Basics of Photography

Trust me; there won’t be a test at the end of this article, but there are some basics of photography and terms that you should know if you are going to be serious about this subject. We will go through a few basics of photography concepts and technical terms below.

photography basics

“Dandylion’s Moon” captured by Jonny Bean

First, we’ll talk a little bit about aperture, also known as f-stop. A small number in f-stop means more light and a larger number will be less light. This is the circular opening inside the lens that’s adjustable and regulates how much light goes through the lens and hits the sensor.

Basically, it’s a hole in the lens that you can control by adjusting it smaller or bigger. Very little light gets to the sensor if it is a small hole. On the opposite end a big hole, the lens becomes like an open fire hydrant with light pouring through it.┬áThink of it like your faucet in the kitchen sink. A quarter of a turn and the water is just dribbling out, small hole aperture. Open the faucet all the way and the water comes rushing out, big hole aperture. If you understand your cameras capabilities and the basics of photography, the quality of the images you take will increase greatly.

Next let’s talk about exposure. Both aperture and exposure really go hand in hand when we are talking about the basics of photography. Exposure is how much light hits the sensor and the length of time. Two things a photographer has control of. A few terms you’ll hear all the time is “bad exposure” “good exposure” “under exposed” and “over exposed.” Exposure is the amount of time it took your camera to capture the image, plus the amount of light it allowed in. As an example, I would say that, “I shot that at 1/60 at f/5.6 and ISO 400.”


Alright: The 1/60 is 1/60 of a second. This is the shutter speed. Shutter speed is how fast your camera shutter opens and closes. A quick way to understand the shutter speed is to look at your camera. The higher the number the faster the shutter speed the lower the number the lower the shutter speed. Fast speeds are usually 1/250 of a second on up to 1/8000 of a second. These types of fast shutter speeds are mostly used in brighter conditions. Darker environments need slower speeds, ranging from 1/30 of a second or so all the way to 10 seconds or more. One thing to consider when you are taking photos at the longer shutter speeds is camera shake, so you may want to consider a tripod or practice a steady hand. I hope these examples are making it clear why you need to know the basics of photography.

shutter speed photo example

Captured with a 5 sec shutter speed by Don Heffern II

I want you to use your imagination next to better understand shutter speed. So let’s create an example. Close your eyes and imagine a body of water let’s say a flowing river with large rocks and a tree that has fallen half way in the river. Now that you have that picture in your head, what I want to do first is I want to take a photo of the water at 1/500th of a second to see if I am able to stop the action and stop the flowing of the water. Alright we have captured that image so let’s take a look at that. Looking at the photo it came out really good. We actually have the water that was frozen in action and can really see the texture of the water. Now we will take a picture of that same image this time we’ll use a slower shutter speed, roll your dial down to say 2 seconds and remember you’ll probably have to use a tripod. If not your photo is going to be blurry. Take the photo and let’s take a look. Wow you’re going to love the results! To me, in this case and my preference and the one I enjoy is the slower shutter speed. It looks so much more artistic. It’s blurring out the water and you have great detail in the fallen tree in the river and everything just looks cool. So as you can see or in this case imagine the shutter speed not only controls the exposure but it also can control how moving objects appear in your photo.

Keep in mind that most of your shots during daylight will have a shutter speed of around 1/125 to 1/160 if you’re photographing stationary objects and people. If low light situations cause you to drop your shutter speed below 1/60th then you may want to consider using a tripod because blurry photos are only cool if you’re doing it on purpose. This should give you a better understanding about shutter speed and a basics of photography concept that you can use the next time you’re out taking photos.

F/5.6 in the example above brings us to f-stops or f-numbers which ever you prefer. This defines how wide your aperture is open or closed. The most common clicks on your camera’s aperture dial are f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16. These are “full” stops of light. Each f-stop number is 1.4 times larger than the one before it, and each full click from one stop to the next either doubles through the lens or cuts it in half, depending on which way you are turning the dial. The larger the f-numbers, the smaller the lens opening and the opposite is true for a larger lens opening the smaller the f-numbers. I was in the Army so we use a lot of acronyms to remember things, try this LLL means Large (numbers) Less Light.

photography settings

“six eighteen twelve” captured by rjnic

We are almost there. Only two more terms to go through for the basics. Next we will discuss ISO. There are three components controlling exposure of your image, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. We know that shutter speed controls the duration of light that hits your sensor. Aperture controls the volume of light that hits your sensor. Finally ISO the one we haven’t been over yet is a measure of the sensor sensitivity to light or how sensitive it is to light. The organization that determines and defines this standard is the International Organization for Standardization and where ISO comes from. Ultimately you will want to have the lowest ISO setting on your camera maybe a 100 or 200. This will give you the sharpest image at least from the sensors perspective.

Finally, the last term I would like to touch on about the basics of photography is white balance. Light has color and different lights have different colors. Depending on atmospheric conditions and time of day, daylight has different color casts during the day. White balance is basically the camera adjusting the color balance of an image so that the items that the human eye perceive as white actually appear white on an image. Tungsten and Fluorescent, or incandescent bulbs give off shades of green and yellow the human eye doesn’t see this but the camera will. Today’s digital cameras can adjust for this with a flick of a button. The basics of photography can be fun if you know how to apply them in the many different circumstances that you will come across.

About the Author:
Ray Pepito writes for pictureperfecthq dot com, a site with more information, tips, and reviews.

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4 responses to “Basics of Photography”

  1. PhotoStorys says:

    Great article Ray. Good explanations.

  2. Elliot says:

    Very good explanation here Ray! i’m 16 and i’m starting with my camera and i didn’t understood very well the F/ things and what it is used for! if you could help me here i would be grateful!

  3. Ivan says:

    a very helpful hints and guides for an amateur like me…more please !

  4. Stan Hooper says:

    OK, let’s try to give mathematics a fair chance, Mr. Pepito. “Higher number” when comparing 1/800 second vs. 1/60 second is NOT the 800. If you insist on using “higher” and “lower” in this discussion, then at least name the number that appears to be high, the DENOMINATOR. I don’t know a kid in the U.S. who has never heard that term if they’ve gone to school far enough to learn about fractions. So, the higher the denominator, the shorter the shutter speed.

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