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Learning the Photography Basics

 1st Feb 2021


What does learning the photography basics entail?

Everyone has experience with photography in some manner. Whether this is being photographed as part of your friend’s bridal party or snapping pics on your smartphone - you’ve encountered photography.

But what makes photography more than just a few point-and-shoot moments? How do we grow into a hobby that has so many facets? 

Believe me, there are a multitude of ways to make photography far more complicated than it has to be. You can be a skilled photographer without understanding every possible new functionality that is available. 

The photography basics start with five core fundamentals:

  1. Shutter speed
  2. Aperture
  3. ISO
  4. White balance
  5. Focal length

We’re going to learn the highlights of each feature in this blog right now!

Shutter Speed

Your shutter speed is the most flexible exposure control because there are loads of them to choose from. For the most part shutter speeds are chosen to get the correct exposure for whatever aperture you set on your camera.

Shutter speed is how long the shutter is open which means how long light is exposed onto the sensor. In layman’s terms it’s the length of time it takes to take a photograph.

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Shutter speed is measured using seconds and fractions of seconds. The higher the number, the higher the speed.

For example, 1/1000 is much faster than 1/30!


Aperture is how you control your exposure. 

The lower the F-stop, the larger the aperture and the higher the F-stop, the smaller the aperture.

The lower the F-stop the blurrier the background because the depth of field is smaller. The higher the F-stop the sharper the background because there is a bigger depth of field. 

Aperture is important technically for exposure and creatively for depth of field. Definitely a key part of basic photography skills.

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Wide Apertures

  • Wide apertures are low numbers like 2.8 or 4 or 5.
  • They give you a shallow (small) depth of field - good for fuzzy backgrounds or foregrounds
  • Careful focusing is very important to make sure the bit you want sharp is sharp
  • Because they’re ‘wide’ more light gets in so your camera in aperture priority will set a faster shutter speed

Small Apertures

  • Small apertures are high numbers like 16 or 22 or more
  • They give you a deep (big) depth of field ­- good for landscapes and scenery
  • Focusing not quite so critical ­- rule of thumb is go for a midpoint
  • Because they’re small less light gets in - so your camera in aperture priority will set slower shutter speeds. Use a tripod to avoid blurry pictures caused by camera shake


ISO is a bonus level exposure control. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow brighter.

This makes it a fantastic tool for low light conditions but it’s use isn’t limited to those darker moments. 

By increasing your ISO the camera becomes more sensitive to light so it doesn't need such a long shutter speed. You can speed up the shutter, freeze the motion and have a sharp image and it's all thanks to your ISO settings.

The key to that essential fast shutter speed was using my ISO speeds to achieve that. Using ISO speed settings can also help you out when you want maximum depth of field in low light.

White Balance

White Balance settings are where you tell the camera the colour of the light you're photographing in. 

By choosing the appropriate white balance setting on your camera for the light you're shooting in, you can ensure your pictures will have a more professional look to them.

All light sources have a colour cast of their own called colour temperature - but we don't often notice with our eyes because our brains colour correct everything for us.

Even outside daylight changes colour according to time of day, sunshine or shade or cloud, and by setting white balance it's very simple to correct.

In layman’s terms, white balance in digital photography means adjusting colors until the image looks more natural.


Focal Length

The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view and the higher the magnification. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle of view and the lower the magnification. We’re talking about your lens.

Focal length explained shows you how simple it is to completely change the way an image looks just by using different focal lengths.

Focal length is how we describe the magnification of your lens and it's described in millimetres. Some have fixed lengths and others can be 'zoomed' in and out as you change the focal length.

If you zoom your lens you're probably trying to get something that's a long way off to come nearer. But 'zooming' changes more than just your focal length.

As well as magnifying, focal length changes three other things as well, perspective, depth of field and field of view. Each of these have a dramatic impact on the way your images look, what's included and what's not and what's sharp and what's soft.

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When you’re trying to wrap your head around all the technicalities that can come with photography, take a step back.

Focus on these 5 foundational principles. Learn them, practice with them and master them.

Here are some resources to help get you started:

  1. Shutter Speed
  2. Aperture
  3. ISO
  4. White Balance
  5. Focal Length

Once you have a confident grasp of the basics, jump right in with the Masterclass in Photography. This online course will take you from photography basics to confident photographer.