Photography 101 – a Mini-Course

photography 101

By Rebecca LaChance PhD.

Welcome to Photography 101

In the first installment of her mini course, Photography 101 written especially for the Mutton Club, Rebecca LaChance takes us back to basics, for far from basic results.

Photography has never been more accessible to people than it is now.  And never has it had the potential to be so frustrating.

Why take (and print ) photographs?

 There are many reasons to take photographs – artistic, personal, spiritual, yet I think the most important reasons are:

  • because you want to proudly show off your own creativity.
  • because you want the prints to hang on your walls.
  • because you never get tired of seeing that “one special moment”.
  • because babies grow far too fast.
  • because your partner looks so cute with that kitten curled up on their chest.
  • because your daughters will want to see the photos of you at your strongest, at your silliest.
  • because your sons will want to see their gutsy Mom riding a motorcycle.
  • because your kids will use the photo prints to tell stories to their own kids.
  • because fifty years from now, your great grandkids will laugh at your silly clothes and hair styles.
  • because there is no story to be shared in a computer file, a lost USB, or a corrupt disk where all your photos might be stored.

And all those kids, grandkids and great-grandkids will know their legacy…because you showed them in pictures.

Okay, before this turns into a treatise on why I think photographic prints “rule”, let’s move on! Here goes with photography 101!

How do you get the photos you want?  This mini-tutorial is all about keeping it simple and demystifying photography.

#1 – Start where you are. Use what you have.

Not planning on a trip to Tuscany, Galapagos, or Iceland in the near future?  Don’t worry, the backyard is the perfect place to start. It’s always available, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  All you have to do is walk right out that back door. Or if you don’t have a backyard, take a trip to your nearest park.

Start where you are..

Here are some photos from my own backyard.

woodpecker portraitbestPerfect flicker-4

                         “Proud Woodpecker Portrait” (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2014                                                                         “Huddled Flicker” (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2015

Got a cell phone camera? Perfect.

Have a small point and shoot camera? Perfect.

Bought a “Big Name” digital camera with lots of bells and whistles? Perfect.

The point is…the beauty of the photograph comes from the eye and skill of the photographer, not from the price or size of the camera.  And the ubiquitous cell phone is a perfect example of “use what you have”.  All cell phone cameras today contain enough pixels to make lovely prints.

(A pixel is a minute area of illumination on a display screen (like your cellphone screen or camera view screen) used to compose an image.   The pixel is the reason for item #2.)

#2  Fill the frame

Fill the frame should become your mantra while you are learning photography or improving your skills.  No matter what type of camera you are using, fill the frame with the subject you are trying to photograph.

So, let’s talk about the frame. What is the frame?  Literally, it is the screen that you see on your cell phone. It is the screen you see through the eye piece/view finder of your camera.  Think of that camera screen or phone screen as a picture to be surrounded by a picture frame.

You want to fill the picture frame.

Yes, this might mean you have to get a little closer to the subject, or you might have to zoom in to have your subject fill the frame.  But why is it important?

Back to our friend, the pixel. It’s probably easier to show why we want to fill the frame.

“Andreas plays” (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2015. Aurora, CO

In the top photo we see my grandson’s chubby fingers manipulating a build-a-toy.  I wanted to focus on his little fingers flying around the toy, so this is how I filled my frame.

But what if my intention had been to really focus on the tiny piece he holds in his fingers?  And I took the same photo above and cropped it down to focus on that tiny piece of toy? And what if I had the picture blown up to put inside a 5 inch x 7 inch picture frame? The photo below shows us exactly what would happen.

andreas cropped

Blur, lots of grain, little squares of light.  Not pretty.

So, the bottom line is…if you want to get that cute picture of your dog kissing the neighbor’s little boy…fill your frame with the boy and the dog.  Maybe even fill your frame with nothing more than their little faces.

Don’t stand back and take the “far-away” shot and then try to crop the picture down to the tiny little point that interested you in the first place.

Fill the frame with your point of interest!

 #3 Practice with all the modes and programs your camera has

And what if you do have that Big Name Camera with all the bells and whistles?  You have probably read, or heard, other photographers tell you “You must use MANUAL MODE”.

Well, guess what?

You can’t really use manual mode effectively until you understand how your camera works!  And there is only one way to find out how your camera works…

Use it!  And start in the auto mode!  Yes, you read that correctly. It is okay to use the auto mode – for everything.  That is the only way you will learn what your camera can and can’t do in different modes.pelican drying wings

  “Pelican Drying Wings 2” (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2014

This pelican photo was taken with my Big Name camera set in auto mode.  And, it was taken about 4:00 p.m. Generally, 4:00 in the afternoon is not considered to be an ideal time for “good light”.

And I suggest you do the same thing with each and every program on your camera, including all those wonderful little “scenic” or artistic modes.  Why would you want to do this?  Because you may just find that one of those modes produces photographs to your liking.

Baker Park rain small (1 of 1)

 “Baker Park Rain” (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2015, Thurmont, MD.

This photograph was taken in my local park (Start where you are) at 5:30 a.m during a rain shower.  It was taken with the “Night” program of my camera.  (Use what you have.) I experimented with the “Night” program on two different Big Name Cameras and my cell phone.

I rather like the look of this photograph. Now, I know I can trust the “Night” Program of this particular camera to produce the type of photograph I like.

#4 Meet your new best friends – pen and paper

I recommend you acquire a notebook and a pen dedicated to your photography.  This will teach you much more about how your camera works than reading seventy-two internet articles that are all titled “6 Things You Must Do To Take Gorgeous Photos.

Develop a grid in your notebook – something that will make it easy for you to write your notes.

Your grid might look something like this:

grid 4

It’s best to make an entry after every shot you take.  It’s far too easy to think you will remember everything you did and try to make your notes later.  You already know what will happen…”later” you will forget how many shots you took in “night” mode and how many/which shots were in “landscape” mode.  You will forget when you moved from the auto to the aperture.

Just do it…take the notes as you take each picture.

You really won’t know if you like how the picture looks and how the program worked for you until  you download all those camera files into your computer to look at them.  This is when that notebook discipline comes in VERY handy.  Just match the shot number from your notebook with the shot number you see on your computer screen. Decide, “I like it, yes.” or “I like it no.”

#5 How to practice

Plan your practice.  In this case, the first lesson is to “fill the frame”.  Take a minimum of five shots every day – yes, I said “every day”- practicing on only filling the frame.  Then write the data for each shot into your notebook.

Don’t worry about whether you should be experimenting with the other modes/programs.

Practice filling the frame while on auto mode five times a day for five days at all hours of the day – a total of twenty-five shots.  Plan a special focus on photography one holiday if the day job absolutely gets in the way of being consistent on this. But you will find as each day goes by that it becomes easier and easier to remember to fill the frame.  And you will quickly accumulate an understanding of what your camera can and can’t do under any circumstance.  This is valuable information!

At that point, start experimenting with those other programs/modes on your camera.  I encourage you to stay with the five shots a day for five days at all hours.  By the end of each five days you will have all the information you need to discern if that particular program/mode has some virtue for your personal photography.

And it will be easily accessible to you because it is all in your notebook.

Congratulations!  You’ve completed Photography 101! You are well on your way to producing the photographs that you love and want to hang on your walls.


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 RebeccaL (22)Rebecca LaChance, PhD, is a painter and photographer, exploring success in art & photography.  She tests, and then reports back to her readers about the effectiveness and results she experienced. She lives in beautiful Maryland State on the East Coast of the US, surrounded by mountains and farms. Rebecca firmly believes, if she can do it…anyone can.  And she shares the good, the bad, and the ugly of the processes she used so you can build your creative business.

 To find out more about Rebecca’s work, check out and sign up for her free guide, “5 Things You Need” which lists the items you need to stay safe and comfortable when you’re just starting out in night photography.