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Photography Basics

The complete guide for beginners

The fundamentals of photography are essential for anyone starting out in the field. Having a firm foundation of the major concepts of photography, regardless of your interests in gear, or aspirations, is critical to capturing better photographs and improving your photography.

Here is your comprehensive introduction to photography. Whether you know a little or a lot about it. This guide will provide you an overview of all you need to know about taking amazing images, from the technical to the artistic side.


1. Exposure:

One of the most fundamental photography terms is exposure. When you take a photograph, you press the shutter button to open a camera's aperture, allowing light to enter and generate a response from a sensor. The amount of light that reaches your camera's sensor and creates visual data over time is referred to as exposure. That time span could be fractions of a second or hours.

The proper exposure is a delicate balancing act. Overexposure results in overexposed highlights and faded images. Images that are underexposed are dark and difficult to see. Learn these essentials to better understand camera exposure and how to get the proper exposure for your work.


There is no single camera exposure setting. Instead, exposure is composed of three distinct data settings known collectively as the exposure triangle. These are the shutter speed, aperture, and the ISO.


2. Aperture:

The opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera is referred to as an aperture. It is a simple concept to grasp if you consider how your eyes function. The iris in your eyes expands or contracts as you move between bright and dark environments, controlling the size of your pupil.

The "pupil" of your lens is referred to as aperture in photography. You can change the aperture size to allow more or less light to reach your camera sensor. The following image depicts an aperture in a lens:

By controlling depth of field, aperture can add dimension to your photos. Aperture gives you a blurred background with a beautiful shallow focus effect at one extreme. This is a popular setting for portrait photography.

On the other hand, it will produce sharp images from the nearby foreground to the distant horizon. This effect is frequently used by landscape photographers.

Furthermore, the aperture you select affects the exposure of your images by making them brighter or darker.


3. Shutter speed:

Photography is both an art and a science. While this can make it appear twice as difficult, once you understand the fundamentals of these two aspects, they can be combined to provide you with nearly limitless ways to express your creative vision. A good example is shutter speed. It's a technical subject but learning how to control shutter speed allows you to create everything from crisp, freeze-frame sports photos to velvety, motion-filled waterfall shots.

Shutter speed is exactly what it sounds like: the rate at which the camera's shutter closes. A fast shutter speed results in a shorter exposure the amount of light the camera takes in while a slow shutter speed results in a longer exposure.

Because it allows more light through the lens, a slow shutter speed can help you illuminate a darker scene. However, because the lens is open for a shorter period of time with a faster shutter speed, less light enters the lens. This makes low light difficult and emphasizes the importance of a well-lit scene. Keep this in mind as you shoot, or you may end up with very dark photos that don't capture what you're looking for.

When photographing fast-moving subjects, properly adjusting your shutter speed is critical.


4. ISO:

ISO is simply a camera setting that determines how bright or dark a photograph is. Your photos will become brighter as you increase the ISO setting. As a result, ISO can help you capture images in low-light situations or be more flexible with your aperture and shutter speed settings.

However, increasing your ISO has ramifications. A photo taken at an excessively high ISO will have a lot of grain, also known as noise, and may not be usable. As a result, brightening a photo with ISO is always a trade-off. Only increase the ISO if you are unable to brighten the image using the shutter speed or aperture (for example, if using a longer shutter speed would cause your subject to be blurry).

ISO is an abbreviation for "International Organization for Standardization." Camera ISO, on the other hand, does not directly refer to the organization that develops various technology and product standards. Since 1974, when two film standards known as ASA and DIN were combined into ISO standards (later revised for both film and digital photography), they have been referred to as one word "ISO." Although ISO was originally used to define only film sensitivity, it was later adopted by digital camera manufacturers in order to maintain similar brightness levels as film.

You can use a different range of ISO values (also known as ISO speeds) with each camera. The typical values are as follows:

  • ISO 100 (low ISO)

  • ISO 200

  • ISO 400

  • ISO 800

  • ISO 1600

  • ISO 3200

  • ISO 6400 (high ISO)

The brightness of a photograph is doubled when the ISO speed is increased. As a result, an ISO 800 image will be twice as bright as an ISO 400 image, which will be twice as bright as an ISO 200 image.

Your "base ISO" is your camera's lowest native ISO. This is a crucial setting since it allows you to achieve the best image quality while reducing the visibility of noise as much as possible. Most modern digital cameras have a base ISO of 100, however some older DSLRs and a few modern cameras, have a base ISO of 200. To acquire the best image quality, you should always attempt to stick to the base ISO. However, this is not always practicable, particularly when working in low-light situations.


5. Exposure triangle:

Light is one of the most critical aspects of a good photograph. A shot that would otherwise be fantastic can be ruined by too much or too little light.

Controlling the amount of light in your photo is an important component of learning how to capture nice photos. The exposure triangle is a combination of your camera's aperture, shutter speed, and ISO that allows you to manage the amount of light in your images.

The triangle's three (3) phase’s work together to generate an image. When one component is changed, it has an impact on the others. If you increase the ISO, you'll need to adjust the f/stop and shutter speed to compensate in order to maintain the shot properly illuminated.

As explained previously the opening in a camera lens that allows light to flow through is called an aperture. The amount of light that hits your sensor and the angle at which it travels through the lens can both be changed by changing the aperture. The f/stop or f/number refers to the ratio of the opening to the lens's size.

A smaller f/stop (wider aperture) enables more light into the camera and offers you a shallower depth of field to concentrate on your subject, as shown in the example below. A smaller aperture (higher f/stop) let less light in while increasing depth of field. Because f/stops are not linear but exponential, changing your aperture from f/8 to f/4 quadruples the amount of light traveling through the lens.

ISO refers to the sensitivity of your camera's sensor to light. A higher ISO indicates that your sensor is receiving more light. If you start shooting at ISO 100 and then switch to ISO 200, you've effectively doubled the sensor's sensitivity to light. When shooting in low light, a higher ISO is required, however this can result in more "noise" or graininess in your images.

A shot taken at a higher ISO captures some details in darker places, but also results in washed-out colors and a less contrasted image overall, as shown in the example below. The key is to strike a balance.

Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter of your camera is open, or in the case of some digital cameras, how long the sensor is on. The longer the shutter is open, the more light enters your lens and the more movement is recorded in your photographs.

A slow shutter speed is frequently employed in photography to represent motion, such as moving water, waves, or stars. It's also a simple technique to shoot images in low-light situations. However, make sure you have a tripod on hand. Many a photographer's slow shutter speed images have been ruined by shaky hands.

Faster shutter speeds are ideal for capturing an action shot, such as a sporting event, wildlife, or birds in flight. This decreases the amount of light that hits your sensor, so tweak your ISO and aperture accordingly.

The photo below shows how a fast shutter speed captures every drop of water, whereas a slow shutter speed produces a softer spray and shows the motion of the hand.

You must practice in order to learn the exposure triangle! Choose a subject and photograph it repeatedly, adjusting the settings as you go.

Try to achieve specific effects now that you have a solid idea of what each component accomplishes. Shoot some moving water and experiment with shutter speeds, or try night photography. You'll gain a better understanding of how different adjustments effect your images as you practice.


6. Depth of field:

Depth of field in photography, often known as photography DOF, is one of the most important aspects to understand when learning the fundamentals of photography.

Because depth of field is related to the sharpness of your photograph, it will have a significant impact on how you see the finished image.

In photography, depth of field (DoF) refers to the portion of the image that is crisp and in focus. It is the distance between the closest and farthest things in your photos that is sharp and in focus.

To better grasp what depth of field means, consider how much of the image is actually in focus. Consider photographing two subjects that are separated by a significant distance. The distance between two subjects would be the definition of depth of field if just what is between one subject and the other is sharp, but everything else is blurred.

Deep depth of field describes images that are sharp from front to back. In landscape photography, where you typically want to show every last aspect of the scene, a deep depth of field is preferred.

This is an example of a photograph with a large depth of field; Take note of the sharpness of the pavement, the trees, and even the distant background:

Shallow depth of field, on the other hand, refers to photographs with extremely small focus zones. Because the subject remains tack-sharp and the backdrop renders as a smooth, creamy blur, shallow depth of field photographs are definitely noticeable.

This effect is particularly common in portrait photography, as photographers utilize it to focus attention on their subject while avoiding distracting background elements. You'll also find macro photos with a shallow depth of field, such as the one below.

The difference between a shallow depth of field and a deep depth of field in your image can be significant (and can often make or break the composition).

If you're taking a portrait subject against a distracting background, for example, failing to use a shallow depth of field will almost always result in a lousy, image.

If you're shooting a landscape with a lovely foreground, a great mid-ground, and a stunning background, failing to employ a deep depth of field will prohibit the viewer from fully appreciating the scene.


7. Focal length:

The term "focal length" is used in photography to indicate how broad or narrow a lens is. It tells you how much of a scene a lens can capture and how big subjects will appear. It's listed as a number and measured in millimeters e.g., 35mm, 85mm.

The number indicates the maximum angle of view that a lens can see.

Prime lenses are defined by a single number for example, 50mm and have a fixed focal length. The viewpoint cannot be altered.

The focal length of a zoom or telephoto lens can be changed, and the lens is described by two numbers: the minimum and maximum focal lengths. A standard zoom lens, for example, might have a focal length of 18-55mm or 24-70mm.

The distance between a certain section of a lens (the "optical center") and the image sensor (or film plane) where the image is recorded is known as focal length.

The smaller the distance and the lower the number, the broader the angle of vision that a lens provides.

The angle of view of a lens describes how broad or narrow it is. A broader angle of view will catch a larger area when viewing a scene, whereas a narrower angle of view will record a smaller area.

A 35mm lens may provide a 63° angle of view, an 85mm lens may provide 29°, and a 200mm lens only 12°.

You'll also hear the terms "angle of view" and "field of view," which are interchangeable terms for most camera manufacturers.

However, some technically oriented photographers would argue that the field of view differs slightly from the angle of view since the size of the sensor within your camera also influences it.

When used on a full-frame camera, a 24mm lens may have a 59° field of view, but when used on an APS-C camera, it may have a 94° field of view.


The focal length of your lens impacts not just how much of a picture you can capture, but also how big your subjects appear.

When opposed to using a lens with a longer focal length, a wide-angle lens will allow you to capture more of the scene in front of you, but subjects will appear smaller.


Furthermore, a longer lens – one with a larger focal length — compresses the scene. The subject and the background will appear to be closer together as a result.

In the example below, one shot was taken at a focal length of 24mm and the other at a focal length of 70mm.

Understanding focus length and how it influences your images is an important first step in learning to photograph.

There's more to picking a focal length than how close you can go to a subject or how much of a scene you can capture, and understanding how it all works is vital.


8. Sensor size:

A critical component of your digital camera is the sensor. When renting or buying a camera, the sensor size is an important factor to consider. The image quality and flexibility of the types of photographs you can record are both strongly tied to the sensor on your camera. So, why does the size of a camera sensor matter? Let's look at it more closely.

Before we go into a camera sensor size comparison and the differences between smaller and larger sensor sizes, let's first clarify what a camera sensor is. Before we do anything else, we should figure out what its main purpose is.

A camera sensor is a piece of hardware that captures light and turns it into signals, resulting in an image. Millions of photosites, or light-sensitive dots, make up the sensors, which capture what is viewed via the lens. The amount of light used to form the image is determined by the size of the camera's sensor.

Because a sensor saves so much information, a larger camera sensor can store more data, resulting in higher-quality photographs than smaller sensors. What you see through the viewfinder of your camera is determined by its size.

Lenses on smaller sensors are cropped, whereas larger sensors can catch significantly more of the scene. Full-frame film is made with larger sensors and is similar to standard 35mm film. The size of a camera sensor impacts image size, depth of field, resolution, low-light performance, and the physical size of the camera. The size of the camera sensor has an impact on:

  • Image quality and resolution

  • Depth of field

  • Angle of view

  • Low-light performance

  • Size of camera and lenses

9. Focus:

In photography, focus refers to the process of adjusting the lens to achieve the best resolution, sharpness, and contrast for your chosen subject. You can do this with either manual focus or your camera's autofocus mechanism.

In photography, I define focus as using the camera's lens, either manually or with the autofocus mechanism, to make your subject appear as detailed and high-contrast as feasible. There are several technical definitions of focus in photography, but it may simply be defined as achieving the best sharpness for a particular subject.

Focusing is crucial since it accentuates what is significant in the image and what isn't. For studying the composition and examining the image, the viewer uses what's focused as a guide. In-focus photography might mean the difference between a stunning image and a total failure.

  • MANUAL FOCUS

Manual focusing is something that every photographer should be able to do. Your camera, no matter how smart it is, will never be able to read your mind. There isn't always enough light for the autofocus system to work, or you've selected the wrong focus region. Manual focusing allows you to catch the moment much more quickly.


Despite the fact that autofocus is far more convenient, some photographers prefer manual focus mode for certain genres such as landscape, portrait, and macro photography. Because manual focus for wildlife or sports photography is likely to be the most difficult, it's usually best to rely on your camera's autofocus in those situations.

  • AUTOFOCUS

Because some subjects move so quickly that manually tracking them is difficult, learning how to use autofocus is essential to your success. Modern digital cameras may employ autofocus to latch onto a target and forecast motion in real time, unlike earlier autofocus systems that were sluggish and incorrect.

While manual focusing is often used in genres where you have a lot of time, autofocus is always handy when you need to focus quickly.


10. Sharpness:

Sharpness refers to the clarity of detail in a photograph and can be a useful creative tool for emphasizing texture. Sharpness can be improved with proper photographic and post-processing techniques, but sharpness is ultimately limited by your camera equipment, image magnification, and viewing distance. The perceived sharpness of an image is determined by two fundamental factors: resolution and acutance.

Sharpness is technically defined as the accuracy, or contrast, between the edges of an object in an image. A "sharp" edge is one that has a well-defined transition from one color or tone to another, giving definition to that object in the photo.

The most important thing to real-world photographers is how to achieve sharpness in their photographs. Here are the factors that contribute to sharpness, ranging from the equipment you use to the techniques you employ:

  • LENS

Fortunately, if used appropriately, most current lenses are capable of remarkable sharpness. Even with a really sharp lens, though, additional factors come into play. For example, a lack of depth of field can cause an image to be sharp in one region but out of focus in another. When stopped down a few stops, or at whatever aperture is ideal for the lens, such as f/4, f/5.6, or f/8, lenses with an aperture are generally exceedingly sharp. A lens capable of clarity at f/2.8 or faster, on the other hand, may frequently fail to display sharpness if depth of field, focus, or shooting technique are not appropriately maintained.

  • FOCUS

When it comes to achieving the finest possible results, focusing your lens is a challenge in and of itself. Unfortunately, many times a photographer has a sharp lens, but the pictures are blurry due to focusing problems. If a photographer relies on autofocus for sharpness, the best thing to do is to test the autofocus on a regular basis by shooting photos of a static subject (from a tripod) and verifying sharpness on the back of the camera or on a computer.

  • CAMERA

The camera sensor's resolution definitely plays a part in the level of sharpness attained, and while it is not a component that you can control (besides from getting a new camera), it is a factor that you can control. More overall image detail is possible with a higher-resolution sensor (more megapixels or a larger film surface). Although megapixels do not immediately correlate to sharpness (resolving power and real sharpness are two different things), certain capabilities offered by modern digital cameras can boost the acuity of a sensor at the pixel level.

Many high-megapixel cameras have dropped the anti-aliasing filter (AA filter), which allows for crisper photos by removing the previously prevalent function of the buyer pattern digital sensor of "slightly blurring" the pixels to avoid undesired aberrations like moiré. Additionally, some cameras now include pixel-shifting capabilities, which allow the sensor to improve overall sharpness by recording several images while changing the sensor in 1-pixel increments.

  • STABILITY

Unfortunately, if proper shooting technique is not followed, the sharper the lens and the "sharper" the image sensor, the hazier or soft an image will appear. On a modern 24-50 megapixel sensor, what was once deemed acceptable hand-holding technique on 35mm film or with a 3-6 megapixel camera will almost certainly result in a loss of clarity. As a result, while shooting hand-held, quicker shutter speeds are recommended, and when shooting from a tripod, a cable release, exposure delay, mirror lock-up, or electronic shutter are recommended.

A picture is said to have reached sharpness once all of these parameters have been either managed or adjusted. Simply defined, the camera, lens, and shooting style have produced the sharpest possible images, the maximum amount of detail attainable for the system. Although reaching critical sharpness is undoubtedly the most crucial part of producing a sharp, detailed end result, there is one more phase in the total process: post-production sharpening. Sharpening techniques, which effectively increase the contrast between edges at a very fine, per-pixel level, can be used to improve acuity, or existing detail that has already been collected.


11. Camera modes

Controlling exposure in photography requires a thorough understanding of digital camera modes. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced amateur, you should understand what each camera mode does and when and under what conditions it should be utilized.

Photographers can modify the properties of an exposure using digital camera modes, such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. While some settings are entirely automatic the camera's exposure, others allow the photographer to manually adjust some or all of the exposure's characteristics.


There was no such thing as a camera mode back in the day; everything was done manually. Photographers had to select the aperture, shutter speed, and kind of film for their cameras manually. They used to carry specific light metering devices that detected the light and produced exposure information, which they would then utilize in their cameras to analyze the strength and amount of light. Kodak debuted a film camera with an incorporated light meter in 1938, and Topcon, a Japanese manufacturer, introduced the first SLR camera in 1962 that measured the light entering the camera through the lens.

Photographers would no longer need to carry special light meters with them because the camera would do it for them. New "Automatic" camera modes began to appear on cameras, evaluating the amount of light passing through the lens and automatically selecting the necessary exposure parameters to produce a properly-exposed image.

New "Automatic" camera modes began to appear on cameras, evaluating the amount of light passing through the lens and automatically selecting the necessary exposure parameters to produce a properly-exposed image.


Most digital cameras today include a variety of camera settings that can be utilized in a variety of circumstances. While most point-and-shoot cameras focus on automatic modes for ease of use, more complex cameras include modes that allow for both automatic and manual exposure management.

The four primary types of camera modes seen in today's digital cameras are as follows:

  • Program (P)

  • Shutter Priority (Tv) or (S)

  • Aperture Priority (Av) or (A)

  • Manual (M)

I. Program Mode

The camera chooses the Aperture and Shutter Speed for you in "Program" mode based on the amount of light that passes through the lens. This is the setting to utilize for "point and shoot" situations where you only need to take a fast photo. The camera will attempt to strike a balance between aperture and shutter speed, increasing and reducing the two in response to light intensity. When the camera is pointed at a bright place, the aperture will automatically increase to a larger amount while the shutter speed remains relatively fast. By pointing the camera at a darker region, the aperture will be reduced to a lower number, allowing for a faster shutter speed. If there is insufficient light, the lens aperture will remain at its lowest setting (maximum aperture), while the shutter speed will gradually decrease until the image is properly exposed.

This is an option I never use because it doesn't allow me much control over the exposure. By turning the control dial, you can override the camera's shutter speed and aperture guesses (on Nikon cameras it is the dial on the back of the camera). The camera will decrease the shutter speed and raise the aperture if you rotate the control dial to the left. The shutter speed and aperture will be increased and decreased as you twist the dial to the right. Basically, you'd spin the dial to the right if you required a faster shutter speed to freeze activity, and to the left if you needed a large depth of field.


II. Shutter-Priority Mode

In "Shutter Priority" mode, you select the shutter speed manually, and the camera chooses the best aperture for you depending on the amount of light passing through the lens. When motion needs to be frozen or purposefully blurred, this mode is the way to go. If there is too much light, the camera will open the lens aperture wider, reducing the amount of light passing through the lens. If there is insufficient light, the camera will reduce the aperture to its smallest setting, allowing more light to flow through the lens. In Shutter Priority mode, the shutter speed remains constant (what you set it to), while the aperture adjusts automatically dependent on the amount of light. Furthermore, because you are allowing the camera to regulate the depth of field, you have no control over subject isolation.

I tend to avoid using this mode as well, because it can result in an image that is either overexposed or underexposed. Why? Because my exposure will be limited to the aperture/speed of my lens if the amount of ambient light is insufficient and I set the shutter speed to a very high value. If my lens' maximum aperture is f/4.0, for example, the camera will not be able to use a smaller aperture than f/4.0 and will continue to shoot at the fast shutter speed that I manually set. As a result, the photograph will be underexposed. Using a very slow shutter speed when there is enough of light, on the other hand, will result in an image that is overexposed and blown out.


III. Aperture-Priority Mode

In "Aperture Priority" mode, you choose the lens aperture manually, and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed to adequately expose the image. Because you can change the lens aperture and let the camera handle the math on calculating the proper shutter speed, you have complete control over subject isolation and depth of field. The camera will automatically increase the shutter speed if there is too much light, and lower the shutter speed if there is not enough light. Because the shutter speed may go as low as 30 seconds and as fast as 1/4000-1/8000th of a second (depending on the camera), there is almost no risk of getting an overexposed or underexposed photograph, which is more than enough for most lighting scenarios.

Because I have complete control over the depth of field and know that the image will be properly exposed under normal conditions, this is the option I use 95% of the time. Most current cameras have excellent metering systems, so I let the camera calculate and regulate the shutter speed for me.


IV. Manual Mode

"Manual" mode, as the name implies, allows for complete manual control of Aperture and Shutter Speed. In this mode, you may set the aperture and shutter speed to any value you desire, the camera gives you complete control over the exposure. This mode is typically utilized when the camera is having trouble determining the proper exposure under difficult lighting conditions. If you shoot a scene with a bright spot, for example, the camera may mistakenly assume the exposure and overexpose or underexpose the rest of the image. Set your camera to manual mode in those situations, then assess the quantity of light in darker and brighter parts and override the exposure with your own settings. If you need to ensure that the shutter speed and aperture remain consistent throughout several exposures, manual mode is very useful. To stitch a panorama properly, for example, all of the photos you're trying to put together must have the same shutter speed and aperture. If this isn't done, some photographs will be darker and others will be lighter. Your photographs will all have uniform exposures once you adjust the shutter speed and aperture to the numbers you choose in manual mode.


12. Metering modes

Metering is simply taking a light reading. Your camera has an in-built meter that measures the amount of light in the scene you're photographing and allows it to determine the proper settings to properly expose the image. This meter is designed to replace the old light meters that photographers used in the days of film photography.

Look within the viewfinder when shooting in Manual Mode to see your camera's light meter in operation. When you point your camera at a bright spot, the light meter's bars will move to the right, suggesting that there is too much light for your current settings. If you aim at something dark, though, the meter will travel to the left, to the − side, due to a lack of light. This means that your current settings will result in an underexposed image.

Your image will be appropriately exposed using the current settings if your camera's internal light meter is on or near the center at 0.

However, the meter isn't simply for shooting in manual mode. When you choose Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Program Mode, the camera automatically adjusts your exposure settings based on the readings from the meter. Of course, if your camera is set to Auto, it will utilize the meter to determine the proper exposure settings.

When a scene is equally illuminated, camera metering works well, but in high contrast lighting, it might be difficult. Metering modes come into play in this situation. In different illumination settings, multiple metering modes are useful.

The metering modes on your camera control the area of the scene its built-in meter uses to take a light reading. This is significant because if it just meters a dark section of the picture, the image's lighter areas may be overexposed. Darker sections of the photograph may be underexposed if it is only meters from a lighter part of the scene, such as a bright sky. Measuring from a larger area of the picture, on the other hand, may result in a more balanced exposure.

The following are the four most popular metering modes:

1. Evaluative/Matrix metering

2. Center-weighted/Average metering

3. Spot metering

4. Partial metering

Evaluative/Matrix/Multi metering

This metering mode is the default setting on cameras since it is the most reliable method of metering a scene. Canon calls it evaluative; Nikon calls it matrix, Sony, Fujifilm, and Pentax call it multi the nomenclature varies according on the camera maker. The procedure, though, is the same. Basically, it takes a light reading throughout your entire scene, with your emphasis point taking precedence.

This is the most common metering mode used by photographers. It's suitable for portraits as well as landscapes.


Center-weighted metering

There can be situations when you do not want to assess the full scene in order to determine the proper exposure. When photographing a close-up portrait against a bright background, for example, the high contrast would result in an underexposed image. Choose center-weighted metering when you wish to focus on the middle of the picture.

This method of metering will only look at the center of the frame, ignoring the edges. The amount of the frame it reads varies by camera maker, but it's typically between 60% and 80% of the frame. Close-up photographs, portraits, and photos with a large subject in the center of the frame benefit from this metering option.

Spot metering