A beginner’s guide to photography

By guest writer and photographer, Zaid Joseph.

Which entry-level camera is a good investment for taking lifestyle/blog style images?
I would suggest the camera on your phone. Don’t be bogged down by the tech. Today’s mobile phone cameras are amazing and with proper lighting (the #1 factor in good photography) you can take some great images.

When you move onto a dedicated camera for photography, and you’ve upped your lighting game, the next important thing you’ll need is a lens. A good lens on an okayish camera body is better than an okayish lens on a good camera body. This can get very complicated and costly. I recommend a camera that allows you to swop out lenses. A Canon entry-level camera like the Canon EOS 1300D DSLR with the kit lens, is a great option. The biggest camera game changer to this setup is the 50mm f1.8 lens or even better, the 50mm f2.5 Macro lens.

Can you suggest any camera settings for lifestyle images?
Camera settings are dependent on the look and feel you want to achieve. Lifestyle images can be anything, so work with a reference image close to the image you want to achieve.

Put the camera in manual mode. If you’re indoors, increase your ISO, dial in your aperture to the look and feel you want and then adjust your shutter speed to the subject matter you’re photographing.

Here’s a cheat sheet:
ISO: Controls light sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. The higher the ISO, the brighter the image. Too much ISO will create too much ‘noise’ on the image.

Aperture: Controls how much light enters the camera through the lens. The wider the aperture, the more light allowed in, but the shallower the depth of field (less of the image will be in focus from the focus point). The smaller the aperture the less light but the deeper the depth of field (more of the image will be in focus from the focus point). Apertures are lens dependent, not a feature on the camera body, so a different lens can give wider apertures than others.

Shutter speed: Controls how much light enters the camera AFTER the aperture. The faster the shutter speed, the less light, the slower the shutter speed, the more light enters. Too slow and the shutter speed will blur moving objects in the shot. Even slower shutter speeds will blur the entire image because of your own hands shaking ever so slightly. A tripod eliminates this problem. I highly recommend it.

What is the best editing app that is accessible to everyone?
Most editing apps these days, offer the same features. Photoshop is the exception and is an industry standard but it isn’t cheap. I would recommend ACDSee. It’s relatively cheap, you don’t need a super computer to run it and it’s not nearly as complicated as Photoshop to get into.

We’re all a fan of those ‘depth of field’ images with the blurred effect, how do we achieve this?
I touched on this earlier with aperture. This is also lens dependent and also sensor-size dependent, if you’re not using a camera such as a crop sensor-type camera like the Canon EOS 1300D DSLR or a Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) camera. The bigger the sensor, the easier it is to achieve a shallower depth of field. The f1.8 lens on a portrait lens of a phone camera will never give you the same look as a full frame Canon 5D can produce. This is just simple physics. iPhone’s have digital effects that look great and mimics this effect. Still has a bit of way to go though.

Which camera would you suggest is a good investment for product images?
Canon EOS 1300D DSLR with kit lens and 50mm f1.8 with close up lens filters or Macro tubes.

What advice can you offer for lighting product shoots if you don’t have a studio space?
Best lighting you can use is window lighting. The colour rendering is the best you can get. The brightness is really good and you can control the light angle by moving the objects.

Using a big sheet of thick white paper is the best way to create a seamless background for your product shots. Make sure you use another sheet of white paper on the opposite side of the window to brighten up the shadows in the image IF you feel the shadows are too dark.

If I want a more professional DIY setup, what would you recommend?
I would recommend continuous lighting. Led lighting is great but costly. CFL bulbs are cheaper and easier to use with umbrellas. I would then recommend a light stand, a bulb holder with an umbrella bracket and a white umbrella, and add a silver side/white side reflector as a setup. If you have the cash, go with two setups.

What is your advice on taking photographs outdoors?
This is dependent on the image you want to take. The sun is a small (because it’s far away) light source even though it is very bright. Small light sources give you hard shadows and this is referred to as hard lighting. For fashion, this is sometimes preferred. Generally, softer lighting is what most people go for. You can get this by putting your subject matter in the shade on a bright day or shooting in the open on an overcast day as the clouds will ‘soften’ the light from the sun.

Using a reflector (this can be a silver car sun visor) is a good way to control the brightness of shadows in the shot. Best to get a friend to help out and hold it.

What are the best phones for photography?
At the moment, the top of the line phones from almost all major manufacturers will give you a similar result. Some with built-in multiple lenses will allow more creative use such as the shallow depth of field effect. They do cost a lot and a Canon EOS 1300D DSLR with a 50mm f1.8 lens will beat it, every time, at half the cost, with better image quality.

Any tips for taking pics using your phone?
Taking photos with your phone these days can give amazing results. The best way to get the most out of your phone is to understand its limitations. The camera has a tiny tiny sensor. It’s not good in low light, or slow shutter speeds or shallow depth of field. Overhead shots work great with cellphones. So flat lays for products or food for example, with good lighting can look very professional.

If I want my images to have the same look and feel on my Instagram feed, how can filters help?
The best filters to use for the Instagram look is filters on Instagram. Nearly all modern cellphones will have a set of filters in the photo apps built in. Some of them are really great.

What are the top three benefits of using a professional photographer?
#1 – Results
A professional photographer will be able to give you the images you want, consistently. They’re able to understand your brief and the look you’re going for. They’re able to photo-edit, match colours to your brand colours and shoot the images with post-production and editing in mind.

#2 – Creativity
A professional photographer will be able to give you the images you want and images you didn’t know you wanted. They will have a good eye for the type of photography they do and will be able to add creative touches to the shoot in ways you might not have thought of.

#3 – Experience
When things aren’t perfect, a professional photographer must know how to fix the problem on the spot. This can only be achieved when they know their craft well and can pull solutions from past shoots. The more shoots, the more experience. An experienced photographer will be able to foresee possible problems for any shoot and then help you prepare for them. This allows them to help you plan and budget better for shoots.

Zaid is a professional photographer based in Cape Town. He has shot everything from personal portraits to fashion and beauty features, products, events and advertising campaigns. Follow him on Instagram @zaid_joseph_photography.