you like to see added to this guide? What types of stories would you find helpful as a beginner? Let us know in the comments, and you may see it updated here in the coming year.


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