"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" -Leonardo da Vinci
Sometimes it's good for us as photographers to go back to basics. And, of course, if you're just getting started in the world of photography and want to learn "the ropes", the basics are a natural start. But you probably want the basics of what the professionals know about the craft of photography.
Anybody can take a picture. I attended a wedding reception where the wedding party left a disposable digital cameras on each table for guests to snap photos. Before the evening was over, it was the children who were running around taking pictures of everything from the dirty dishes, to carpet, and even their own underwear. These were not photographers and while those pictures will no doubt get a few laughs, these are not necessarily the kind of professional pictures people want for their long-term memories.
Obviously, the cornerstone of the basics of photography is the camera. When you see a camera geek walking around with enough equipment on his neck to launch a space shuttle, you get the impression that cameras are phenomenally complex, more than mere mortals can grasp. But look at the professionals and you see them working with portable, relatively easy to operate cameras. That is because the basics of running a camera come down to aperture and shutter speed. Now don't get nervous about fancy terms. Aperture is just a term for how wide your camera lens is open to let in light. Shutter speed is just how long you let the light come in to affect the picture. For getting a shot of a fast moving subject, you want a wide aperture to let in a lot of light but a fast shutter speed so you capture the subject quickly and close the window so the picture is caught before too much light hurts the quality.
Photography is really all about light. You can and will learn a lot about lenses and settings, which will help you control lighting in several different situations.
So add to your core skills of photography a willingness to never stop learning. The better and more sophisticated you get in your ability to work with the equipment, the more you will learn and the more you will want to learn.
Making the jump- You can get a greater control over these basic controls of the camera such as aperture and shutter speed by learning how to make the jump from automatic settings to manual settings. The automatic settings of any camera are just there for the general public who aren't necessarily interested in learning the basics. So they give you some basic settings like landscape, portrait and sports settings. By switching to manual, you can learn what settings work best in different situations. Since I began in photography, I forced myself to not use auto, so that I would be forced to learn the essentials of the "big three"- Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO, Most of the time I'm in full manual or one of the priority modes.
That brings us to the most important basic about becoming a great photographer and that is, practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. There are no shortcuts. Take some time with your gear and play with it. Take it to situations and take photos with different aperture and shutter speed settings, in outdoor and indoor settings and different orientations to light. Don't get upset when some shots don't work. That's part of the learning curve.
Much of photography is problem solving. If you learn by doing, you will build your confidence in your work and eventually become a great photographer. But don't get cocky, there is always more to learn. And that is one of the fun things about photography, isn't it?