I’ve been writing on this site for a while now, and I’ve put together a lot of good content, but the trouble is that a lot of it can be hard to find, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This post will walk you though everything that a beginner in photography should learn, and in the order that they’re supposed to learn it. Welcome to my 100th post.
You should know that there is now a video version of this post, and it can be viewed here.
The most basic and essential part of photography is exposure. Learning how exposure works will help you to take control of your camera, and take better photos. As you start to learn what shutter speed, aperture and ISO does, you’ll learn about the other effects that each have on your photos, which can produce creative results. If you only have time to learn one aspect of photography, then this is it, as you’ll start to move away from full auto or program modes, and learn how to use your camera properly.
If we cover exposure in the order that the light enters the camera, then the aperture always comes first. The linked article will explain aperture in much more detail, but to put it into layman’s terms, the aperture is very simliar to the pupil of your eye – the wider it is, the more light it will let in. There are side effects to using certain apertures, namely depth of field, but we’ll get to that in a post further down the page. I found exposure much more complicated before I learnt the aperture scale, so try to make sure that you memorise it, and understand the f-stop scale, so that you can use the knowledge to take better photos in the future.
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.
After aperture, comes shutter speed. It will effectively take the amount of light that the lens has let though, and then only use a fraction of a second’s worth (usually), depending on the lighting situation. Different speeds can have different uses. You would want to use a longer speed of around 30 seconds for night photography on a tripod, but you may want a speed of around 1/1000 of a second if you’re shooting a fast moving subject. It all depends on what you’re shooting and how much light you have available. Shutter speed was the first thing I learnt when I got my SLR because I wanted to be able to freeze motion and remove any potential blur. Looking back though, I wish I’d learnt aperture first.
Once you’ve decided how much light you’re going to let through to the sensor, it’s then time to decide how much more you need. This may sound confusing, because surely you let in as much light as you need in the first place, right? Wrong. The problem is that you have to be able to change your aperture and shutter speed to suit your shooting situation if you want to get good, and unblurred results, but unfortunately this doesn’t always provide you with enough light. This is when you can then decide to increase your ISO to make the camera more sensitive to the light. Watch out though, because the higher the ISO, the more grain the camera will produce. More about that in the full post though.
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. There are different metering modes, that can be used for different lighting situations, which will better instruct your camera how your want it to expose. This is especially important if you’re not shooting on manual because you leave part of the exposure up to the camera. By using various metering modes such as ‘spot metering’ you can completely change the amount of light going into the camera. Understanding this may just be the key to understanding why your photos are coming out underexposed.
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 group photos, where you’ll want to have a narrower aperture so that you can get everyone in focus. This tutorial will walk you though everything you need to know about choosing the right aperture for the right situation.
White balance is something I wish I’d learnt more about much sooner than I did, because 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 warmth of a photo. It is effectively shifting the colour from blue to orange, from cold to warm, and it does so depending on which balance you choose. Auto white balance doesn’t tend to do a particularly good job, particularly with tungsten light, so the sooner you learn how to control it yourself, the more accurate your photos will look.
This was actually the first tutorial that I wrote, because at the time, it wasn’t something I understood too well. Have you ever wondered what the millimeter on your lens actually means? Or why people use longer focal lengths for portraits? It’s all discussed in this tutorial, as the focal length affects more than just the zoom, it changes the perspective too. I also cover which focal length you would use in certain situations, as well as their possible side effects. It’s really a worthwhile read and one of my favourite tutorials to date.
A lot of you may not realise it, but unless you spend about $3000 on your camera, then you’re more than likely going to be shooting on a crop sensor. That basically means that your sensor is smaller than professional SLR cameras, and that basically crops the image. This has a range of effects on your photos, as it’ll crop the image to a narrower viewing angle, and will influence your choice of lens purchases in the future. This tutorial is a must for any beginner photographer who wants to understand their camera more.
What can I say about the nifty fifty? What’s not to love? For those of you that don’t know, when I talk about the nifty fifty, I’m talking about 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 a guide, and I wrote it because I recommend this lens as the first upgrade that every beginner photographer should 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, then you’ll struggle to take really good photos. I’m not saying that good photos always include compositional rules, because that’s often far from true, but it helps to learn these rules so that you can forget them in the future. That may sound stupid, but these rules are really only guides, and the more you know about them, the better your understanding will be of how a photo works.
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 up into thirds and plant key objects in these lines, and the composition will work better. This often works really well 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. The idea is that the viewer gets to see more than just the subject and is free to, and encouraged, to explore the photo themselves.
Visual weigh is different to size or weight as we know it, and it’s largely down to different elements, such as human eyes and writing. When you can understand visual weight a lot more, 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. It’s no so much a tool, or a rule, as it is an understanding.
Here is the full tutorial on Visual Weight.
Balance in a photo has a big affect on how we feel when we look at the photo, as an unbalanced photo can make us feel uneasy, where as 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 have reasons to justify this choice. Again, it’s one of those situations where the more you know, the easier it will be to produce the desired effect.
This was my 100th tutorial today, so I hope you’ve gotten something out of it, I know I’ve gotten a lot out of writing them. If you have any questions, please come over to Facebook and I’ll be happy to help. Thanks, Josh.