Camera Basics : Photography 101 Series

Beginning Photography, Photography

Apr 1, 2015

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped in Wal-mart or have been the recipient of a facebook message — folks all over wanting to know how they can simply take pictures better.  They’re not worried about becoming a professional, but would love to create more than just the flat phone snapshot of their children opening their Christmas presents on Christmas morning or better capture the details of the Easter Eggs they painted and then spilled all over the floor.  Just last week, I introduced the new series and over the next few weeks, we’ll be making weekly installments to try and help you take better photos with the tools you’ve got.  And today, we’re starting with the basics.  We’re going over terms you’ll be needing to understand as we get things in motion for you to be shooting much better photos of your family vacations.

First, we’re going to talk cameras.  Don’t let your pocket book freak out too much just yet.  You can find a nice camera no matter your budget.  Here’s just a look at the two different types.

Type one: Digital SLR Camera– SLR stands for “single lens reflex” — this camera is quite a bit larger than your average point and shoot.  It’s worried more about quality than convenience and typically comes in a kit with one or more interchangeable lenses. They typically have a pop up flash mechanism but the most important thing is that you can easily shoot in Manual Mode, which can GREATLY impact the quality of your images.  (Gives you that nice blurred background and allows you to shoot in a dark room without that ugly pop up flash washing out your children and giving them devil-red eyes.)  Entry level DSLR cameras start around 500$, often have built in wi-fi, (sending photos straight to your phone has never been so easy!) and typically include a nice zoom lens.  If you’re determined to find one of these beauties and $500 just isn’t in the cards for you, many people who are aspiring professionals take great care of their camera babies and upgrade quite often.  You can find a great deal on a used DSLR and lenses on Ebay.

download Thank you, Google for this image.


Type two: Compact Digital Camera — Compact digital cameras or commonly referred to as “point and shoot” cameras are built for convenience, affordability and the ability to throw that sucker in your purse or baby back and run.  The downside to these small wonders is that they’re built for taking photos fast and easily– which doesn’t always result in the highest quality.   Menu items for shooting high quality photos from a compact point and shoot can be a bit more difficult than shooting on a DLSR but totally doable.  Just make sure that the camera you purchase has a Manual shooting mode where you can control the aperture, shutter speed and ISO–just know that these settings will still be quite a bit more limited.  Compact point and shoot cameras start at around $200 and are usually tough enough to withstand being thrown around a bit.  If you’re truly interested in better photographs, however, I recommend that you get as advanced of a compact camera as you can so you’re not limited as to how far you can push it.

Recommendations: I get asked all the time about finding a great camera.  And my best recommendation is that you absolutely cannot go wrong with Nikon.  Their DSLR’s have been my shooting companions for years now and I absolutely adore their tack sharp focusing, extreme low light capabilities and their glorious glass (lenses).  Cannon is not the devil.  If you prefer Cannon over Nikon, that’s cool. We’ll still be friends.  I really do prefer a DSLR over a point and shoot any day.  Usually it’s not too bad to carry one around, as I do all the time. It just takes some adjusting (and a great strap!)

Now that we have Cameras out of the way, lets dig into what we’ll be covering next week.

Manual Shooting Mode : Many entry level cameras and point and shoot cameras have modes.  You’ll se the sillouhette of the girl in a big hat for “portrait mode” — which is the camera maker’s attempt at getting better quality images with a more blurry background and it still be in auto for ease of shooting for a beginner.  It’s still auto, and if you learn to shoot in manual mode, your manual mode images will blow this portrait mode out of the water.  Giving control over to your camera, it can only do so much.  Taking control into your own hands is when you truly get much better quality images.  You can take any camera and get 100 times better images just by learning to shoot in manual.  So if you’re not happy with the images you’re getting or you’re asking, “why don’t my images look like THAT?” This is most likely the reason why.  Don’t worry. We’re going to fix this.  Shooting in manual requires three settings — ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.  All three are important to achieve accurate exposure and a quality image.  Find out how you can change your settings for ISO , Shutter Speed, and Aperture by referencing your camera’s manual.

Here’s a very quick look at the terms we’ll be going over in extreme detail for next week.  A light introduction, per say.

ISO: is the level at which your camera is sensitive to available light.  For example, if I’m shooting outside on a bright sunny day I’ll shoot at a different ISO than if I’m shooting at dusk.  Available light is always changing and this helps us get a consistent look.  ISO is measured in number values.  If I’m shooting outside on the brightest day, I’ll shoot at a lower ISO — usually 200.  If I’m shooting inside my home on a cloudy day by a window, I might bump it up to about 600.  If I’m in a dark church, 1000.  The lower the ISO, the brighter your situation.  The higher, the darker.  Keep in mind that as you bump your ISO upwards, you’ll have more noise — or grain in your image.  On DSLR’s, ISO levels show less grain at higher numbers than point and shoots.  I typically set my ISO first.  We’ll be going a lot more into detail on ISO in our next installment.

Aperture: Aperture is typically the second thing that I set.  Aperture is the actual hole in your lens that allows light in.  Your aperture setting measures the size of that hole and is measured in F-stops.  We can make it smaller or larger.  This also affects the amount of light that is let in and your depth of field.  (Depth of field refers to that gorgeous blurry background.)   We’ll be going a lot more into aperture later.

Shutter Speed: Your shutter speed.  Shutter speed either blurs motion or freezes quick action.  The shutter is the curtain that stays closed in your camera until your camera fires.  When it fires, the curtain is open, and shutter speed refers to the length of time in which that curtain stays open. Slower shutter speeds create a blur of motion, while faster shutter speeds create a crisp image of a fast moving object.

The next installment we will be going over ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed and how, together they work to create correctly exposed images along with a stylistic look that you desire.  We’ll be taking an in depth look at all three and how to use each one along with examples.

And because every post deserves an image, here’s a quick look at an image with dimension.  As you can see, it’s bright.  My ISO is correctly set, given the time of day and the fact that I’m in bright sun.  I have a high aperture, giving me an extremely sharp focus on the trees to my right — giving everything else a dreamy type blur (even the sand close to me is blurred — pulling your eyes over to the trees which are in focus) and everything behind the trees.  My shutter speed made sure that my image wasn’t too dark or too light along with all of the other variables.  All three, worked together to make sure this image was exposed and dimensional instead of flat.






  1. Jay Thompson

    April 4th, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    Fantastic series!

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    April 8th, 2015 at 12:10 pm

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