Flickr and you will see a large amount of photographers that simply do not understand the basics. Their images are over/under exposed, the composition does little to draw your eyes or they rely so much on post processing that it is hard to believe they started with a photograph. Granted, there are many good photographers that post there as well. Some will say "I don't want to perfectly follow the rules, I want to be my own artist". You know, that is great and I would encourage that line of thinking however, you must first know the rules before you can properly break them. Here is a list of basics that you must understand before you can improve your photography.
1. Understand how light behaves: You must understand how the direction and intensity of light will affect your subject. For example in Landscape lighting you have, front light, back light, and side light. You must know how the time of day also affects the landscape. If you are shooting portraits you have to understand how to harden or soften the light as well as determine the direction.
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2. Basic Exposure: This is a combination of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. See my previous blog series on these subjects for more information. (psst.... just click the links)
3. Basic Composition: You can gain a lot of compositional knowledge from looking at painters as well as professional photographers. You will begin to understand ideas like the "rule of thirds" or leading lines. Turns out that they are more of guidelines than rules but it is something you need to understand before you go breaking them. Click the "rule of thirds" link above for a previous blog post.
Photography is an art form but if you do not first understand the technical basics then you will notice that your art becomes stagnant.