How to Shoot Faster Like a Pro with These 6 Photography Basics

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The photography basics are something every aspiring photographer should be a master of and I really mean it. You must have complete control and full understanding of every setting.

There is a reason behind that. Only if you’ve mastered the fundamentals of photography, you can really understand the more advanced things in photography and find your own style.

If you think the photography basics aren’t as important as I emphasize it, then you should quickly change your mind. I know what I say, I was also like this.

Because my father is a photographer, it was inevitable that one day I will get in touch with a camera.

When this happened and I tried out his camera, I thought “How hard can it be to make a good photo? Looks pretty easy from how my dad is doing it”.

I took the camera and the first photo looked really not bad. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences and you?

A few years later I got my first own camera on my birthday and I was out testing my new camera.

The photos really looked like … shit!

“What?! Why?!” I thought. Of course because at that time I hadn’t any knowledge of the so-called PHOTOGRAPHY BASICS!

Well, now I know that a few years before, when I was testing the camera of my dad, he had already adjusted the right settings, so I only had to push a button and the magic would happen.

But back then, I’ve made the mistake to put my camera away for a few years instead of really trying to understand and research how to start photography and get a grip of the photography basics.

I thought that there are just too many settings to adjust and to understand. And there really are some settings that you should know how to adjust.

But, because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did, we will show you how to use the photography basics to have quick and good results.

We will show you all the important settings, explain what exactly you achieve with every adjustment and why you need that.

photography basics lighting

“Photography is the art of frozen time… the ability to store emotion and feelings within a frame.”

1. Aperture

The first thing that is important to understand is that a camera works with light.The aperture is basically the first hurdle for the light when it passes the lens to get inside your camera. Inside the lens is a hole and you can adjust the diameter of this hole with the help of the aperture. It works like a door. The more you open it, the more light comes in and vice versa.

Did you already notice the “f/number” (e.g. f/2.8 or 1:2.8) on your lens barrel? That are f-stops in which the size of the aperture’s opening is measured, whereas f is the focal length and 2.8 the number of the aperture opening. 

But that are inversed values, meaning that the lower the number gets, the wider the aperture is open and vice versa. The opening of the aperture also affects the depth of field of the final image. More light blurres the image more because of the refraction of the light rays on the sides.

The magical process of physics. As a result you can set a subject in focus by making the foreground and the background blurry. By the way this is the famous “bokeh” effect.

Summary: With the aperture you can adjust the diameter of the hole which is letting in the light. The wider the aperture, the more light comes in and the shallower the depth of field in your image gets, means everything but the subject will be less in focus. With a narrower aperture you get a deeper depth of field.

aperture
photography basics aperture

2. Shutter

The shutter is the second hurdle for the light when it passed the aperture. It is the second gate to control the flow of light.

Actually, that are even two gates. The first opens up and the second closes, and in between them passes the light.

The so-called shutter speed (e.g. 1/1000) is the speed with which the second gate closes the opening for the light. While the shutter can control the flow of light, it is generally used for capturing movement. It is responsible for the motion blur you see on a photo, for example light trails from passing cars at night.

The longer the shutter is opened (aka slow shutter speed), the more light and movement it captures, meaning that the image in motion will show up as a blur. Not good for sports photography but has a nice effect on waterfalls or passing cars at night.

On the other hand that also means the faster the shutter speed, the more precise the motion. So if you want to make a shot of any kind of movement or reaction in sports, races, and so on, you should use a fast shutter speed.

But you should have also in mind that a slower shutter speed is more sensitive to movements of the camera. You can prevent this through, for example, a tripod, a self-timer, or both.

Summary: The shutter is a gate that controls the flow of light and is mainly used for capturing movement. Fast shutter speed is for a crisp and clear capture, and slow shutter speed is for a more blurry effect of the movement.

shutter speed photography basics
photography basics shutter speed

3. ISO

Now the light passed all hurdles and finally reaches the camera sensor. The ISO controls how sensitive your camera sensor is to light.

So, like you need sunglasses for your eyes, the camera needs the ISO for its sensor. “ISO” is by the way a shortcut for International Organisation for Standardization and is actually a standard system of measurement.

Your ISO simply brightens or darkens a photo. Which means that ISO helps you to capture images in a dark environment.

Magic! Or a miracle of technology? But, everything in this world has also its counterpart. Raising ISO results in noise on your image. The higher the ISO, the more noise on your images.

What the hell is noise, you think? Noise are tiny colored dots on your image which lower the quality of the image. So you should be thoughtful about using your ISO and try to always use the lowest ISO possible for any given conditions.

But raising ISO still can help in some situations. For example can raising the ISO help you achieve faster shutter speed, so you can handle shots without them turning out blurry.

High ISO can also allow you to take photos in dark conditions which means it can replace a flash. The ISO can also come in handy if you are in a windy location or where the ground is shaking.

For instance if you are in a place with many people, where the ground is shaking, you could just raise your ISO so that you are able to use faster shutter speed.

Or imagine taking shots of a sunrise in a windy location.

Slow shutter speed is more affected by camera movement. Here you could set a higher ISO and therefore take a faster shutter speed.

Summary: ISO controls how sensitive the camera sensor is to light. The higher the ISO is, the brighter your photo gets and vice versa. Higher ISO comes with more noise on your image. Noise are tiny colored dots on the image which lower the quality of the image.

photography basics iso example
photography basics iso

4. White Balance

Now we are talking about the temperature! But what has temperature to do with photography basics?

Don’t forget about the light!

Each source of light has different color temperature. It is a characteristic of visible light and is measured in Kelvin (K). Ever noticed that taking photos on a cloudy day produces a bluer tint on your photo? That’s called color casting.

This happens when light is absorbed by certain colors and bounces back out. And our cameras can detect this color casting, what a mighty equipment!

A light with lower color temperature looks warmer because it contains more red light and a light with higher color temperature looks colder because it contains more blue light.

If you want to manually set the white balance, you have to find the setting for white balance, then point your camera at a pure white object, set the exposure and focus, and then activate it by pressing the button. You can use this for creating warmer or colder atmosphere on your images.

Imagine you celebrate Christmas at your parent’s home, the whole family is there and everybody is happy and laughing. In this situation a warmer color temperature would be beneficial because it shows a warmer and cozier atmosphere.

Summary: White balance refers to the color temperature of a light source. A light with lower color temperature looks warmer, a light with higher color temperature looks colder.

white balance photography basics
photography basics white balance

5. Exposure

This is the time where you bring everything together you’ve learned so far. The Exposure is nothing new for you because the Exposure of a camera is actually made up of the aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO.

Each of the single settings influence the other ones, depend on each other and work together because they all use the light. Always have in mind that there are two gates to let in light (aperture and shutter) and one step which controls the sensitivity to the light (ISO).

With this you can and should play. For example let in more light at the first gate but less at the second or vice versa. Or let in more light at both gates but make the camera sensor less sensitive to it. You could also try letting in less light and increase the sensitivity of the sensor. Just explore the boarders.

Naturally an image can also be overexposed or underexposed. Overexposure means that the information in the highlights is unreadable and underexposure that this information doesn’t exist.

As a result both informations can’t be retrieved in post processing (photo editing). On the taken image overexposure looks like your image is too bright and underexposure looks like your image is too dark.

Summary: Exposure is the cooperation of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Overexposure means your image is too bright and underexposure means your image is too dark.

exposure trio photography basics
photography basics exposure

6. Focal Length

The focal length refers to your lens and it determines how zoomed in your photos are. Besides the aperture, there is also a second number on your lens barrel which looks like number-number mm (e.g. 18-55mm).

The smaller first number is the widest and farthest-back angle, whereas the larger number is how far you can zoom in.

The number is not a measurement of the actual length of the lens, but a calculation of the optical distance from the point where light rays converge to form a sharp image of an object to the camera sensor.

For objects further away you need a longer focal length and to capture more of the scene in front of you a smaller focal length. There are also lenses with fixed and with variable focal lengths.

Secret tip: With a variable focal length you don’t need to change your lens as often because you can zoom.

One further thing you should know as well: A longer focal length results in a compression, which means that the background looks closer to you.

There are five general focal length ranges:

Ultra wide angle (usually 12-18mm) – Ideal for vast, expansive landscape shots.

Wide angle (20-35mm) – Also good for landscape shots and interiors.

Mid-range (average of 24-70mm) – More versatility and also good for landscapes.

Medium telephoto (between 70-300mm) – For subjects from far away across cliffs or from building tops.

Super telephoto (400-800mm) – The battleship among all of them. Commonly used for sports or wildlife.

Summary: Focal length is basically the zoom of your camera. Two numbers on the lens barrel show the widest angle (left) and how far the zoom can go (right). There are different ranges for different purposes.

focal length photography basics
photography basics focal length

Next Steps

Now you understand the photography basics, your camera and know everything you need to start out taking amazing photos! You could also confidently use your camera in manual mode, if you want to.

Some topics like the histogram aren’t covered here because of the simple reason that you don’t need them to shoot your first good shots. One further good thing is that this knowledge also works with smartphone photography on smartphones where you can adjust these settings as well.

Sure, you will have to work on your composition and practice but now you can do it in the most effective way.

What you can also do is to check out the settings and compositions from pro photographers, test them and learn from them.

After some time you’ll get the hang out of it and all the settings will be an automatic process for you, like using your arms. Just keep practicing and believe in yourself and your skills!

If you still feel like you need a course to expand your knowledge on the area of photography basics, then we highly recommend that you check out the photography basics course from Serge Ramelli. This master photographer is a well-known Fine Art Photographer and a very good photography teacher.

If you plan to pursue a photography career, then you can also check out our guide on how to make money with photography and I don’t mean the boring ways like a 9-5 or grumbling clients.

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