Photography: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide

Are you considering to get a camera? Or do you already own a camera but can’t seem to get the perfect shot that you desire? Fret not! You are not alone.

This is a common frustration faced by many beginners as they embark on their photography journey. Technology has made photography a tad easier these days; the auto setting allows one to take a relatively decent shot easily in just a few clicks with minimal effort and knowledge.

However, the best shots are always taken off auto settings. As such, the very first step in photography is to play around with your camera and explore the settings available.

Only when you understand what each setting does, you can practice your shots effectively. Trust us, you will get better as you practice more. In today’s guide, we will introduce the basic settings, along with some tips for all of you beginners!

Aperture

Aperture refers to the opening in your lens that allows light to pass through. Aperture is indicated by values such as f/2, f/8 and so on. One catch though, which make things confusing, is that small numbers represent large aperture while big numbers represent small aperture. i.e. f/2 is larger than f/8 and much larger than f/11.

You can think of them as fractions if that helps you to remember! You will need to use a large aperture if you want to capture photos in the dark. Apart from light, the other effect of aperture is depth of field. In layman terms, depth of field is simply how much area of a scene is well focused.

A larger aperture gives a narrow depth of field while a smaller aperture gives a wider depth of field. Remember seeing those pictures where the focus of the picture is sharp and the background is blurred? You can achieve such an effect by using a larger aperture to give a narrow depth of field!   

For beginners, you can try using the Aperture Priority Mode on your camera. Using this function, you set the aperture and ISO, leaving the camera to select the right shutter speed for you. This makes your job slightly easier as you have one less setting to deal with!

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the amount of time your camera takes to take a picture. How does this affect your picture? Well, the longer the shutter speed, the more light will pass through your lens and get to your camera’s sensor.

This affects the motion captured in your picture; a long shutter speed will blur motion while a short shutter speed will freeze motion. Shutter speeds are usually measured in fractions of a second, if it is below a second.

Use a fast shutter speed if you are trying to capture fast-moving objects! A fast shutter speed is typically a fraction of a second such as ½ or ¼ while a slow shutter speed is typically longer than a second.   

If you are not confident with your photography skills yet, you can start by trying out the Shutter Priority Mode on your camera. Using this function, you select the shutter speed and ISO.

The camera will automatically select the suitable aperture for you. In this way, you get to explore around the different shutter speeds without overly complicating things.

ISO

ISO, in simple terms, simply refers to a setting that can help you brighten or darken your photos as you take them. This is different from brightening your photos during post production as it provides a better-quality image than editing the picture afterwards. The ISO values on different cameras may vary but some of the standard values are:

  • ISO 100
  • ISO 200
  • ISO 400
  • ISO 800
  • ISO 1600
  • ISO 3200
  • ISO 6400

The lowest ISO value on your camera is your base ISO. This setting will give you the best quality images. However, depending on the lighting, it may not always be possible to stick to it. A recommended guide is to use an ISO of 100 to 200 when shooting with good lighting and an ISO of 400 to 800 when shooting in dark lighting conditions.

When you increase your ISO setting, your photos will become brighter. This setting allows you to capture photos in darker environments. However, bear in mind that there will always be a trade-off; as you increase the ISO setting, your photo will show more grains- also commonly known as ‘noise’.

Therefore, adjusting your ISO should not be the go-to option when you want to brighten your photo. Instead, consider adjusting the shutter speed and aperture first.

For instance, you can brighten your photo using a long shutter speed if you have a tripod with you or if you have a way to keep your camera completely still. You can also try increasing your aperture.

However, if all fails, it is still better that you capture a sharp photo using a high ISO setting (which also means a grainy picture) than have no photos at all. You will just have to spend more effort removing these ‘noises’ during the post production process!

To end this article off, let us take a look at how these 3 settings mentioned above are correlated. You may have heard the term “overexposed photo” and this is where the 3 settings mentioned above comes in.

Overexposure happens when an image is brighter than it should be. The 3 settings affect the exposure as they are the only settings, apart from flash, that can affect the brightness of your photo.

When taking a picture, check if there is any overexposure. If there is, it is likely that you will have to adjust one of the 3 settings. Try lowering your ISO or use a faster shutter speed and that should do the trick. Don’t worry as it takes time and practice to master the balance between the 3 settings. Even the auto mode on the camera don’t get it right all the time.

Now, off you go with these in mind! You are now one step nearer to becoming a professional photographer!

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