Hi! My name is Erica and I’m a wedding, lifestyle and boudoir photographer here in sunny So Cal. I’m the girl behind Acres of Hope Photography– you can read more about my hubby and I on my website here. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Kelli since high school, photographing her engagement and wedding photos and now watching her little Rylee grow. Kelli recently re-designed my logo and website for me, so if you didn’t care to explore my website before… now you do!  Kelli is amazingly talented as you know, and I’m so blessed to not only call her my friend but to collaborate with her as well.

Here’s Deven and I with our pup Denali – last year’s Christmas card.


For today’s guest post, I thought I’d share a few tips for beginner photographers. Almost everyone I know owns a DSLR camera nowadays, and it seems about 3 out of 4 of people I know have a blog! Pretty crazy how times have changed in just the last 5 years.

These tips are for the average person/mom/wife/blogger/dog-lover/fashionista that already owns a camera. It doesn’t have to be a fancy DSLR, but as long as your camera has the ability to shoot in manual mode, you can put these suggestions to use!

1. Shoot in manual mode. There are a few different shooting modes on all DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras. They are usually Auto (automatic), P (programmed), S (shutter priority), A (aperture priority) or M (manual). You can read more about all of the shooting types on Nikon’s website here (because I’m a Nikon girl).  Shooting in manual allows you to have full control over the exposure. When you shoot in auto, the camera guesses as to what light or what subject you wanted to expose for- and a lot of times it guesses wrong and your pictures are over- or under-exposed (too bright or too dark). When shooting in manual, you set the aperture and shutter speed yourself and you can dial in the shot until it’s exactly as you want it. If you have absolutely no idea where to start when manually exposing, there are plenty of tutorials available online, or just take an afternoon and shoot about 100 pictures until you get the hang of it! It takes practice and a little memorization, but your images will improve overnight. You can use this handy little chart that will help!

2. Shoot at maximum aperture. The next step in shooting in manual mode is to shoot at maximum aperture (which will be the lowest number on your camera- I know, it’s confusing). You can use the above cheat sheet again to help better understand what the aperture numbers mean. The purpose of shooting with a large (or maximum) aperture is you get that nice blurred-out background that really draws your attention away from the background and towards the intended focal point of your image. If you want to get techy, this is called “depth of field.” It also produces nice soft edges around faces and on skin. The closer to your subject you shoot, the more depth of field you’ll get out of the image. I shoot almost all of my portraits at f/2 and sometimes even f/1.4.

Shot at f/1.4, 1/400, ISO 200.

3. Don’t use flash. Ever. Okay… sometimes you have to use flash. But don’t ever use flash outdoors in the daytime! It was all-the-rage in the ‘90s, but now it just looks bad. Once it starts getting dark, use your newly-acquired manual exposure skills to shoot with natural light. You’ll want to keep your aperture wide open (max aperture, or lowest aperture # on your camera), your shutter speed as slow as you can handhold it without it getting blurry, and then slowly increase your ISO as you need more light. You can do this with indoor photography as well.

Shot at f/2.0, 1/160, ISO 400.

4. Find good light. My favorite light and, I would argue, the best light is found around sunrise or sunset. For this reason, I schedule all of my sessions about an hour to two hours before sunset. If you have some control over what time of day you shoot, then try to schedule your photo sesh for as late in the day as you can! Don’t be afraid to shoot straight into the sunset. It’s beautiful. If your camera has a hard time auto-focusing while shooting straight into the sun, then move it a little off-center. If you find yourself shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead, try to find some trees to shoot under. Concern yourself more with finding good light than with finding a good backdrop, because if you have good light and you shoot at maximum aperture, you won’t even notice the backdrop!

Shot at f/1.4, 1,4000, ISO 200.

5. Get in closer. To your camera and to your subject! Use the eyepiece on your camera, rather than the lcd screen on the back (if it has one). Then move your camera in closer to your subject! You will not only engage with your subject more, your images will exude more emotion and prove more interesting.

Shot at f/1.4, 1/640, ISO 200.

 I hope you enjoyed these quick tips! Feel free to email me at erica@acresofhopephotography.com if you have any photography questions! For the more advanced photographers looking to take their photography to a new level, I offer mentor sessions as well. A big thanks to Kelli for allowing me a little talk time on her blog today! Make sure you go check out all the pretty designs she just finished for me on my new website and have a great day, everyone!


  1. Charity

    THIS is exactly what I needed to know! Shooting Manual is so daunting! Thanks so much for these tips. xoxo

  2. Angelica

    The most amazing tips I ever seen! I done photography in College for A level and I haven’t learn anything, the teacher just told us to take photos. This post had helped me a lot! I love shooting on Macro, when I’m taking photos of beauty products for my blog. When I shoot with I normally used to use Program and then switch around just to see what working better. x

  3. TJ

    more than obsessed with these little tips. so perfect for me to try out tomorrow while i’m still on vacation in this beautiful location. adore!
    xo TJ

  4. Chrystina

    I’ve been reading things about aperature/all those numbers on cameras for a long time, but you explained it simply and well. So thank you – you may have just made using my camera a whole heck of a lot easier. Have a great weekend!!

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