Photography Tips & Tricks for Beginners

These Photography Tips & Tricks for Beginners will teach you how to utilize the different settings on your camera. Find out how to take better photos with ease!Image of Women Photographing Food

Photography Tips & Tricks for Beginners

Below are nine photos I’ve taken along with an explanation as to why I chose certain camera settings, and some tips for replicating these types of photography shots. With these tricks and pointers you’ll be able to take great photos in tricky situations such as low light, nighttime, action, and using the flash.

Earlier this year I added a new feature to my blog — you can click on any photo to see the camera, settings, and lens I used to shoot that photo. I love being able to easily share this info with you guys. In February, shortly after I added this feature, I wrote a post explaining not only what settings I use when taking photos, but why I choose them. I also let you guys in on two very important disclaimers.

I Don’t Always Use The Right Camera Settings

I make mistakes. I forget to change settings from photo to photo. I quickly point and shoot. Or sometimes I just get lucky. My settings are by no means always perfect, and sometimes I cringe at the thought that someone might attempt to take a similar photo using those settings!

Your Photos May Vary

Even if my settings were perfect and you were to go back to the exact same spot, at the exact same time, in the exact same light, and use the exact same settings… the photo might not turn out exactly the same. Maybe not even close.

BUT, by knowing why I chose those settings, you can look at a photo and get similar results in your own photography. Below are nine photos I’ve taken this year along with the reasons why I chose the settings I did, and some tips and tricks for replicating these tricky situation shots.

Image of a Cute Puppy

How To Take Good Action Photos

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO: 200
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

For this photo, I…

  • Put my camera in TV (shutter priority) mode
  • Set my shutter speed to 1/500
  • Changed my focus mode to AI-SERVO
  • Made sure my shooting mode was set to High Speed Continuous
  • Set my focus point to right in the middle.

This is how I like to take outdoor action photos. The 1/500 sec shutter speed is just right for stopping and capturing action. Any lower and the action tends to get blurry. AI-SERVO mode is especially helpful if the subject is moving towards you and you are quickly snapping several photos in succession (AKA high speed continuous mode). In AI-SERVO the camera quickly refocuses on the subject as it moves before taking each picture. In other modes, the camera focuses once, but if you’re using high-speed continuous mode, (you know, where you press the shutter button down and it takes several photos in a row without you lifting your finger) it doesn’t refocus until you stop taking pictures and start again. And finally, I set my focus point to right in the middle. With action photos, it’s always hard to know where the action is going to go, but I figure keeping the subject right in the middle is always a safe bet.


Image of an Oreo Dessert in Progress

How To Capture Action In The Kitchen With Your Camera

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO: 800
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

I love capturing action photos in the kitchen. Pouring batter, sprinkling sugar, or drizzling hot fudge is a lot of fun. I like the stop-action look that a fast shutter speed gives photos, especially in the kitchen. For these types of photos, I put my subject as close to a window as I can — somewhere with lots of light — put my camera in TV mode, set my shutter speed to 1/500, and make sure my camera is in high speed continuous mode again. Since these photos are taken indoors, I usually need a higher ISO to make sure the photo is bright enough. Be sure to set up your photo and take a few test shots before actually pouring!

Image of a City at Night

Tips For Photographing A Nighttime Skyline

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/5
Shutter Speed: 10 seconds
ISO: 100
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

I love nighttime skylines. For this photo, I…

  • Put my camera in TV mode
  • Set my shutter speed to 10 seconds (that means I pushed the button, and 10 seconds later it’s done taking the photo!)
  • Set my ISO to 100
  • Used the 2-second self timer

You definitely need a very steady surface or a tripod for a photo like this. I didn’t have my tripod with me for this photo, but I was able to set my camera on a wide ledge of the building. I also used the 2-second self timer. That way I was able to press the button, then get my hand away from the camera before it actually started taking the photo, so the camera could steady itself while my hand was getting out of the way. My hand is not touching the camera at all as it’s taking the photo. I’m not using any type of starburst filter here. I think the starburst effect on the lights happens naturally with slow shutter nighttime photos, as it happened in all the NYC skyline photos from this set, and also appeared in my San Diego Skyline photo.

Image of a City Skyline at Night

How To Photograph A Nighttime Skyline With Water

Camera Canon: EOS 7D
Aperture: f/10
Shutter Speed: 15 seconds
ISO: 100
Lens: 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5

For nighttime skylines with water, I do everything exactly as the photo above for nighttime skylines, but I set my shutter speed a little slower to 15 seconds. I love the smooth, glassy effect a super slow shutter speed gives the water.


Appetizer Image in Low Light

Tips For Taking Photos In Low Light

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/6 sec
ISO: 3200
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

This photo almost looks as if I’m sitting right by a big window with tons of natural light. You’d never know it was taken in a very dark, dimly lit restaurant. For this photo I put my camera in AV mode (aperture priority) and set my aperture as low as it would go. But even with a high ISO, and a 1/6 sec shutter speed, which is really slow to hand-hold by the way, (I had to steady my elbows on the table) it was too dark to take the photo. I had my friend, who’s sitting just to my right, use the flashlight app on her phone to give me a little extra light to work with. If the top of the bowl is 12 o’clock, and the table is 6 o’clock, she’s probably holding the phone at 2 o’clock.

Image of a Skillet Dinner in Low Light

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO: 3200
Lens: 50mm f/1.4

Here’s another photo taken with a flashlight app for extra lighting. I love this trick for dark restaurants. If you don’t have a flashlight app, just use the screen of your phone. Every little bit of extra lighting helps!

Image of Desserts in Front of a Blurry Street

How To Take Photos Indoors Using Your Camera’s Flash

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO: 160
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

For this photo I…

  • Put my camera in AV mode
  • Set my aperture to 2.8
  • Used the pop-up flash on my camera

This photo was taken inside, right up against a big window with a snowy scene of NYC outside. I really wanted to capture both the cupcakes and the snowy NYC street in my photo, but I had a dilemma. If I exposed for the cupcakes, the street was blown out. If I exposed for the street, the cupcakes were too dark. Since I didn’t have my external flash with me, I just used the pop-up flash on my camera and snapped this photo. I got down low so the flash was absorbed by the cupcakes and not reflected off the window. The 2.8 aperture gives the snowy street scene a soft, blurred background effect.

Sunset Portrait Image

How To Take Photos With An Outdoor Flash

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO: 100
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

Here’s another photo taken with the pop-up flash on the camera, for the same reasons as the photo above. I wanted to get both my friend and the sunset equally exposed. I put my camera in AV mode, set my aperture to 8, popped up the flash, and snapped the photo.

Image of a Great View from a Window

Using Your Camera’s Flash Indoors

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Aperture: f/8
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO: 160
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8L

For this photo, I…

  • Put my camera in AV mode
  • Set my aperture to 8
  • Exposed for the window
  • Used an external flash

I really love taking photos indoors where you can see the view out the window, like the photo above. But again, usually you can either expose for the inside or expose for the outside. Using a flash lets you get both. I had my external flash for this photo, and I pointed it straight up at the ceiling. You can see it in the reflection of the window! I also exposed for the window here — I pointed the camera at the window and pressed the shutter button halfway down to focus, then pressed the exposure lock button on my camera (it looks like an asterisk on my Canon). I then re-framed the photo focusing on my feet and snapped the photo. Using the exposure lock button allowed me to expose correctly for the window, while focusing on my feet and letting the light from the flash expose them. The exposure lock button is a neat tool to correctly expose for one element in the photo while focusing on another.

If you see a photo on Kevin & Amanda you’d like to know more about, let me know! I’ll save it for a “What Settings Should I Use?” Part 3 post. :)

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80 Responses
  1. Koos

    After doing some reading on internet on lens quality and the associated mtf charts, I have wondered if one would not get sharper images by not going lower than F8 (although less light). According to mtf charts, quality is best at the centre of the lens, dipping towards the edge, depending on what lens is used. Expensive lenses dip less than cheap ones.

    On the focus side, my very old Minolta X700 film camera, has a circle in the centre of viewfinder with a disturbed dougnut shaped area arond the circle which is supposed to be at sharpest when object is in focus. Also, when viewing a vertical object, the image get split from top of circle to bottom of circle when not focused, which makes focus easier.
    Modern cameras have auto focus which work well under most circumstances, but when focusing manually, it is sometimes difficult to decide what is best focus point – also, infinity focus is way beyond infinity for canon lenses. A quarter of a millimter left, or right, then back left again, then oh no, the other was better. There is no indication of sharp focus and it becomes somewhat subjective. I wish Canon had an indication of sharp manual focus.
    If anyone knows of something, please let me know.

  2. Alison

    Love your posts and your explanation on what settings you use for different scenarios. I have the Canon 7D and I am interested in purchasing the Canon 28-70 f28 lens for an up coming trip to Europe. Is it really that heavy to carry around? Do you have another recommendation for a good all purpose lens to take if I only want to take one lens. I have the 18- 200, but just not happy with the clarity or sharpness of my pictures. Would welcome your suggestions.

  3. Sonja

    My husband and I just got our first DSLR for a trip to Italy this October (canon rebel T3i) and your tutorials have helped so much! I love being able to look at your photos and understand how you took them!

    But I do have more questions! Canon allows you to have custom picture styles when taking a photo. . .which seems like it could be nice, but I just don’t know what settings work. Do you use any of the picture styles, or just shoot in neutral and do all your editing in photoshop? Do you have any custom picture styles that you love and would be willing to share? On a related note, do you shoot in raw or jpg? I haven’t tried raw yet. . .I’m trying to take one step at a time and right now it’s all I can do to balance shutter speed/aperture/exposure! But I’ve started playing with the photos in photoshop (thanks to your tutorials) so I may be moving towards raw.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  4. Jennifer Allen

    Hey! 1st so jealous- I’m in love with your dogs! Anytime you need a babysitter, let me know.Smile:)
    I love your info on photography.
    I do however have a question, I cant find it on here now, I have 2 girls that i want to snap photos of and I also need to take good photos of my products I sell. i have a Cannon rebel.(Im really wanting to buy my 1st lens for it, but affraid I will buy the wrong thing)

    The only lens i have is the kit lens- ugggg! I have to get sooo close to the kids , Im not getting a good “blurred” background ( i love love love the Bokeh effect in photos). Im definately on a budget…what lens would you recommend for my next all around great lens to use?

    Thank you so much for sharing your life, and info of photos! Thanks for sharing your adorable dogs too.

  5. Chayanne

    Your simple to understand settings are awesome.. I have a Nikon D90 but kinda submitted to my Canon S95 especially for travelling.. I’m looking forward to my trip to the Gold Goast so I’m setting up my Canon S95 and G9 (Hubby) for the trip.. I always always have to refer to your website cos all this combo AV TV and number 1/.. is just tooo confusing for me… Too confusing… but I’m so grateful for your detail explaination.. It makes it so much easier to understand.. like you bump ISO to this because .. You used this because you want the bokeh… I dont think I have found any other simpler to understand – how to use the DSLR than yourself. I even recommend your website to my sister in law who is currently living in Norway and she now takes scenery and food pictures …

    I love that you explain every picture and one can see the differences and all in one page is super awesome! May I suggest if you can do like What settings is best for food photography…. What settings is best for street photography….. Theme park photography… Kids… I can never get a clear picture of my son.. he is always running around… Portrait.. It always amazes me how one can take superb portrait showing every beauty of a person… I hope you will be able to do this that would be awesome…

    Most websites show excellent photography but rarely shares the detail and yet simple way of how to understand how the camera works.. Love ya!

  6. Debbie


    I love your blog. Have been reading it for quite a while. Thank you for taking so much time to share with us. My favorites are your recipes and the dogs. Wish you were able to post more pictures/stories about Miley & Howie. I first discovered you on the Woof Board. My family has 2 4 yr. old Boston’s & a 7 yr. old. Bruno, Hazel & Clifford. (Clifford is brown/white)

  7. Kathleen

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do these tutorial posts. I always find them really helpful. You have the knack of explaing things in a simple to understand way.

  8. Tim Courtland

    Great photos, and great advice.

    I would like to comment on your use of the ISO setting. A high ISO will give you a better exposure in low light conditions, HOWEVER you are bringing in more grain and digital noise into the photo. You can really notice it in the indoor shots.

    For the kitchen one, I would have lowered my shutter and used ISO 300 at most. The cake mix is not going 50 mph, use the slowest shutter you can use handheld.

    For the indoor shots, use a tripod or rest the camera on something and use a really slow shutter speed at a low ISO. Maye 1/2″ or less. The second indoor shot could have been taken at a much lower ISO with that aperture setting.

    I noticed you were using a 50 mm f1.8 lens, one of my favorites. A f1.8 or even a f1.4 lens makes a huge difference in low light. Plus you get some awesome depth of field shots too.

    Just my two cents. If you are using high ISO on purpose, ignore my rants, but too often a great photo has been less than perfect because the ISO setting was used to get more light rather than the aperture or shutter.

  9. rena

    Thanks for the tips, I love that you posted exampled. For the indoor flash how do you get it so that the cupcakes aren’t washed out by the flash? Do you just step further back?

  10. christina @ ovenadventures

    Hi Amanda,

    I love these posts. You explain all the setting so well even I can understand what you are saying. Your last post actually improved my photos as I’m sure this post will too.

  11. Wenderly

    Love, love, love this! I am *little grasshoppa* when it comes to photography! Just got my big girl camera a few months ago & my appetite for learning more and more is insatiable at the moment! Thank you so much! Can’t wait for Part 3!

  12. Daneilia

    This is great! You always have resourceful information and your photography is awesome! Thank you for sharing all that you do.

  13. Janet Foster

    Amanda, I’m thinking aobut buying the Tamron version of the 24 to 70mm. Neither of them have image stabilization. Is it more difficult to shoot with a lens that doesn’t have image stabilization or some type of anti shake feature without a tripod? I don’t have the steadiest hands.

  14. talula

    Hi Amanda

    Thanks for your great tips. Just wondering whether you care about adjusting “picture style” and “metering mode” at all?

  15. Tiffany

    Thanks for posting this! I really enjoy and learn so much from your camera posts. I have a t1i and your little tips and tricks help me out a bunch. I’m definately gonna make a “what would Amanda do” booklet like Senja suggested. Thanks!

  16. marla

    Amanda…so many amazing photog tips in this post. I have always wondered about your night time skyline photos. Must try this some time. Also the indoor flash tips are wonderful. I need to check into that exposure lock-in setting.

  17. Allison [Girl's Guide to Social Media]

    I love this post. It’s so informative and I had no idea you launched that feature on your photos. So awesome!

  18. Michelle

    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge! This has been very helpful to this newbie :)
    Looking forward to your next lesson!

  19. Nancy@acommunaltable

    Hi Amanda!
    This post truly could not have come at a better time! The UPS man just brought my Canon 7D and 24 – 70mm lens!! You truly are gifted – not only at photography and cooking, but also in teaching! Thank you so much and I can’t wait for the next “lesson”!!

  20. Jeanette

    I have really been enjoying all your photography posts, so much to learn and so much I need to practice. Your nighttime shots are stunning! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

  21. Donna Cohen

    Oh my, your photos are simply breathtaking! Love that you are teaching, openly, to all who would like to take the shots like you do. For now, I must do my best with what I have and admire you incredible pictures!

    Continued blessings,

  22. Theresa

    This post is great. Thank you so much for the tips and tricks. I have a new Canon EOS 7D and am having a blast learning new features.

  23. The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh

    I’ve been waiting for this follow up! Thank you so much for the action shot in the kitchen setting. I’ve been having issues with that one so I will be practicing diligently!

  24. Patty K

    Hi Amanda! Thank you for the wonderful post. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind sharing before and after shots. It would be fun to see the difference.

  25. alisha

    Perfect info- I always wondered the purpose of an external flash and how to use it. Thank you for clearing up my mystery! Oh and the nighttime pics? Gorgeous! I live in San Diego and have shot the skyline with a tripod and a remote for my camera (I have a Nikon) and I still think your pics are clearer and more precise. Hmmm maybe I should get a Canon next ;)

  26. Casey @ Pocket Full of Sunshine

    This is really helpful, Amanda. Thank you so much! Your photographs are always amazing, and sometimes when I’m taking pics, I stop and think, “What would Amanda do here?” Haha. I love when you post photography tips/trics/how-tos!!

  27. Michele

    LENS HOOD QUESIONS – In the first picture of the 3 ladies taking the photo, the 2 have the same lens hood. Does anyone know what that lens hood is called? I have been searching everywhere for the exact lens hood in that photo in 72mm size. I settled on the petal style, but would much rather have this other one. I don’t have access to many camera stores, but I’ve googled like crazy and came up empty handed. Any info is greatly appreciated. Amanda – your photo tips are greatly appreciated as well, as always. Thanks.

  28. Sarah B.

    I agree with the post above that Rebecca wrote. Thank you so much for giving me some hands on tips with an explaination on why you did what you did. My friend told me about a recipe that you had on here and I have been hooked on your blog ever since. Speaking of recipes what is the recipe for that yummy looking oreo dish in one of your sample pictures? Thanks again for the great tips!

  29. Brandi@hisshabbyherchic

    Thanks so much for these tutorials. I seem to always just set my camera in aperture priority mode and hope for the best. There are so many other things to account for (I’ve never even thought about setting exposure and will be looking into that immediately!) that either I don’t know or forget to think about. I was at a wedding this weekend and I took good pictures except in a lot of cases my camera chose to focus on something in the background instead of the people I was trying to get. Now that I know about setting my focus point in the middle I hopefully won’t have that problem again! Thanks so much!!!

  30. Rebecca

    Thank you so much Amanda… Finally the kind of tips that are hands on helpful. I have a DSLR and am in the process of trying to learn how to use it as good as you do. I love taking pictures but I want to do more than just the automatic setting. Your guides are easy to understand and navigate. Thank you thank you thank you

  31. Jenni

    omigosh! you so totally do rock. here’s the thing…i bought an canon eos with such high hopes two months ago and haven’t even taken it out of the bag it came in. i mean i got the works with the package deal. but being totally camera uh…unsmart…i was stymied and didn’t want to keep the thing on manual all the time, but had no idea…none. THANK YOU because you totally ran the gamut of all light possibilities here and i am going to print all this off as a cheat sheet and take your information with me wherever i go so there is no…absolutely zero…guesswork. i would love any and all tutorials you can give an absolutely green beginner. there are lots of us out there….lurking. thank you again.

  32. Jodi

    I love your website…I always love seeing what you have to share. Your photos are amazing always. As a photographer myself, I have great photos from time to time and some that I would be very embarrassed to share. It is nice that you have given some nice instructions here for others to try. I was wondering do you do any photoshop on your photos or are they straight from the camera? I know I usually add some sharpening or even some noise reduction from time to time. If so you might share that too, I am always in “aw” of your photos. Thanks for sharing with us….and I want to add, your food photos always make the food look like it is right on my plate. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to see whats next.

  33. Stella

    Thank you so much for all these tutorials. I’m a fairly new beginner learning how to use my Nikon and taking pictures. Your example pictures and the settings are really a big help to teach me what settings I need to use. Again, thank you so much and I look forward to more tutorials!

  34. Dora

    Your photography skills are amazing, Amanda! I love coming back to your site, even if you don’t have a new post, I love re-visiting the old ones and watching the pictures! This tutorial is much needed, especially for someone like me, who is still experimenting with my nikon! ;-)

    Hugs from Athens,

  35. Kathryn

    Thank you so much – this was such a helpful article and I’ve bookmarked it knowing that I’ll return again and again. I love your night time scenery shots in particula r- just beautiful!

  36. Senja

    Oh this was soo helpful, thanks so much! Yesterday I posted photos which were taken outside when it got dark and I thought “I need to learn how to better use my manual settings for when the sun is setting”. I copied your tips and will make a little manual to keep in my camera bag. :)

    Thanks again!

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Meet Kevin & Amanda

Kevin and Amanda

We love to travel and to eat! Here we share our favorite quick and easy recipes, plus travel tips and guides for our favorite places around the world. If you have any questions about what camera I use or how I edit my photos, check out my photography tutorials.


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