Jessica Billings

6 Photography Tips for Beginners

by Jessica Billings

The best thing about art is that there’s always room for growth. At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to become a better photographer, and here’s what I discovered.

Bighorn sheep at Logan Pass – due to the low light I had to have my ISO pretty high.

1. Manual mode is a must.

My photography improved immensely as soon as I left the comforts of auto and aperture priority mode on my DSLR. Take the time to learn ISO, shutter speed, and aperture and how they work together. This will take your camera from essentially being the same as a point-and-shoot or an iPhone to a tool that helps you create amazing images.

2. Golden hour is your friend.

Shooting in the middle of the day? Not so much. Golden hour, the hour after sunrise and before sunset, yields photos with softer shadows and more dynamic skies. It also allows for longer exposures, which are perfect for waterfalls and can help smooth out lakes. When taking photos of people during this time, I put the sun behind them for a beautiful glow. It’s a great time to get photos of alpenglow, the rosy light of the setting or rising sun seen on mountains.

Swiftcurrent Lake and Many Glacier Hotel at sunrise.

Beargrass off Going-to-the-Sun Road.

3. Patience is a virtue.

My tendency initially was to get to a location, quickly snap some pictures, and head onto the next place. I’ve found that quality photos require much more intention. Now I’ll arrive at a location and do some exploring. I’ll look for things I want to be present in the shot and things I’d like to avoid. Sometimes a better angle is only 10 yards away. I like to arrive before sunrise so I can give myself time to take in a location and find my vision.

4. You’re going to get messy. So is your camera bag. And your tripod.

Photography is an adventure. I climb over rocks, lay down in the dirt, walk in the water – all to get the shot I want. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that allow you to kneel, lay down, bend in odd ways, etc. But don’t get too crazy for the shot – always be aware and cautious of your surroundings.

5. Tripods are a girl’s best friend.

In the early morning/late evening light, a longer exposure is necessary in order to avoid having to bump up the ISO. Before a photography workshop I recently attended, I rarely touched a tripod – in fact, I didn’t even own one. Now I don’t go anywhere without it. My tripod has also served as a trekking pole of sorts on icy/snowy terrain – that’s my kind of multipurpose tool.

6. Never stop learning.

There’s always room for improvement and growth, no matter how long you’ve been taking photos. Follow your favorite photographers on social media, invest in workshops, and never stop challenging yourself. Every time you step outside with your camera is an opportunity to grow, learn, and create something new.

Sunset at Hidden Lake Overlook.