1.25.18 6

Photography 101: Tips + Tricks for Taking Great Photos

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you may remember that back in September, I wrote a post about DSLR photography basics. In that post, I break down what ISO, aperture, and shutter speed control and give you an overview on what type of camera I shoot with. Today, I wanted to follow up with a new post on some helpful tips and tricks to try out once you have a handle on the basics.

I mentioned this in my last post, but I’ve only taken two photography classes—and both weren’t any longer than an afternoon. Everything else I’ve learned about photography I’ve learned from old fashioned trial and error. So you if you want to get better at photography, I recommend you just get out there with your camera in hand! I especially love bringing my camera along with me on trips to practice because not only do I save some great memories, there’s no shortage of new scenes, places, and things to photograph. There’s something about being outside of your normal routine that is really good for creativity. So, if you’re struggling to find the time to practice, I recommend bringing your camera with you on your next trip and spending a couple of hours just walking around with it in your hand. Or, if you don’t have a trip planned, head to a new neighborhood in your city and see what inspires you! For DC-area people, one of my favorite places to do the latter is Old Town Alexandria—it’s so photogenic.

If you have any questions about the four tips I share below, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email—I’m happy to help! And lastly, if there are any other photography tips and tricks you want me to share, let me know! Up next in this series, I’m going to share how to take great walking photos, but want to create content that is most helpful for you, so I’m all ears for future post ideas.

DSLR photography tips and tricks for beginners

01. Adjust Your AF-Area Mode

Adjusting AF-Area Mode changed my life and photography for the better. AF-Area Mode is the area of the frame that the camera will use for autofocus and is shown by focus points in the viewfinder. The default setting for this on most cameras is “auto area,” which means the camera chooses the focal point and focuses automatically. This can be frustrating since often, what you want to focus on in a photo is not what the camera wants to focus on. By adjusting the AF-Area mode to single point or dynamic area, you’ll be in control of where the camera focuses.

More often than not, I shoot in single point AF-Area Mode. This is best used for stationery objects because you select a single point in your viewfinder to tell the camera where to focus. I’ve overlaid the Nikon D3300 focus points on the image above so you can see the options. In this particular photo, I wanted the Christmas tree to be in focus, so I chose the dot closest to the tree. Had I wanted the tree to be blurred, I would have selected a point on the wallpaper. By changing the focus point, you have greater control over your shot. When I am shooting, I often try several different focus points to see which I like best—it’s a fun way to get creative and get some really artsy shots.

Single point AF-Area Mode is also a great way to teach other people to use your camera. When my sisters take outfit photos for me, they know to put the red dot on my face or accessory I want to emphasize. That makes it really easy for them to keep the camera in focus, and since I set up the light for them, it essentially makes it a one-step process for them.

Dynamic AF-Area mode is best for subjects that are moving unpredictably—like a wild animal or a kid. Essentially, you set the focus point like you do in single point AF-Area Mode, but if the subject moves, the camera will focus based on information on the subject from surrounding focus points. I use this setting very rarely, but it’s good to know it’s there if you need it!

weekend getaway palm beach florida

02. Shoot in Natural Light

Repeat after me: natural light is everything. EVERYTHING!

When I was more novice, I tried to use my DSLR to shoot darker, artificially-lit indoor settings—like a dimly-lit restaurant or a corner of my apartment no where near a window. The result were uninspired, grainy, yellow photos that I certainly didn’t want to represent my brand on the internet. Now, whenever I encounter a situation I want to snap a photo of that’s not in natural light, I just whip out my iPhone. Those cameras are much better equipped to handle those situations—and truthfully, the quality of photos shot in artificial or dark light aren’t going to be that great anyway.

For my blog and my Instagram, I like to keep things bright and airy, so if I want to share a darker photo, I just throw it on my Instagram Stories or keep it for my personal memories. It definitely can be tempting to post a darker photo, but to stay on brand, I make a conscious choice to carefully curate the photos I share. (If you’re struggling with this, I recently started a personal Instagram where I don’t curate my feed at all and just post pictures I like, and it’s been such a nice outlet to have!)

As with most rules, there can be a few exceptions. For instance, the photo on the left above was obviously taken in natural light, but the photo on the right was not—there are no windows in the Colony Palm Beach’s hallways! I still shot this hallway with my DSLR though since it was very well lit with clean white light. I took a few on my iPhone as back up, but ended up posting the ones I took on my DSLR since they were a bit more crisp.

girls weekend guide to charleston south carolina

03. Play With Different Angles

When I take pictures—whether they’re staged flatlays, lifestyle shoots in my apartment, or of people/places/things in the world—I like to move around a get the shot from all different angles. As I explained in this post, I shoot with a fixed lens, meaning it doesn’t zoom. As a result, to zoom in and out, I move my body and how close or far away I am from the subject. I take this same concept and apply it to how I look at the subject by moving my body to capture it from different viewpoints. Trying different angles a great way to figure out what the best shot is, and oftentimes, it’s the angle I least it expect! A note that when you’re moving around outside, you may have to adjust your settings between angles since the lighting might be different in each location.

For instance, both photos above are of the same pink house on the Battery in Charleston. However, the one on the left is shot from across the street and the one on the right is taken from the sidewalk just in front of the house. While they’re both of the same subject, they’re dramatically different. Another example—not pictured—is when I tried to get a good picture of Lombard Street in San Francisco. It was extremely hard to shoot because I went in the afternoon when it was backlit from the famous curvy view you see in The Princess Diaries. To get a good shot, I walked up and down it’s curves for a solid 15 minutes before finding an angle that was well-lit and worked to capture the famous street in all its glory.

04. Edit Your Photos—But Only Slightly

My goal when shooting photos is to get the best photo I can “out of the can.” This means that I want to make sure the lighting and colors are as correct as possible when I take the photo. Lightroom is a great editing tool, but I like to use it simply to enhance what is already in the picture. Lightroom definitely can help correct over- or under-exposed photos and adjust colors and white balance, and from time to time certain photos I take need this extra TLC, but for the most part, I make minor edits. (You can read my easy Lightroom tutorial here.) If you take the time to properly set up your shot, you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run.

As you can see above, to edit the photo on the left, I bumped the exposure and highlights up since I like bright, airy photos. I also knocked the warmth down a bit (-5) to reduce some of the yellow hues and increased the vibrance slightly (+15) to really make the colors pop. I also cropped it slightly. This editing took me under a minute since the original photo was shot well.


If you want to read more about photography, don’t forget to check out my post on DSLR basics!

Leave a Comment


  1. YES to the natural lighting point!! Great post gal!

    Xx Taylor

    Published 1.25.18
    • Katie wrote:

      You always have the best photos, so I should be taking advice from you! x

      Published 1.27.18
  2. Kristin wrote:

    I just got a DSLR for Christmas, so I feel like this post was made for me! Thank you!


    Published 1.25.18
    • Katie wrote:

      I’m so glad it was helpful!

      Published 1.27.18
  3. Gentry wrote:

    For a girl who learned through “trial and error”- you are pretty fabulous! I always learn a lot through your photography posts and this was so helpful since this is definitely something I want to work on this year! So many great tips!

    Published 1.28.18
    • Katie wrote:

      Aw you’re too kind, friend! Can’t wait to see what great subjects you photograph this year :]

      Published 1.28.18