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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

Cameras are complicated.

I remember when I bought my first DSLR: I was frustrated that I couldn’t just capture what I saw through my viewfinder.

It took a ton of trial and error but I kept at it and, when I finally managed to work everything out, I started being able to capture some pretty spectacular images.

In this post I will share with you everything that I’ve learned so that you can learn from my mistakes, instead of your own.

If you’re interested in learning how to understand your camera in just 10 minutes, click here to sign up for my free video training.

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Infographic

As photographers, we tend to be visual learners.

And it’s my job to make learning photography as easy as possible for you.

So I thought to myself, “What better way to help photographers learn how to use their cameras, than by creating an infographic?”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I collaborated with an illustrator friend of mine, and together, we put together something that will make understanding exposure, and how cameras work, a whole lot easier!

Check out what we came up with below:

How Cameras Work (In 3 Simple Steps) #photography #infographic #photographyinfographic #exposure #howcameraswork

Share this Image On Your Site

Lets dive into more depth…

Exposure

Learning how exposure works will help you to take control of your camera and take better photos.

Aperture, shutter speed, ISO are the elements that combine to create an exposure.

As you’ll soon learn, these elements have an effect on more than just the exposure, causing alterations in depth of field, motion blur, and digital noise. Once you understand how each one works, you can start diving into manual mode and really take that control back from your camera.

Aperture

Exposure happens in three steps, starting with the aperture. This is the hole inside the lens, through which the light passes. It’s similar to the pupil of your eye: the wider the aperture, the more light is allowed in and vice versa.

Simple? Not quite.

As the aperture widens, the f/number gets lower and more light is allowed into the camera. This is great for low light but be aware that it’s going to make the depth of field very shallow – not ideal when taking landscapes.

So there’s a bit of give and take and I go into full detail about that in this post.

Exposure will be much easier if you can memorise the f/stop scale.

The scale is as follows: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22.

Shutter Speed

Once the light has passed through the aperture of the lens, it reaches the shutter Now you need to decide how much of that light you’re going to allow into the camera.

Ordinarily, you only want a very small fraction of a second (for example 1/250) to prevent motion blur. However, different shutter speeds complement different situations: anything from really fast (1/4000) for sports photography to really slow (30 seconds) for night photography.

It all depends on what you’re shooting and how much light you have available to you.

ISO

Once the light has passed through the aperture and been filtered by the shutter speed, it reaches the sensor, where we decide upon the ISO.

As you turn the ISO number up, you increase the exposure but, at the same time, the image quality decreases; there will be more digital noise or “grain”.

So you have to decide upon your priorities in terms of exposure vs grain.

For example, I would reduce the image quality if it meant that I could prevent motion blur in my photo as there’s no possible way to fix that in post (yet, at least).

Exposure Summary

Once you’ve understood aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you need to learn how each of these elements of exposure work together.

In this post you will learn about the ‘stop’ based system for measuring exposure but, more importantly, how to prioritise the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO for the best photo, every time.

Urban-Exploration-December-2012-134g-vintage12

Understanding Your Camera

Metering Modes

Rather awkwardly for beginners, exposure isn’t as simple as learning about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You also have to learn about how your camera looks at light.

Metering modes are there to tell your camera how you want it to look at a scene.

The photo below was taken on spot metering mode but, if you were to take the same photo using evaluative mode, you would end up with a completely different exposure.

This is also covered in my free video training.

Understanding this may just be the key to understanding why your photos are coming out underexposed.

Histograms

The histogram shows you a mathematic review of an exposure after the photo has been taken.

It essentially tells you how evenly exposed a photo is.

LCD screens aren’t very good at showing you this information through their display of the image because they are affected by the ambient lighting conditions you’re in and the brightness of the screen itself.

That’s why the histogram is such a powerful tool to utilise.

Shooting Modes

Full-Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Prioirty, Manual Mode… how do you work out which one you should be using?

There’s also a lot of misconceptions about which mode to use under which conditions, as well as a lot of bias towards not using manual mode. When you understand what exactly each mode does, the one that will be suitable for your situation becomes a lot clearer.

This is also covered in my free video training.

Depth of Field

When you’re shooting in low light, you invariably have to widen your aperture to allow enough light into the lens but this has one rather major side effect: shallow depth of field.

This can be used very creatively (often to excess) but it’s not all good. There are many situations, such as landscapes, where you’ll want to be using a narrower aperture so that the whole scene remains in focus.

This tutorial walks you though everything you need to know about choosing the right aperture (and therefore depth of field) for the right situation.

White Balance

White balance is something I wish I’d learnt more about much sooner than I did; I look back on some photos now and wonder what I was thinking.

The white balance changes the colour cast of the entire photo and is responsible for the overall warmth. It can determine whether your photo appears blue or orange: from cold to warm.

Auto white balance doesn’t tend to do a particularly good job, particularly with tungsten light; the sooner you learn how to control it yourself, the more accurate your photos will look.

This is also covered in my free video training.

Focal Length

Have you ever wondered what the ‘mm’ on your lens actually means? Or why people use longer focal lengths for portraits?

It’s all discussed in this tutorial. The focal length affects more than just the ‘zoom’ – it influences the perspective too.

I cover which focal length you would want to be using in different situations, as well as their possible side effects. It’s a really worthwhile read and one of my favourite tutorials to date.

Crop Factor

A lot of you may not realise but, unless you spend about $2000 on your camera, you’re more than likely to be shooting on a crop sensor. This means that your sensor is much smaller than professional SLR cameras which essentially crops the image.

This has a range of effects on your photos. It creates a narrower viewing angle and will influence your lens purchases in the future.

Polarizing Filters

Polarizing filters only allow light into the lens from a certain direction. This results in the removal of glare and reflections from non-metallic objects such as water and glass, as well as haze from the sky, making for more naturally saturated colours.

Not only does this look great but it cannot be replicated in post production, hence it’s so important to understand.

How to Take Professionally Sharp Images

In this tutorial I will walk you through the 10 step process of taking professionally sharp photos. It covers everything from choosing the right aperture and shutter speed, to shooting in RAW.

It’s pretty easy to make just a few small mistakes which will result in less sharp images, that’s why we cover all ten, in order of importance.

Keira Worthing-Edit-Edit

The Nifty Fifty

What can I say about the nifty fifty? What’s not to love?

For those of you who don’t know, when I talk about the nifty fifty, I’m referring to the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens that can be picked up very cheap for most digital SLRs.

It’s a great introduction to buying better quality lenses and an excellent way of getting to grips with aperture.

The article linked is a review and guide. I wrote it because I recommend this lens as the first upgrade for every beginner photographer to make. It’s easy to use and, for the price, will yield some excellent results.

Composition

It’s important to understand exposure but, if you can’t get to grips with basic composition, you’ll struggle to take really good photos.

I’m not saying that you have to follow every compositional rule but it helps to learn these rules so they can help guide you in taking better photos.

Rule of Thirds

This is probably the first compositional rule that any photographer comes across and that’s for a very good reason: it’s simple and it works.

The basic premise is that you divide your camera’s frame into thirds and plant key objects on these lines; the composition will work better.

This is a tool that consistently works and, if you’ve not learnt much about photography yet, it’s a great way of dramatically improving your photos and making them more interesting.

Visual Weight

Visual weight is different to size or weight as we know it. It’s all about what we’re drawn to when we look at a photo.

When you understand visual weight, you’ll start to understand how people look at photos and how you can position certain elements in a frame to direct the viewers attention to where you want them to look.

It’s not so much a tool or a rule, but an understanding.

Triangles

Triangles are in almost everything we see in one way or another, it’s just a case of distinguishing and knowing what to do with them.

Triangles make great compositional tools as they’re easy to make and manipulate, and are remarkably common. They are also a great way of combining different compositional techniques, such as lines and paths, to create a more interesting part of a photograph.

You can even use them to make a photo feel more stable or unstable.

Eye-Lines

If you take photos of people, you’re taking photos with eye lines. It’s important to understand the effect that eye lines have on how we view a photo.

Eye-lines have the ability to focus our attention on a particular part of the photo, as well as producing tension and other photographic elements.

Although they’re not physical lines, they can be used as such to produce different elements, such as triangles and vertical lines.

Balance

Balance in a photo affects how we feel when we look at it. An unbalanced photo can make us feel uneasy, whereas a balanced photo will make us feel more relaxed.

It really doesn’t matter whether you choose to make the photo balanced or unbalanced but you should understand why you’ve chosen one or the other, and the effect that this will have on your photo.

Again, it’s one of those situations where the more you know, the easier it will be to produce the desired effect.

So that’s a brief introduction to photography for beginners.

Of course, there’s tons more you can learn about photography and I would encourage you to go and explore for yourself in my tutorial archive.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to get started with some free premium training for photographers, check out this video.

Your Free Quick-Start Photography Cheatsheet

Together in this post, we’ve been through a lot.

We’ve covered exposure, how your camera works, and even how to take better photos, using basic rules of composition.

But this information can be rather overwhelming, which is why I’ve put together a free download, in order to simplify the process for you.

It’s called The Quick Start Photography Cheatsheet and you can download it here.

You’ll get:

  • A downloadable cheatsheet to carry with you as you shoot
  • Detailed summaries of each section of this post
  • External links to relevant articles and blog posts
  • At-a-glance images that will explain how each exposure works
  • And much, much more…

Your Free Quick-Start

Photography Cheatsheet

This downloadable cheatsheet gives you detailed summaries of every section of this post, as well as links to relevant articles, and at-a-glace images that will explain how exposure works.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!

I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:

You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

Josh

Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

  • Tracy Hoexter

    Thank you for all this great information. As a beginner, I plan to go through each tutorial link. I have learned a lot on your blog already, but not enough to keep from overexposing or blurring the photos of my son. I’m using my new 50mm 1.8, and trying to shoot wide open…. not doing something right (yet). Hope to read, learn and improve!
    Thank you!
    Tracy

    • Happy to help Tracy!

    • Larry B.

      Josh, Great Blog. Love your site, lot’s of really great info. I just sent a link to my neice who is taking a photography course in High School this year

      • Thanks Larry!

  • Dave

    This is a good guide for a beginner, but is not technically accurate for digital cameras. Increasing ISO does not make a digital sensor more sensitive to light the way higher ISO film is more sensitive to light. A digital sensor only has one sensitivity. ISO in the digital world is the amount that the light signal is amplified by the camera after it hits the sensor. A small but important difference. Some newer cameras — so called ISOless cameras — like the Nikon D7000 have been tested to actually have better image quality when the signal is amplified with software afterwards instead of by using higher ISO.

  • George

    I have a Nikon D5100 and live in the US, I have a planned trip to Europe in March. How do I charge the camera when traveling in countrys with 220 power. What should I buy and bring with me, or do most hotels have power sources that match the US

    • Whenever I’ve travelled to the US, I’ve always just used a regular convertor, but you may want to look into it. Sorry I can’t be more help.

      • Josh, great blog, keep it up, I’m learning a lot.

        Dave, I purchased a multi charger that converts various battery packs (adaptors) and has US/European power prongs. It was only about $45 (US) and was well worth it. Might want to check into it, probably pick it up a any camera store. Since it’s an off brand, might want to avoid the direct stores (Canon, Nikon, etc.).

        Hope it helps and happy shooting!!!

  • Good one – puts it all in one place – I will steer a beginner friend of mine here because I’m too lazy to write it all down 😉

    • Haha, that’s why I wrote it. I was tired of sending lots of different links to people.

  • James

    Great, I enjoy pictures and capturing something different but have only ever used your average joes, run of the mill point and shoot. I’ve borrowed a friends camera to see if photography is for me and being a complete beginner, what I’ve read so far has been very helpful and easy to digest. Nice one Josh!

  • Great 100th post!! Very timely as well, since it was posted weeks before I got my DSLR. I studied this and read all the tutorials a couple of times over and it helped soooo much!! I recommend your blog to any photographer I know. Many thanks!!

  • This is useful and informative website
    http://www.digitphotoinfo.com

  • JoeLee2

    Hi guys, my name’s Joe and I have a serious passion for
    photography. I’m constantly looking to grow and improve. I started posting some
    of my original photography to my blog in hopes to get some constructive
    feedback. I also share HUNDREDS of photographs daily from all around the world.
    My blog is http://www.onlyjoelee.com and you can find my originals under
    “my photography”. Thank you guys so much 🙂

  • Luis

    Link to tutorial on Aperture doesn’t work.

  • RR

    Thank you so much for this incredible post . Now I have the confidence to achieve my dream of being a better photographer.
    thanks for your help
    🙂

  • Jah Lite

    you made it simple and highly clear to understand… thank you..

  • MortyMilk

    Didn’t think photography could sound this easy. Thanks, bro!

    • Alyssa

      We’re glad you found this helpful!

  • Gajender

    Yeah Nice Tutorial,
    learn more , know more, see the practical approach of photography technique of Delhi wedding photographer works.

  • Great to find such an informative and content. This content will help to much to the beginners to get better and perfect idea. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Alyssa

      Thank you for the feedback, we appreciate your support!

  • Pingback: The Beginner’s Guide to Street Photography – unusex()

  • Theingar Tun

    Good
    Thankfully

  • Cool and Dandy!!! Very informative content. keep it up…

  • Hi Josh, quality, price, and location are considered to be the primary concerns in photo retouching work.

  • Love the posts that you have here. Keep up the good work.

  • Reyzie_ Zec

    very educative, thanks… what camera do you think is the best pls?

  • Gassius Maximus

    Very nice stuff Josh! Thanks.

  • This is very helpful especially for the beginners. Thanks for sharing.

  • David Douglas

    A very interesting article. I shall work my way through it over the next month. (I prefer to learn a little at a time)
    However what I wanted to find out, is the difference between RAW & JPEG.
    Recently I’ve been taking photos rather than making notes of writings, specifications & other details while out & about. Since my camera was capable of shooting 20mp or 4k, I just shot all stills in 20mp.Then I found out that I don’t have a computer, or TV, that’s capable of displaying 20mp. Subsequently I find RAW or JPEG are just as sharp on my computers display. But I don’t know how many pixels make up those photos. None of the cameras I use gives that information. But I could store many more photos on a 64gb card if I set the resolution at the lower end of satisfactory.
    Here’s another one of my discoverys that readers might find interesting: I have to use hi-speed cards for 4k movies, but I can use the slower, cheaper cards for stills. Even 20mp stills.

  • fizz buzz (everything viral)

    brother honestly you are the only one who made me understand these basics because you kept it simple with relevant images.thank you very much and keep up the good work

  • Very good explanations and you make it look so easy!

  • A very interesting and educative article. Lucky that i found your article or blog post randomly. Can’t wait for the next one already!