Girl in the ocean

10 Basics of Photography

I think a photography class should be a requirement in all educational programs because it makes you see the world rather than just look at it. – Author Unknown

Summer is almost here! Are you excited? Ready for vacation? Ready to take some great photos? I was going through some handwritten notes I took during a photography seminar many years ago. Some pretty basic stuff, but I think it’s helpful to review it from time to time. I know I’ve come a long way since then, but I will try to summarize it in this blog. I encourage you to read this even though it may seem like common sense. Sometimes we all get a little carried away and overly creative and forget or ignore the basics of photography. I will expand on some of these topics in future blogs. Let’s hope I can understand my handwriting.

1. Hold the camera properly

This is very important because you want to avoid unplanned motion blur. If you have a DSLR, click here for some tips on how to hold it.

2. Choose the appropiate mode

Unless you shoot action/moving subjects, you should be using aperture priority. If I had to estimate, I would say that I use shutter priority only 20% off the time.


3. Use the correct aperture and speed

I came across a quote recently attributed to the photojournalist Weegee. Apparently, when asked how he takes such interesting pictures, Weegee said “f/8 and be there.” What is so special about this aperture? Why didn’t he mention anything about shutter speed? In my experience, if you use aperture priority mode and set your aperture at f/8, you will be fine most of the time. Be careful that your shutter speed does not get too low. Very bright day? I am sure you’ve heard of the “sunny 16” rule.

4. Don’t forget to set the ISO

What is ISO? It is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your sensor is to light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity. In other words, use a lower ISO on bright days and a higher ISO when less light is available. Read more here. Remember, ISO works with the aperture and shutter speed. For example, increasing your ISO allows you to take pictures in less light without worrying about the shutter speed getting too low.  Keep in mind, a higher ISO may introduce digital noise to your pictures.

5. Be creative with your composition

Don’t put the subject in the middle, apply the rule of thirds and other photography rules, but don’t limit yourself. Try breaking the rules form time to time and make sure to capture the moment and your emotions.

6. Take advantage of the golden hour

Light is much softer and warmer one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. You can even find a golden hour calculator here.

7. Check your foreground and background

I wrote an article a few weeks ago on this topic. Remember to check your background for distractions and avoid an out of focus foreground.

8. Use exposure compensation

One of the greatest benefits of a digital camera is that you can see the picture right away. So if your shot looks overexposed, just stop it down by a few stops and take it again. The same applies if the image is underexposed, only you have to stop it up. The camera usually does a good job at adjusting the exposure for you. However, there are exceptions. For example, trying to take pictures at the beach could be fun but also challenging. Both the sand and the sun can be your enemies. They can throw off your camera’s sensor and your help will be needed. Your camera will see a very bright scene and, in trying to adjust for 18% gray, it will make your shots very dark. But don’t worry, there is an easy fix. Find your camera’s exposure value (EV) compensation and set it to +1 (one stop) or +2 (two stops). This will tell the camera to let more light in.

9. Shoot raw

If your camera allows it, shoot raw. Not sure why it is important? Read this great article.

10. Don’t get carried away in post processing

If you shot raw, you will need to do a little post processing. I use Lightroom, but there are many post-processing software packages. In fact Lightroom 5 is just out. I’ve upgraded but haven’t had the chance to use it much yet. I did notice that is much faster than the previous version. I typically make only minor adjustments and strongly encourage you to do the same. It is so easy to get carried way and this can really be time-consuming. Check out my articles about post processing and over processing.

I hope you found this refresher helpful and it will motivate you to take some great shots this summer. Very basic, I know, but sometimes we need to slow down and remember the general rules of photography.

Happy summer and happy shooting!

For more photography tips and ideas, check out my latest photography book, Picture (Im)perfect Photographynow available at Amazon.


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One Response to “10 Basics of Photography”

  1. Kathleen Jestin | November 14, 2013 at 5:46 PM #

    Excellent tips for beginner photographers. Thank you very much for sharing!

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