Photography Basics

Basic manual mode photography tips for the up-and-coming photographer.

In this article, we will make certain assumptions. Assumption #1: you own a camera (digital or otherwise). Assumption #2: you’ve taken pictures with it and know that they could have turned out better. Assumption #3: you’d like for them to turn out better! Then, here we go. We’ll focus on digital photography, as it is easiest to learn on due to instant access to results.

We consider the basics to be three things: light, aperture, and shutter speed. After grasping these three things, we will notice a marked improvement in the quality of our photos. Then, we can move on to more advanced tips.

sunlight photography

Photo by Manu Praba.


Light is both a photographer’s blessing and curse. When we have the right lighting, our pictures are amazing. When we have too much lighting, or not enough, it causes our pictures to turn out in a way other than we would have liked.

If taking pictures outside, try to shoot early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Also, try to position the subject so that the light plays to your favor. If the subject is a person, avoid shooting from the sun. Get at an angle so that they’re not looking at you with the sun in their eyes. Try to make sure that the lighting across your subject is consistent. If your subject is a person, again, try to keep the whole body or face (whichever part you’re shooting) in the shade or the light. This will help to avoid unwanted and awkward shadows.

If you want to get creative, you can also invest in a reflector to try to further master the lighting of your subjects.


The best way to think of the aperture is to lift one your hands and form an “O” with your fingers (bring tips together with thumb-tip). This is your aperture. Now, bring it up to one of your eyes. Is it easy to see out of? Great.

Now, still holding your hand up to your eye, start curling your fingers into your palm along the base of your thumb. Is the light disappearing? That is the way aperture (also known as an f-stop) works in a camera. It opens and closes to allow more or less light into a shot from what is available. The lower the number is, the bigger the opening is and more light that reaches the image sensor. The higher the number is, the tighter/smaller the opening is and the less light that gets in. This function is used together with shutter speed.

soft background

Photo by Tore Bustad; ISO 100, f/1.6, 1/500 exposure.

Shutter Speed

Blink. Now blink a few times. The time between the blinks, or the amount of time that your eyes/shutter stay open, is the equivalent of shutter speed. It determines how much light to let in and also how much action. The smaller the number is (or higher the 1/ number is, i.e. 1/1000 versus 1/30), the faster the shutter speed is. There are also specialty settings B and T for bulb (keeps shutter open for as long as your finger is on the shutter release) and time (keeps shutter open until you hit release again).

Fast shutter speeds only let in a little light and are pretty useful in high-light scenarios or with moving targets. Slow speeds are useful in low-lighting. Slow speeds will blur the subject if there is movement. Ever see the cool pictures with blurred car lights on the street? That’s a slow shutter speed.

Use a tripod or something else to prop the camera on so your hand shaking doesn’t warp the picture. That’s right. Your own hand shaking (even a little) will cause blurred images on slow shutter speeds.

long exposure photo

Photo by Paulo Valdivieso; ISO 50, f/22, 30-second exposure.

Taking pictures at different times of day, in different locations, should give you an idea of the different combinations of aperture and shutter speed that will work for to get that shot you’re looking for. Now that we’ve covered the basics, get out there and have some fun! Best of luck!

About the Author:
Owen Fisher writes for Nu Image Studios (, a Knoxville-based team of photographers who shoot weddings and portraits in the Southeast.

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