A few things I've learned about photography since I got my DSLR camera:
Don't shoot in auto
Before I learned how to shoot in the various other settings on my camera, I always shot auto. That way, the camera picks what it thinks the best settings are for the lighting situation going on so you don't have to think about it one iota. The reason this is bad is you don't get to see all the wonderful things your camera can do. It produces the same kind of pictures any other camera would. Another thing I don't like about auto is that it will almost always use flash. I never use the flash on my camera. Unless it's absolutely necessary - where we are in low light and I just need to capture the moment and not worry about whether or not the picture will turn out blurry.
Shoot, shoot and shoot again
You don't learn unless you try. A lot. Sometimes I will just take the camera and a couple different lens out in the back yard and take pictures of the same things I've taken pictures of thousands of times before. But I do this to get practice. Practice in different light. Practice with different settings. Etc.
Another thing I do is take hundreds of pictures at a time. While most professional photographers would probably think this is unnecessary and the mark of an amateur, I don't care. I would rather have a lot of pictures to go through, than to find out I screwed up somehow during the shot and got a blurry capture or one that couldn't be saved in Photoshop. Most of the time, if I get 4 captures of the same shot, one will for sure be sharper than the others. And then I can just delete the rest.
If you can avoid it, don't shoot in the sun at high noon
This is especially true for portraits. If you are shooting in the sun (and it really doesn't matter what time of day it is) there is so much glare. Skin really looks much nicer and you don't get shadows when you find shade. Sometimes a really great picture can be ruined if you don't pay attention to glare from the sun. I learned this the hard way taking Christmas photos for my sister. This was an indoor situation but the same principle applies. She wanted her family to have their photo in front of her fireplace, which happened to be adjacent to a big picture window. And the sun had cast a bright hot spot on the left side of almost every one's face. It was something I had no idea how to fix in Photoshop. All because I didn't pay attention at the time I was shooting.
|can you see the glare? of course you can.|
|I tried to fix it as best as I could but it wasn't pretty. Not nearly as nice as it could have been had I just paid attention|
Pay attention to backgrounds
It can ruin a great picture if you have a distracting background. On the other hand, if you find things that produce wonderful bokeh with large apertures (leaves are super perfect for this) it can make the background seem magical.
|see the background? bokehlicious!|
Portrait or landscape
When you switch this within your camera to be in sync with what you are actually photographing, it will make a huge difference in the color and overall feel of the photo.
|see how this picture has more of a cooler tone and it makes her fur look blue?|
|this picture is warmer and I think gives a truer black|
This is another thing I always set to "auto" because I didn't know how to use it properly. I'm still not a professional and know all the ins and outs of it but I do have a better understanding of it now. Basically, the higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the image sensor is to light. So if you are in lower light situations, you can crank up the ISO. However, in doing so, you will get more noise or grain in the photo. I guess I try, when possible, to keep my ISO at 100. But I find that a lot of the time, it works well at 400. It all boils down to what the situation is and luckily the viewing screen is a savior because when I take a picture and find it's too light or too dark or too this or too that, I can adjust accordingly and see the result instantly.
This is the artistic part of photography. I'm still not sure I do this right half the time. What might be pleasing to my eye might not be to someone else. Generally as a rule, I've read that when taking a portrait, the person should take up 2/3rds of the grid. And the rule of 3 (rather than 2 equal parts) is more appealing in a photograph. But basically, I just move the camera around until I find a pleasing composition and go for it. Sometimes people will say to me, "oh, that's pretty, you should get a picture of that!" And while the thing they are referring to is pretty indeed, I know that it will be boring as hell in a photograph. Maybe that's just because I'm not creative enough to make it interesting. It's all about composition.
|to me, this photo has an artistic composition to it|
I'm sure there are many other things that I've learned, but those are the big ones that stand out. It's a constant learning process and I'm always striving to be the best I can be behind the camera so there is less time spent fixing mistakes in Photoshop. There are times when I'm not concerned about getting the best possible result. Because sometimes you just want to focus on capturing the moment rather than making sure it's a professional looking photograph.