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.
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:
Lets dive into more depth…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Understanding Your Camera
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
- 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…
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.
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A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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