The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners


Lesson Info


Up to this point, we've been concerned about exposure, shutter speeds, apertures, ISL, and that's a big part about photography. But the reason I, and probably you, will delete a photo more commonly than anything else is that it's not in focus. I don't know of any technology out now or in the future, and I would love to be proven wrong on this, that will resurrect out of focus images. Oh, wouldn't that be great. But it doesn't exist, and I don't know how it could possibly exist. So we have to get focusing right in the field. If you don't get this right in the field, it goes in the garbage can. Let's talk a little bit about focusing. I am a manual person, I like to manually do things, but you know what, I am perfectly happy with auto-focus. It is faster and more accurate than I can manually focus in most situations. Manual focus is fine for certain types of situations, possibly landscape photography or product photography, where the camera's on the tripod. But the auto-focus system in mo...

dern cameras works great. The Nikons and cameras are going to have auto-focus switches right on the lens. On a lot of the other brands, it might be built into the menu system. Just be aware of where it is to turn it on. Special note to anyone who uses Nikons. They appear to be in a long transition of, they used to have the switch on the body but now it's on the lens, and in most cases, it's on both. I just leave the Nikon One in auto-focus on the body all the time. If you want to go back and forth, just flip the one on the lens, because that appears to be the way they're going in the future with all their camera and lens designs. If you want auto-focus, you need them both in auto-focus. If you want to manually focus, you could switch either one of them. First thing to know about focusing is that your camera has areas that it is looking towards to achieve focus. It needs contrast, lines, or texture, or something to grab onto in those focusing points. There are many different cameras and there's many different focusing patterns. This is one of the more simplistic patterns out there, just nine focusing points. If you frame your subject up like this, and you press down on the shutter release, you are not going to be allowed to take a photo because there is nothing of contrast or texture in those boxes, all right. So you have to be aware of what box is activated, what's it looking for, and is there anything of contrast. If you point it at a blank white wall, it's just not going to shoot. This is one of the most common frustrations. It's actually one of my favorite things to fix on a broken camera. Someone will say, "John, my camera won't take a picture. "Look, see, I press it down and it won't take a picture." "Here," and I pick it up, and I carefully point one of those brackets on something with lines or texture, click, click, click, click, works perfect. Hand it over to them and they're like, "It still doesn't work." Then I can take it back and it works, works, works. It's because I'm careful about what is in the frame with each of those. All right, so do you think you can focus on something like this, nods, yes or no. Yes, can you focus on something like this? Not if that's not where the brackets are. You have to be very careful. There can't just be lines nearby, they have to be actually in those boxes wherever they happen to be on your camera. Cameras these days will have many different focusing options, and one of the first options is all bracket focus. Now, it goes by different names. It could be called group or some other name. This is where it's got a whole bunch of focusing points and they are all turned on. This is really easy for the camera to work with because there's lots of points of data for it to work with. But the question is, if each one of those points lands on something at a different distance from the camera, which one should it focus on? It can focus on the middle one, or maybe the back one, the front one, it could average all the information that it gets out of it. There's a lot of systems that it could potentially use, but all the cameras that I've ever seen all use the exact same system. They focus on whatever is closest to you. Whatever one of those, how many ever points you have, whatever is closest is what matters the most. It's often going to light up. It'll blink green or blink red. It'll do something in your camera to say hey, this is the one that's most important if you have chosen all of them to work with. That isn't always where you want to focus though. It's fine for general photography, for point and shoot where you're just going to point the camera around and you just generally want to photograph it on a scene that's not too special. But when you want to get in and control things, you're going to need to get in and choose a single point yourself. I can't show you this. You're going to have to investigate it on your own camera. You should know how to choose a single point and then move that point around to all the available options. On some basic cameras, it'll be nine points. My first auto-focus camera had one focusing point. Then they had three and then they had five. And now they have, well, actually, they have more than 153 on some cameras. There are many different focusing points that you can choose. If you want to focus on something that's off-center, you can do that if you want. Now some cameras, now actually on this one, pretty much all the cameras I've seen, the center one tends to be a little bit more sensitive. Little side note here, this is true for single lens reflex cameras, Nikons and Canons, not necessarily true for all the mirrorless cameras, okay. But for the Nikons and Canons, the middle one has always been the most sensitive to different types of contrast and light. I'm not saying that it's more accurate. It's just more sensitive under different light levels and different texture levels. It's the one that a lot of photographers use. I watch a lot of CreativeLive's classes. They're here in this exact same studio. They get a question from the student, what focusing are you using, and I'm just using center point focusing. I hear that over and over and over and over again. That just tends to be what a lot of photographers choose because it's the most sensitive. Now a lot of cameras will have an additional option, not all cameras, some cameras. I call this a wide point. It's a group of points, it's not all, it's not one, it's something in-between. It could be, I've seen it four, five, nine, twenty-one, thirty-seven, it could be any number between one and whatever the maximum number is here. This is kind of nice if your subject is moving around a little bit. It's kind of hard to keep a little tiny box on a subject that's moving around, very hard to do. This gives you a little bit of a larger target area. This is something that I use when I'm doing action or sports photography. But for kind of stationary subjects, I prefer the single point. I prefer to stay away from all bracket because it's just a little too general and I don't have control over where exactly it's going to focus. There are three different systems, single, group, and all points. Pretty much all the cameras that I know in the market will have the choice of going single point and all points. A lot of them will have this group point, which is sometimes named zoom or zone, dynamic area, point expansion, look for terms like that when you're diving into your menu system which is where you'll need to go to turn this on. Now beyond where you focus is how you focus. Single auto-focus is where the camera will look for sharp focus. Then once it figures it out, it settles in and it stops turning the lens, stops changing the lens. This is really good for subjects that are stationary. Nikon calls this AFS, which is kind of the most common term in the industry. Canon calls it One Shot because it's designed to get one shot off of that subject. If I am using the center focusing point and I could, in this scenario, in this composition, I could choose a focusing point way off to the side but I don't have one on this camera here, this theoretical camera. In order to get this picture in focus with just the center point activated, the shutter release is a two-stage pressing. When you press halfway down, it focuses the camera. Let's put our subject right over where we want it focused, with that center focusing point. By pressing halfway down, we lock the focus in. Now the camera has stopped focusing. We recompose the photograph. Then we can press all the way down on the shutter release. That way, we get to choose what's in focus and our final composition. That's what photographers like, photographers are control freaks. I want to focus where I want to focus, and I want it composed the way I want it composed. That way you can get exactly what you want even if things aren't lined up for you very simply. Now, if you did have a camera that had 153 focusing points and one of them was way up there in the corner, yes, you could choose that one. But not all cameras have that option. Single focusing is how I have my camera for general purpose photography. When I'm shooting sports and action, which I love to do, the camera needs to track that action so that I can shoot multiple shots as that subject is moving towards me or away from me or wherever it happens to be. Canon calls this AI Servo. Nikon uses the term that most people use, which is either continuous or AF-C, auto-focus with a continuous style to it. I like photographing runners. When the runners are coming in, I'm going to press halfway down, having those focusing brackets on the subject. Then if I have the motor drive turned on so it continuously shoots as I press down on the shutter release, as the subject is moving closer to the camera, they stay in focus because the lens is tracking their movement. Now, this tracking capability is highly variable from camera to camera and lens to lens. The fact that some cameras are really good at tracking action and other cameras, not so good. But if you do have a camera that does it well, you can shoot action, shoot a whole series of photographs with every one of them in focus, but you have to be in the continuous auto-focusing mode. We have single, we have continuous focusing, and beyond that, we do have one more: Auto auto-focus. This is where the camera decides for you which focusing system you should have, either single or continuous. Now there's a number of cameras that have little mode dials on the top of them, and they'll have either a green camera or a full auto mode that you can stick them into. When you stick it into that full auto, the simplest mode possible, it is in auto auto-focus, which means it is deciding for you whether your subject is moving or not. I have found that to be a major problem when your subject moves around, because it thinks it's still sometimes and other times it thinks it's moving. So it's a very simple question. Are you shooting action or not? If you're shooting action, it should be in the continuous mode. If it's a stationary subject, it should be in the single mode. Then what we talked about earlier is we have single point, group point, and all points. I do find myself using similar systems most of the time. For general photography, single auto-focus and single point. It gives me a lot of control, I can precisely focus on a stationary subject very easily. When I'm shooting action, I'm going to be in the continuous mode and I'm going to choose group point if my camera offers that as an option. If it doesn't have that option, I'll take all points, that's not bad. I would prefer group points to have a target about the size of my subject. If I was you shooting me, I would want a target about the size of my torso, so that it has a lot of areas to hit and pick up focusing points on it. So single, single, it depends really on what I'm doing, but single, single, for probably about 80% of my photography, and then I switch into continuous when I have those action scenes. This is a relatively short section. There's not that much more information I need to convey, but this is really important because out of focus pictures get thrown in the garbage. If you don't get this right, you don't get your camera set up right, you don't pay attention to what your camera is doing, you're not going to get sharp focus. We got a lot of students here in the class today. Almost does not get you anywhere. If you show me your portfolio, and you say ah, I got this great moment, and I go, yeah, it's a little out of focus, but it's almost right, no, forget it. No almost in focus pictures, unless it's a plane landing on the Hudson River and you're the only person that got it. There's a few exceptions to those rules but generally, almost in focus will never get you anywhere. They have to be, that's perfect. That's perfectly in focus. That's what we expect. That's what is expected in a photograph. Tim Carbough asks, when is it preferable to switch to manual focus? Manual focus, in my mind, is tripod time, because if you're standing and manually focusing, you adjust it for here and you move ever so slightly, it's out of focus. If I'm on a tripod, I can put my camera into manual focus, I can throw it into the magnify mode, and then I can check to see where it is and then it's all set up. If I'm doing something in the studio where I'm working on a tripod, if I'm out doing landscape photography and I got the camera down there and I'm working with it, I can get it set up. I enjoy that because once I set it, it's done. It's not going to change on me, no matter what happens. When I press the shutter release, it's not going to refocus on me. Now, there may be a few other cases where I would use it handheld, but that's kind of my defining factor. When I know the camera is not going to move around. Great, thank you. Gordon has asked, how do I choose a focal point on a mirrorless camera? Is there something different with mirrorless? Right, so focus points are just completely different from camera to camera, and it really depends. The latest greatest cameras like my little Fuji here, has a little joystick, and this thing is fantastic, because if I want that focusing point, I can just (clicks tongue) and (clicks tongue), and I can move it all around. The best cameras in my mind, the ones that have really good controls, will have a little joystick or they might have a dial or they might have buttons where you can directly change it. On many cameras, you got to hit the menu button or you got to hit the quick menu. You got to go into the selection and then you got to select the little point and then move it over. Hopefully, it's not too many button presses. There are a few cameras where you can customize the up-down-left-right controller on the back of your camera. The default system is that it is your navigation for your focusing point, so all you is just press that and you can navigate around. Okay, so, again from Kim, for sports, is it better to use single point or all point if those are the only options? If you're shooting sports, I would recommend all point over single point in most situations. I can't imagine every scenario but in most cases, I would choose all points so that it has more points of reference to pick up on your subject. The exception to that would be if your subject is very small in the frame, which it probably shouldn't be, you should probably be closer or using a bigger lens so that you have several focusing points landing on your subject. Great, and I have a lot of these in this scenario, what would you use, which is great, but we can get through a few of them. Peter says, during an event filled with both still and moving moments such as a wedding, is it smart to just keep it on continuous mode or will there be an issue with that? You could keep it in the continuous mode. I would say that there's going to be a little bit of slop. You're going to have a little bit of slight focusing because when it is doing the continuous, it's constantly adjusting. So you could keep it in the continuous mode and then, well, the problem with that is, you're going to have to have your subject where that focusing point is. You're not going to be able to focus, lock, and recompose. That is where backbutton focusing would come in handy. This is for Phil Westley, what about for star trails, what focus mode would you use for that? Star trails should be done from a tripod and the subjects, while they are moving, they're staying ... Okay, let's just not get too cosmic on this, they're staying relatively the same distance from us. It's all basically infinity. That would be a perfect time for infinity focus, manually focusing on infinity. Let me clarify that. Don't just turn your lens to infinity, because that may or may not be infinity. You're going to have to check in the viewfinder or on the back screen to see that the stars are in focus and leave it manually set in that case.

Class Description

“This is a great starter class. I thought I understood how shutter speed and aperture worked together, but this class made it come together in a matter of minutes. I'm already taking better pictures and this is just the beginning!” -Jennifer Manley, CreativeLive Student

Learn how to take the kind of photograph you’ll want to print and pass on to the next generation. John Greengo is back to teach this updated photography for beginners class. You’ll learn the principles of good beginner and intermediate photography and get the skills necessary to create amazing photos. 

Advanced cameras are available at modest price points, but learning how to use them takes an investment.

  • Learn the the most essential functions of your camera 
  • Gain confidence in putting new functions into action 
  • Get the swing of basic photographic terminology 
  • Feel prepared to move on to more advanced classes 
  • Gain a solid understanding of must-know lighting and composition techniques 
  • Lean to position yourself and your subject to capture the best photo possible with the camera you have – no additional gear needed 
If you want to take more memorable and inspiring photographs of your travels, your friends and family, or the great outdoors then this photography for beginners class is for you. Learn how to make average pictures amazing photographs and gain the ground necessary to continue your photography education.  

“This is a super introduction to photography for anyone who really wants to learn how to understand and begin to use the camera to its full extent. John is an excellent teacher, very easy to follow, with great graphics and examples.”  -Sarah, CreativeLive Student  


Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!