Photography Corner – Starting with the Basics

I’m sure many of you are like me. Maybe it was having kids that spurred you on to get that slick new DSLR or mirrorless camera, or maybe you saw some amazing photos on social media that you’d like to replicate. Whatever the motivation, learning photography can be a daunting task. I’m faaaaarrrrrrrr from being an expert, but I’ve picked up some photography basics, which I’d love to share with you.

Auto Mode

Whether you’re shooting Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, or most any brand out there, chances are that your camera has an auto mode on it. Don’t be ashamed to use it. There are definitely reasons to move away from it after you start to get a little more advanced, but in the beginning, auto mode will allow you to be creative with your framing without worrying about all of the technical details of getting the perfect shot. Go ahead, keep the camera in auto for a while and get used to the controls. Once you feel comfortable with the camera, and aren’t rushed for time, let’s take a look at some other ways to shoot.

Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, AHHHHH!

Once you start looking at these things, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Take a step back, and we’ll examine each of these items one at a time. You don’t have to be an expert in all of the technical details, trust me, but it will definitely help you progress your skills in the long-run.

Exposure Triangle

Above, you can see the exposure triangle, and a very simple sketched version at that. The exposure triangle is a visualization of the relationship between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Instead of filling in the details I will discuss each element.

Photograph exposure, or brightness, is all about how much light hits the sensor. It can hit the sensor for a long time through a small opening or for a short time through a larger opening. It doesn’t matter as long as those photons hit the sensor.

Shutter Speed

Seems simple, right? How quickly the shutter cycles after you click.

The faster the shutter speed (expressed in fractions of a second for shutter speeds under 1s, or expressed in seconds when the shutter is set to stay open for longer than a second), the less light that will hit the sensor. The slower the shutter speed, the more light that will hit the sensor. The more light that hits the sensor, the more “exposed” the image is. But wait… if the shutter stays open for a long time and your subject is moving, it will introduce motion blur. Maybe you want that, maybe you don’t, but that’s one reason this has to be balanced with the other elements to create that perfect photo.


I bet you can picture the classic lens opening photo with the aperture blades that open and close. Something like this:

Aperture blades example

That aperture is inside your camera lens and as you adjust it, it lets in more or less light. A small f-stop, such as f/1.4 actually corresponds to a large aperture and that the most light is being let in and that your lens is “wide open.” Conversely, a large f-stop, such as f/13 means that the lens is closed down pretty far and isn’t letting much light in because you’re using a small aperture.

You may think to yourself, “Well, OK then, if I need more light, I’ll just open up the aperture.” It isn’t quite that simple though. The wider open your lens is, the shallower your depth-of-field (DoF) is, meaning that a narrower slice in front of the lens is in focus. If you are shooting a landscape and want a lot of the scene to be in focus, you’ll need to use f/8 or higher. If you’re taking a photo of a person and may want a lot of background blur, f/2.8 may give you what you need. Again, it is all a balancing act and you’ll develop preferences as you gain experience.

Here’s what a shallow DoF photo looks like, where only a small slice of the image is in-focus:

Shallow Depth-of-Field (DoF) Image

And here you’ll find an example of a deep DoF. You can see that the foreground elements and background elements are all in-focus:

Deep Depth-of-Field (DoF) Image


ISO determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light. A low ISO value will require more light to correctly expose a photo, and conversely, a high ISO value will require less light to correctly expose a scene.

Like the other elements, on the surface, ISO seems too simple. Under-exposed photograph? Why not just increase ISO and try again? The brightness comes with a downside: noise (which you’ll sometimes see called grain).

Your camera has a base ISO of something around 100 (varies by make/model) and for the best photo quality, it is recommended that you use that value. But there are many times you need to increase ISO as well. If you already have the aperture and shutter speed set exactly where you want them, but the photo is still underexposed, a bump up in ISO can fix that. Keep it as low as possible to produce photos with low amounts of noise and you’ll be set.

Exposure Cheat Sheet

Here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you remember the effects of changing the variables we talked about in this article.

Exposure Cheat Sheet

Click here to download the cheat sheet as a pdf document

Next Steps

Now that you have an idea of the variables that ultimately determine the exposure of your photo, we’ll talk a little about how you can set your camera to prioritize the elements that are important to you in the next article.

Thanks for stopping by!

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