What is basic photography?

Photography is all about light. To let the camera “see” what you wish, you have tools controlling how much light reaches the camera sensor: the aperture and shutter speed controls. With too little light, your photo will be too dark. With too much light, it will be too bright. In both cases, some details will be lost. You use aperture and shutter speed to achieve the proper exposure while taking into account some important side-effects you should be aware of.

Today, many people today like learning about photography online, which is a great way to search through large amounts of information (and carry a reference in your pocket). But as good as the internet is for answering questions, it’s not always geared toward studying a large topic from start to finish.

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After operating Photography Life for more than a decade, we decided to fill this gap for beginning photographers. As we see it, people should be able to start learning photography with little to no prior knowledge, dig down for a bit, and emerge with a solid understanding of the most important concepts. So, Photography Basics – a completely free, online guide to photography – was born.

EXPOSURE

When we talk about “exposure,” we simply mean the brightness or darkness of a photo. It seems simple enough to take a correctly exposed photo (has the proper brightness or darkness), but in reality, it can be quite tricky. Exposure uses Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO in conjunction to create a properly exposed image. 

SHUTTER SPEED

One of the three most important photography settings is Shutter Speed, the other two being Aperture and ISO. Shutter speed is responsible for two particular things: changing the brightness of your photo and creating dramatic effects by either freezing action or blurring motion.

Shutter speed, also known as “exposure time”, stands for the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. If the shutter speed is fast, it can help to freeze action completely. If the shutter speed is slow, it can create an effect called “motion blur”, where moving objects appear blurred along the direction of the motion.

Shutter speed exists because of the camera shutter, a curtain in front of the camera sensor that stays closed until the camera fires. When the camera fires, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your lens. After the sensor is done collecting the light, the shutter closes immediately, stopping the light from hitting the sensor. The button that fires the camera is also called “shutter” or “shutter button,” because it triggers the shutter to open and close.

Shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo. This has a few important effects on how your images will appear.

When you use a long shutter speed, you end up exposing your sensor for a significant period of time. The first big effect of it is motion blur. If your shutter speed is long, moving subjects in your photo will appear blurred along the direction of motion. This effect is used quite often in advertisements of cars and motorbikes, where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by intentionally blurring the moving wheels.

Slow shutter speeds are also used to photograph the Milky Way or other objects at night or in dim environments with a tripod. Landscape photographers may intentionally use long shutter speeds to create a sense of motion on rivers and waterfalls while keeping everything else completely sharp.

On the other hand, shutter speed can also be used to do just the opposite – freeze motion. If you use an especially fast shutter speed, you can eliminate motion even from fast-moving objects, like birds in flight or cars driving past. If you use a fast shutter speed while taking pictures of water, each droplet will hang in the air completely sharp, which might not even be visible to our own eyes. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day. 

APERTURE

Aperture is one of the three pillars of photography (the other two being Shutter Speed and ISO) and certainly the most important.

Aperture can be defined as the opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. It is an easy concept to understand if you just think about how your eyes work. As you move between bright and dark environments, the iris in your eyes either expands or shrinks, controlling the size of your pupil.

In photography, the “pupil” of your lens is called the aperture. You can shrink or enlarge the size of the aperture to allow more or less light to reach your camera sensor. 

Aperture can add dimension to your photos by controlling the depth of the field. At one extreme, aperture gives you a blurred background with a beautiful shallow focus effect.

On the other, it will give you sharp photos from the nearby foreground to the distant horizon. On top of that, it also alters your images’ exposure by making them brighter or darker.

ISO

What is basic photography?

In very basic terms, ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases your camera’s sensitivity.

ISO is one of the three pillars of photography (the other two being shutter speed and aperture), and it has a major effect on your images. How does camera ISO affect your images?

What is the Meaning of ISO?

The acronym ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization”. However, camera ISO does not directly refer to the organization that creates various technology and product standards. Ever since two film standards called ASA and DIN were combined into ISO standards in 1974 (later revised for both film and digital photography), they were referred to as one word “ISO” from that point on. Although ISO initially defined only film sensitivity, it was later adopted by digital camera manufacturers with the purpose of maintaining similar brightness levels as film.

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FOCUS

Focusing is one of the most common struggles for anyone beginning in photography.

Briefly, focusing consists of adjusting the lens to find the maximum sharpness, contrast, and resolution for a chosen subject.

There are two ways to focus on digital photography:

Manual focus: Using your hands to tweak the focus ring until you get to the best focus.

Automatic focus: Using the camera’s and lenses’ internal motors to focus on a given subject.

Using manual focus or autofocus will depend on the type of photography that you do. For instance, in some genres like macro and night photography, it’s better to use manual focus. Yet, in other genres, like wildlife or sports, autofocus is faster and will make things easier.

In some genres like landscape photography, you can focus on a specific distance that will help you achieve the maximum depth of field (or reasonable sharpness). This is called the Hyperfocal distance, and it’s one of the best photography basics to learn.

SHARPNESS 

Sharpness is a basic photography concept that can be more technical than others, but it’s rather easy to understand.

In a nutshell, sharpness is just how clearly detail is captured and processed in an image.

There are many factors affecting the sharpness of an image, like the sensor resolution, the lens, and even some photography basics that we already covered, like the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

The editing basics and post-processing techniques are also important to achieve more sharpness. Images usually lack detail when they are taken straight out of the camera (something called “softness” in photography), and you can correct this by using some sharpening software.

Lastly, viewing distance is another important factor affecting sharpness. By definition, the perception of sharpness increases as the viewing distance of the image grows. That’s why billboards have a very small resolution when looked at closely. 

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WHITE BALANCE

As the name suggests, white balance balances the colour temperature in your image. How does it do this? It adds the opposite colour to the image in an attempt to bring the colour temperature back to neutral. Instead of whites appearing red or yellow, they should appear white after correctly white balancing an image.

White balance is one of those easy to understand photography basics.

Briefly, white balance is a photography concept aimed at capturing accurate colours in your image without being affected by the colour of the light source. White Balance is related to colour temperature, which is measured in “Kelvins” or “K”. The higher the K number, the cooler the colour will be.

In your camera, you’ll have several white balance options:

  • Automatic white balance (AWB): The camera automatically adjusts the best WB camera setting.
  • White balance Presets (Semi-Automatic White Balance): The camera includes different preset modes related to different colour temperatures.
  • White balance manual camera setting (Custom white balance mode): You can manually adjust the white balance by creating a custom white balance or setting a specific Kelvin number.

One of the best photography basic tips is to set the white balance to automatic. Thankfully, the white balance is a setting that you can change in post-processing without affecting the quality of the image, as long as you shoot in Raw.

DEPTH OF FIELD

One of the fundamentals of digital photography is the depth of field.

In short, depth of field is simply the space in the image that is acceptably sharp and in focus.

In photography, we can say that there’s a shallow depth of field when just a narrow portion of the frame is acceptably sharp, whereas we speak about a large depth of field when a big portion of the frame is considered to be in focus.

Depth of field is affected by many different factors:

  • Aperture: The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field
  • Focal length: The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field
  • Focusing distance: The closer the subject to the lens, the shallower the depth of field
  • Sensor size: The smaller the camera sensor size, the shallower the depth of field (*using the same focal length).

A good way to calculate the depth of field is by using a depth of field app or calculator. It’ll tell you the portion of your frame that will be reasonably sharp according to your camera, lens, and aperture.

FOCAL LENGTH 

Focal length is related to the photography lens basics.

It’s a vital photography concept to understand for creating your images and choosing the lenses that you’ll need in your gear.

The focal length works by describing each lens in terms of millimetres from the optical centre of the lens to the sensor. Depending on how short or long the focal length is, this will directly impact the field of view of your images and in other aspects like the depth of field.

For example, shorter focal lengths like wide-angle lenses will have a wide-angle of view, whereas longer focal lengths like telephotos will have a narrower angle of view. The focal length will also create different effects, like distortion in wide angles of view and magnification in narrower angles of view.

All these elements are essential for anyone who is beginning in photography since they will affect the final look of your subject and image.

You’ll find this photography concept easily explained following the below basic infographic.

SENSOR SIZE 

What is basic photography?

Another photography fundamental for beginners that often goes overlooked is the camera sensor size.

The camera sensor size is truly important. There’s no absolute best sensor size in photography, but rather different sensor sizes for different photographic needs.

The size used as a reference in digital photography is the classic 35 mm sensor size, also known as Full-Frame. If the sensor is smaller than this size, it’s said to be “cropped”, and if it’s bigger, it’s considered “medium format. “Knowing the different types of sensors, their qualities, and what they can achieve is also crucial to take the pictures that you want.

For example, a basic rule in night photography is to use a sensor with larger pixels since these are better at capturing light and will allow you to take a better-quality image with less digital noise.

The focal length is also important since smaller sensors will offer more reach and greater magnification for shooting subjects far away, like in wildlife or sports.

The depth of field is the last effect of the camera sensors. Using the same field of view, the depth of field will be narrower in cameras with larger sensors and larger in cameras with cropped sensors. An example is portrait photography, where photographers usually shoot with larger sensors to decrease field and bokeh effect depth.

As you can see, understanding the sensor size is one of those photography basics that you must pay attention to. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.

METERING MODES

Another photography fundamental for starters is the metering modes.

In short, metering modes are simply the way your camera calculates the available light of the scene. This can be done using the built-in exposure meter in a camera or a handheld device in photography.

Understanding how light works in photography is a basic concept that any photographer must know, and it’s the first step in learning the different ways your camera can calculate the light of the scene.

These are the basic metering modes to calculate the light in most digital cameras:

  • Multi/Matrix metering: This mode evaluates the light of the entire scene by dividing the frame into different zones.
  • Centre-weighted metering: This mode uses the centre of the frame to measure the light of the scene.
  • Spot metering: Using this mode, the camera uses a single focus point to read the light.

By default, one of the basic photography techniques in any DSLR or mirrorless camera is to use Multi/Matrix metering, which will be accurate in most situations. However, in some particular scenarios, you might benefit from using either Center or Spot metering.

You can check out some examples in the below photography basics infographic related to the main camera metering modes.

As a photographer, decide the right exposure configuration. Modern cameras in automatic mode provide you with a (usually good) proposal: an aperture and shutter speed combination achieving the right exposure. Depending on your goals, you evaluate this combination. Does it achieve the desired depth of field? Is the shutter speed fast enough to avoid motion blur or slow enough to make it? Make adjustments if necessary. For example, to increase the depth of field, reduce the aperture and increase the shutter speed (or ISO sensitivity).

In very basic terms, ISO is simply a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. For that reason, ISO can help you capture images in darker environments or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

However, raising your ISO has consequences. A photo taken at too high of an ISO will show a lot of grain, known as noise, and might not be usable. So, brightening a photo via ISO is always a trade-off. You should only raise your ISO when you are unable to brighten the photo via shutter speed or aperture instead (for example, if using a longer shutter speed would cause your subject to be blurry).