• Jake Colvin

Photography Basics

Photography Basics

Here is what you can expect to learn and understand after completing this overview:

1) Shutter Speed

2) Aperture

3) ISO

4) How each function interacts with one another

Before we begin, here are some basic term definitions...

Depth of Field: Depth of field, sometimes referred to as DOF, refers to how much of an image is in focus, specifically the distance between the nearest and farthest in-focus parts of an image. Images with a shallow depth of field exhibit a lot of out-of-focus area (blurred foreground and/or background) while images with a deep depth of field can have nearly everything in focus. Depth of field is related to both the lens' aperture, and the size of the image sensor. Larger apertures (smaller f numbers) will leave less in focus - they give a shallow depth of field. Smaller apertures (larger f numbers) leave more of an image in focus - a deeper depth of field. Larger sensors also make it easier to blur a foreground and/or background at a given aperture, while a smaller sensor makes it easier to get everything in focus, at a given aperture. (SLRlounge.com)

Exposure: Exposure is the amount of light a sensor (or piece of film) receives, and the resulting tonal range captured in that image. There are three variables that are at play in determining what your exposure will be, and if it be bright, dark, or somewhere in the middle, neutral. They are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. You may hear these three variables referred to as ‘the exposure triangle.’ (SLRlounge.com)

Shutter: A device that allows light to pass for a determined period, exposing photographic film or a light-sensitive electronic sensor to light to capture a permanent image of a scene. (Wikipedia)

Sensor: a camera's image sensor receives the light coming through the lens into the camera and turns that light into an image. (The Photographer Blog)

Essential Functions Explained

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is best described as the amount of time that light can enter the camera’s sensor. The amount of time that light is hitting the sensor, determines how long your camera is actually “taking a picture”.

If your shutter speed is very fast, you can stop fast moving objects in their tracks. Faster shutter speeds are used frequently in “sports photography”.

Slower shutter speeds allow for a longer exposure, allowing more light into the sensor. Slow shutter speeds are often used to capture the motion in water, giving waterfalls the “silky smooth” appearance, and in astronomy photography, when capturing images of the Milkyway galaxy.

Please note that the slower your shutter speed, the brighter your image will be and the more motion your image will have. In contrast, the faster your shutter speed, the darker your image will be and the sharper your image will look. If you need to use a specific shutter speed, you can adjust your Aperture and ISO (explained below), to compensate and balance your lighting.

Aperture or Fstop

The Aperture setting controls the size of the shutter opening that allows light into the sensor. It also controls the Depth of Field in which you capture. Think of aperture as the cameras eyelid. The wider the aperture is open, the more it focuses on one object. The smaller the size of the aperture, the more details are captured. Consider the following examples:

Larger apertures (Smaller f Number) are great for portraits, as they put more emphasis on your subject and captures less details of the background. That is why you see the Bokeh effect in a professional portrait.

Photo by: Michael Helms

Smaller apertures (Higher f Number) are great for landscape shots, as the photographers focus is usually to capture the entire scene and not just one subject.

Please note: the larger the aperture, the brighter your image will be, as the shutter is more open, and more light is allowed into the sensor. In contrast, a smaller aperture allows in less light and therefore the image will be darker. If you need to use a certain aperture, you can add or subtract light by adjusting the shutter speed or ISO (explained below)

ISO (International Standards Organization)

ISO is an important function on your camera. Though the acronym stands for a light metering organization, the function on your camera is there to help add light when there isn’t enough external light available. This setting is best described as the sensor's sensitivity to light. Increasing the ISO makes your image brighter, at the expense of overall quality.

The use of the ISO function comes in handy in many cases. For example: When you are shooting a soccer game close to sunset, you want to capture the players “in action”. Well, as the sunlight subsides you will need to open your aperture to allow more light to the sensor. If you’ve done this and it is still too dark, your next option would usually be to slow down your shutter speed. However, doing this during a fast-paced soccer game will cause your subjects to blur. Therefore, to get the right exposure, without sacrificing image sharpness, you will keep your shutter speed at a faster setting and instead of slowing down your shutter speed, you can boost your ISO to balance the lighting and sharpness. Keep in mind that boosting your ISO too high will cause some grain on your image. Therefore, it is important to find the right balance of these settings. ISO should be kept as low as possible, to preserve detail. ISO is a “last resort” form of lighting.


Mastering these functions comes with practice and patience. At first it may seem confusing, but the best way to learn is by trial and error. Our advice would be to practice with landscapes, as they give you the opportunity to use each function in a comfortable and mostly cooperative environment. Practice daily and in different lighting situations and with these tips, you will master your camera’s most important functions.

To learn about our photography classes, please click HERE.

To learn how to edit like a professional. please click HERE.

Editing Tutorials Below!

These short tutorials will teach you a few basic editing techniques that will help you make noticeable advancements in your post processing skill level. For advanced techniques that will help your work stand out among the best, click HERE

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