Photography 101 | Beginner’s Guide


For my beginner’s guide to photography, I take advantage of camera novice and Independent columnist, novelist and Topshop senior digital editor Alison Taylor and answer her photography questions while she has a go with the new Olympus Pen E-PL7 – read my overview of this fab little camera here… 

She says: “I love photography and think I’ve got a decent eye for a good picture but the technical side puts me off. Why? Because I’ve got no patience – I don’t want to grapple with reading a manual.

I’m also looking for a new ‘hobby’ (if that’s the right word!) to get my teeth into. It’s Autumn and I’m really feeling that ‘Back to School’ urge. Being a journalist, too, photography is the perfect partner.”


Question 1: Are there some basic settings that I could use and not worry too much?

Yes! I keep things simple by having my camera set to Aperture only most of the time. This means I don’t have to decide the shutter speed but I can set the aperture, ISO, exposure and white balance. The aperture I set to the camera’s lowest F-stop (my lenses are 1.8, 1.4 and 1.2) for detail shots and higher, eg, F5.0 or more when I’m shooting in cities or landscape. The ISO I keep below 400 during the day but whack it up if shooting indoors or at night. Exposure I tend to keep between 0.3 & 0.7, unless conditions require otherwise and white balance I keep on the ‘sun’ or ‘shadow’ setting for outdoors and the ‘lightbulb’ setting for lit indoors.


Ali is wearing Topshop Boutique slip dress – practically sold out, just one left! And the camera strap I found on

Question 2: How do you get that blurry background?

Blurry backgrounds are achieved with a shallow depth of field – where only part of the image is in focus. The technique is to set your aperture to the lowest setting (i.e. making the lens as wide open as possible) get up close to your subject and make sure it has space behind it. This will give you a bit of nice ‘bokeh’ blur whatever lens you are using. However you can much improve matters by using a lens with an aperture of 1.8 or lower or a portrait lens, a 50mm or higher.


Question 3: Can you give me any tips on composition?

The general composition rule of thumb in photography is the rule of thirds. So if you are shooting the sea and sky, split the photo into one-third sky and two-thirds sea, or the reverse. With more elements, try and roughly attribute a third to each of the main ones (see below and well done Ali!). This ties into not always placing your subject in the centre of a photo but off to one side, slightly higher or lower. You can turn on your camera’s grid setting and practice positioning your subject on different points of the grid and see what works best.


Question 4: Photography is about capturing that magical moment. How do you do that? 

Turn your photographer’s eye on! Start viewing the world around you as if through a lens. Tune in to possible moments, details and framing that would work well for a photo and don’t be afraid to whip out your camera and try and capture it. It won’t always work but at least you tried. Another tip is always have your camera with you – that way you reduce the chance of missing out on perfect photo opps. The smaller the camera, the more likely you’ll take one out with you, which is why the Olympus Pens are such a brilliant option.


Ali’s verdict: “That was so much fun – and I didn’t even glaze over once (sorry Julia!). I feel like I’m ready to pick up a camera now and start shooting. I don’t feel as daunted. Once you master the basics, it’s all about finding your own eye and style, which, for me, is what it’s all about.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this beginner’s guide. Read more about what I have to say about the Olympus Pen E-PL7 here, and if you’re interested I have a few more 35% discount codes to giveaway, so leave me a comment and I will get back to you!

ps. You can follow Ali on Twitter at @lovefoolforever

pps. Stylonylon is one of the UK Olympus ambassadors whose photography has vastly improved since using the Pen E-P5 and Pen E-PL7!

Leave a Comment


  1. Hi Julia, Awesome blog thanks for sharing!! I’m in love with my Olympus epl3, however reading your e-pl7 review it looks a bit out of date…. Time for an upgrade?? Can’t wait to try the wi-fi function! Please let me know if you still have any of these discounts 🙂 thanks

  2. Love these blogs, didn’t really want to comment but it was the only way I could see to be notified of new blogs – Sorry!

    1. Ah, so glad! Yes, I realise I don’t have a subscription to my blog any more! Let me figure out if you can subscribe to a section. But as a rule of thumb I post about twice a month to this section…

  3. Hai dear can I ask what the type you choose to get this shot from the camera ? I have epl7 also, is it nature, i enhance, or custom because i love the colour tone, just What i’m looking for, thanks so much

    1. I usually natural or if there is a muted. But I always desaturate in post production too 🙂

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