Photography for Beginners: A Complete Guide

Cameras are complicated. I was frustrated with my first DSLR. I just couldn’t capture what I saw through my viewfinder. It took a ton of trial and error.

When I managed to work it all out, I started taking some pretty spectacular images. In this post, I will share with you everything that I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Infographic

As beginner photographers, we tend to be visual learners. And it’s my job to make beginning photography as easy as possible for you.

So I thought to myself, “What better way to help beginner photographers learn how to use their cameras, than by creating an infographic?” And that’s exactly what I did.

I collaborated with an illustrator friend of mine, and together we made these images. The following are something that will make understanding exposure, and how cameras work, a whole lot easier!

Check out what we came up with below:

Exposure

For those beginning photography, exposure is key to capturing a great image.

Learning how exposure works will help you to take control of your camera and take better photos. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO are the elements that combine to create an exposure.

As you’ll soon learn, these elements have an effect on more than just the exposure. They also cause alterations in depth of field, motion blur, and digital noise.

Once you understand how each one works, you can start diving into manual mode. This is where you take control back from your camera.

The exposure triangle is a great way to remember the three settings. When combined, they control the amount of light captured from any given scene.

This will help you to understand that changing one setting will necessitate a change in the others. That is if you are photographing the same scene with the same exact lighting conditions.

Read here for all the information you need on the exposure triangle.

Aperture

Exposure happens in three steps. We will start with the aperture. This is the hole inside the lens, through which the light passes.

It’s similar to the pupil of your eye: the wider the aperture, the more light is allowed in and vice versa. Simple? Not quite.

As the aperture widens, the f/number gets lower and more light is allowed into the camera. This is great for low light but be aware that it’s going to make the depth of field very shallow – not ideal when taking landscapes.

So there’s a bit of give and take and I go into full detail about that in this post. The aperture is the preferred setting to set first, as it directly influences how much of your scene is in focus. But, if you are looking to create motion blur, then it is second to the shutter speed.

Exposure will be much easier if you can memorize the f/stop scale.

The scale is as follows: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22.

Shutter Speed

Once the light has passed through the aperture of the lens, it reaches the shutter. Now you need to decide how much of that light you’re going to allow into the camera.

Ordinarily, you only want a very small fraction of a second (for example 1/250) to prevent motion blur. However, different shutter speeds complement different situations.

Anything from really fast (1/4000) for sports photography to really slow (30 seconds) for night photography. It all depends on what you’re shooting and how much light you have available to you.

Knowing how your shutter speed works is a key element in the basics of photography.

ISO

Once the light has passed through the aperture and been filtered by the shutter speed, it reaches the sensor. This is where we decide how to set the ISO.

As you turn the ISO number up, you increase the exposure. But, at the same time, the image quality decreases. There will be more digital noise or “grain”.

So you have to decide upon your priorities in terms of exposure vs grain.

For example, I would reduce the image quality if it meant that I could prevent motion blur in my photo. There’s no possible way to fix that in post-production (yet, at least).

Exposure Summary

Once you’ve understood aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you need to learn how each of these elements of exposure work together.

For all those basics of photography, exposure is the most important.

If you don’t have this down, composition and framing become a moot point in beginner photography.

In this post, you will learn about the ‘stop’ based system for measuring exposure. But, more importantly, how to prioritize the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO for the best photo.

Every time.

Understanding Your Camera

Metering Modes

Digital photography for beginners can be confusing. Exposure isn’t as simple as learning about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. You also have to learn about how your camera looks at light.

Metering modes are there to tell your camera how you want it to look at a scene.

The photo below was taken on spot metering mode but, if you were to take the same photo using evaluative mode, you would end up with a completely different exposure.

This is also covered in my free video training. If you’re looking for an article that explains digital, including Canon, metering modes, here it is.

Understanding this basic photography point may just be the key to understanding why your photos are coming out underexposed or overexposed.

Histograms

The histogram shows you a mathematical review of an exposure after the photo has been taken. It essentially tells you how evenly exposed a photo is.

LCD screens aren’t very good at showing you this information through their display of the image. This is because they are affected by the ambient lighting conditions you’re in and the brightness of the screen itself.

That’s why the histogram is such a powerful tool to utilize in beginning photography correctly.

Shooting Modes

Full-Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority or Manual Mode. How do you work out which one you should be using?

There’s also a lot of misconceptions about which mode to use under which conditions. On top of a lot of bias towards not using manual mode.

When you understand what exactly each mode does, the one that will be suitable for your situation becomes a lot clearer. This is also covered in my free video training.

Depth of Field

When you’re shooting in low light, you invariably have to widen your aperture to allow enough light into the lens. But this has one rather a major side effect. A shallow depth of field.

This can be used very creatively (often to excess) but it’s not the only possibility. There are many situations, such as landscapes, where you’ll want to be using a narrower aperture so that the whole scene remains in focus.

This tutorial walks you through everything you need to know about choosing the right aperture (and therefore the depth of field) for the right situation.

When it comes to covering all of the basics of photography, depth of field is very important.

White Balance

White balance is something I wish I’d learned more about much sooner than I did. I look back on some photos now and wonder what I was thinking.

The white balance changes the color cast of the entire photo. It is responsible for the overall warmth. It can determine whether your photo appears blue or orange, cold or warm.

Auto white balance doesn’t tend to do a particularly good job, particularly with tungsten light. The sooner you learn about this basic photography idea, the more accurate your photos will look.

This is also covered in my free video training.