Why You're Here
Okay, so if you're looking at this INTERMEDIATE guide to photography, that means you have a basic understanding of the principles of photography, and maybe even a good understanding of how to shoot in manual. So let's take things a step further and challenge ourselves a bit to learn more and improve more.
The exposure triangle consists of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Each manual setting affects the exposure (how bright or dark a photo is) as well as another element of the photo. Shutter speed affects exposure because a faster (shorter) shutter speed allows less light into the photo, but it also freezes any motion happening in front of the camera. A slower (longer) shutter speed allows in more light, but it also can show movement (blur) happening in front of the camera.
Aperture affects exposure and the depth of field. A low aperture allows in more light, but less of your photo is in focus. A higher aperture lets in less light (darker photo), but more of your photo will be in focus.
ISO affects exposure and the amount of grain. A low ISO means your camera is not very sensitive to light, which is best if you have plenty of available light, so your camera doesn't need to be sensitive to it. This will be the lowest amount of grain. A higher ISO means your camera is very sensitive to light, which is best if you are in a low-light situation and you need your camera to be as sensitive as possible to whatever light is available. However, higher ISO also means an increase in grain in the photos.
Principles of Photography
Rule of Thirds - this isn't always appropriate, depending on the type of photography you're doing, but for more artistic photos, the idea that your subject is on a 'third' intersection can be helpful. Picture your photo split into thirds horizontally and vertically. Then think of the intersection of those lines. The Rule of Thirds says that the eye is drawn to subjects if they are on an intersection of those lines.
Natural Framing - find elements within your photo that can frame your subject to draw the eyes to your subject. This can be tree branches, architectural arches, furniture, etc. Be creative!
Perspective - pictures shot directly from your perspective toward your subject are rarely the most interesting photos. Think instead about getting on the level of your subject or shooting directly overhead of your subject.
Leading Lines - this is another way of using elements in your photo to lead the viewer's eyes to the subject. Whether it's roads, staircases, architecture, horizon lines, etc., you can use the lines that are within the frame of your lens to lead the eye to your subject. Position your subject and yourself properly to utilize leading lines.
Everyone has different preferences for their editing style, and there's nothing wrong with that. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but it's amazing! How boring would it be if every photographer edited in the same exact style? Not all of us want the same style hanging on our walls, showing up on our socials. And that's great!
But for this section, I'm going to speak to my particular editing style, which, although I don't think I fit into one specific box, I have narrowed down to Warm & Bold. I'm not light and airy. I'm not dark and moody. Follow photographers who edit in that style to learn how to do that style. But mine is somewhere in between - I don't mute colors, I decrease highlights, I embrace shadows and boldness and warmness; and I underexpose in camera so that I can save details from the sky.
So if that sounds like your style, read on. If not, please find a photographer who specializes in the editing style that you are most interested in, because they're all shot different SOOC.
Exposure with Editing Style
So for my personal editing style (again, something like Warm & Bold), I underexpose the subjects in my photos. What this means is I don't pay attention to the light meter in my camera. I'm not trying to expose for my clients. I'm not trying to expose for the shadows around my clients. I'm going to say this more than once: shadows are easier to recover than highlights. Again. SHADOWS are easier to recover/get detail from than HIGHLIGHTS. If you OVEREXPOSE your photo, anything too bright will be impossible to recover - it will stay overexposed as pure white or gray at best. If you UNDEREXPOSE your photo, your shadows will be much easier to bring back up to proper exposure while also retaining detail.
So when you are shooting clients with a sky behind them, if you expose somewhere in between the sky and the subjects, you will be able to recover details of the sky by lowering exposure and highlights, and you can recover the details of the clients by increasing their exposure, increasing shadow, and decreasing highlights.
If you shoot in a Light & Airy style, your straight out of camera photo will be MUCH different than mine. So knowing the style you want to edit, knowing how to shoot that in camera, then knowing how to enhance that in editing, is going to be your best bet.
The moral is: know your editing style when shooting so you can get the shot SOOC (straight out of camera) that will work best for your style.
We are so lucky that Adobe has so many options for us to improve our photos. There are obviously extreme photoshop options, but more easily, here are some ways to improve your photos if you're not well versed in Photoshop.
Sky Replacement - when used correctly, this tool is amazing for blown-out skies. Keep in mind what the ACTUAL sky looked like at the time of your session. Then tone it down a bit. But be mindful to not use this tool to make the sky look fake. (Photoshop)
Sky Select/Subject Select - this tool is incredible, but you need to know how to use it. If you expose properly, meaning somewhere between the sky and the subject (for warm/bold/rich/true photographers) then these tools are wonderful. If you have an editing style that's more dark and moody or light and airy, you'll need to learn the proper settings for that style in order to optimize these tools. You can isolate the sky or your subjects to make select changes to just those areas. (Lightroom)
Sky Retention - for my editing style, I prefer exposing somewhere between my subjects and my sky so that my subjects appear darker SOOC, but my sky still has some detail in it that I can bring to life in editing. I primarily do this by decreasing exposure and highlights in the sky, increasing contrast, and enhancing temperature and tint. (Lightroom)
Tone Curve - I felt like I made the jump from my photos looking nice but not special, to being something I'm really proud of when I learned how to utilize the tone curve feature in Lightroom. There is definitely a learning curve with the tone curve, and little adjustments make a big difference. You can achieve a lot of different styles with changes in the tone curve.
HSL Panel - changes in Hue, Saturation, and Luminance affect the overall tones of your photo. If it's summer and the green of the grass is super neon, you can tone that down in the HSL panel. If it's fall and you want to highlight fall tones, you can do that in the HSL panel. If you're shooting under fluorescent lights and there are yellow tones, you can correct that in the HSL panel. (Lightroom)
White Balance - if you're shooting indoors and are dealing with lighting that changes the temperature or tint of the photos in an unnatural-looking way, you can use the white balance tool in Lightroom to easily correct it. First click the eye dropper tool next to WB at the top of your tool panel. Then find an element in the photo that was neutral in person - a white wedding dress, a beige wall, etc. Use the eyedropper tool to click on a neutral color, and the entire photo will reset with that as the white balance. From there, you can make additional adjustments in temperature and tone, but you will see a drastic change back in the direction of natural with the eyedropper tool.
Hopefully this helps you as you make the move from starting to shoot in manual mode to really testing what you can do with photography. As always, never hesitate to ask questions or reach out for help!