We carry a camera with us everywhere we go, and whether we’re using our smartphone or a DSLR, we’ve never had such great access to creating top-quality photography. All modern cameras offer tonnes of automated settings that make taking a photo easy, and even the most common photo sharing social media platforms give us advanced editing options. So, whatever photo you take, you can be certain your pictures will look great.
But even though photographic technology has evolved rapidly, the basic techniques photographers have used for over a century are still incredibly relevant today. By mastering these skills you’ll find you’re shooting the photographs you want, whatever camera you’re using.
The process of taking a photo, whether on film or digital, boils down to light passing through a very narrow opening where it projects an image onto a sensor or on film. The way we control this light determines certain aspects of our photos; things like motion blur, exposure, and depth of field. These can all be used to give a creative and personal twist to our photos, and using them properly means we’re able to create the image we want, not the one the camera chooses for us.
There are four main variables in the way we can control light, and these are:
In this introduction to photography basics, we’ll be looking at each one of these in a bit more detail — keep an eye out for links to some of our other blogs if you’d like to dive a bit deeper. We’ll explain how they control light, how to use them, and what effects they’ll have on your photos.
To impress a fixed image onto a sensor or film, a tiny amount of light must be let through the lens. When you click to take a photo, your camera’s shutter will open and close really fast, letting a set amount of light reach the sensor or film. The amount of light that gets through the lens, and therefore the speed the shutter opens and closes, will have a huge effect on exposure (how bright or dark your photo will be) and on motion blur, which is your ability to ‘freeze’ movement or let it show. To find out more about how shutter speed can help you produce creative photos, click here.
The size of the opening the shutter controls is another setting that can be easily adjusted. This setting is called aperture, and it has an effect both on exposure and depth of field, which is often shortened to ‘DoF’. In short, a good understanding of DoF makes it possible to control the amount of the photo that will be in focus. You’ve probably noticed photos where only the subject is in focus, while the background almost melts into a soft blur. This is done by controlling the aperture, and therefore DoF. If you’d like to find out more about using aperture control, have a read of this blog.
Back in the days before digital photography, ISO referred to a film roll’s sensitivity to light. Now it also refers to how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Just as high sensitivity film will produce grainy images, a high ISO setting on your camera will make your image brighter but at the cost of introducing the digital equivalent of grain, which is known as noise. As technology improves, the quality of photos taken at high ISO settings is also increasing, but it’s important to remember that each camera has a limit as to what can be considered an acceptable amount of noise. For more on how to use ISO effectively, check out these top tips.
A really important lesson to remember in photography, is that all light sources are different. Every time you take a photo, your camera processes the info it receives and determines what the correct colours of the scene are. Your end result will vary on whether you’re shooting with natural light, tungsten, LED, or a different light source. It will also vary depending on whether it’s an overcast day, if you’re indoors or outdoors, and so on. Using the wrong white balance will mean the colours on your photo will be skewed towards one part of the spectrum, meaning you’ll end up with photos that are too yellow, green, blue, or magenta.
You’ll find all modern cameras have white balance presets, which will cover the most common scenarios, but there are more advanced options you can explore, where you can fine-tune your photography to get exactly the results you want. Check out this blog where we dive deeper into white balance, and explain how the settings can dramatically influence your photos.
These core photographic skills apply to every photo you take. They’re important to master because they can rarely be changed or fixed in post-production, and nothing is more frustrating than taking a pic of a beautiful scene and not getting the results you want. When you get to grips with these essentials, you’ll really see the difference in your pictures — especially when they’re printed, put in a bonusprint photo book, or displayed as wall art.
Once you’ve mastered these essential photography techniques, you’ll find you’re in control of the camera, rather than the other way around.