Photography for Beginners: Back to the Roots

Previously we devoted our blog posts to topics important for experienced photographers that are eager to discover new dimensions of the profession. However, we realized, that we haven’t said much about where and how the photographic journey begins. 

In this article, we decided to get back to the roots and give some advice and encouragement to those, who have just picked up the camera and are ready to discover the beauty of the world through the lens.

We are all visual storytellers to a different extent. We are reporting our life in the social media feeds every day, but not many of us are using the art of photography to its full potential. So if you feel that your calling is to picture the world in the unique way only you see it, then we’ll be delighted to reveal some simple techniques that can help you take photos you will be proud of.

Measuring Light: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO

Taking a good photograph depends on capturing just the right amount of light. You are always aiming to get a well-exposed photograph, which is achievable by balancing these 3 aforementioned elements.

Shutter speed is expressed in the following numbers:

  •  (High = less light) 1/4000 to 1/4 of a second (Low = more light)

Aperture is measured in “F” - stops:

  • (Narrow = less light) F22 to (Wide = more light) F1.4

ISO will show the camera’s sensitivity to light:

  • 100 (less sensitive) to 3200 (more sensitive)

*numbers on your camera may have other limits, but will follow the same sequence.

Adjusting one of the aspects of your exposure will affect the other two, so they need to be changed accordingly. You can think of this balance as a triangle: enlarging one of the angles will result in the reduction of the other 2 angles. The photographer can chose one of the vertex of the exposure triangle as a priority, depending on the effect and look of the image he wants to achieve.

Wide aperture opening f/2.8, low ISO 200, relatively high shutter speed 1/1000 sec. Wide aperture gives the effect of blurred background.

Shutter Speed Priority

Shutter speed priority, for example, will help you to shoot in low light conditions. You will set a very low shutter speed giving the time for the camera to absorb as much light as possible. Adjust the aperture depending on the sharpness of the overall image you’re aiming for and combine with a low ISO. However, keep in mind, that to use this technique you will need a tripod or a super steady surface to place your camera. Otherwise the image will come out blurry.

Exposure time 5 sec, f/4, ISO 200. Extremely low shutter speed allows to capture all light available, keeping the ISO low preserves image quality.

On the other hand, if you are photographing fast moving objects and want to avoid them being blurred on your photos (kids, birds, drops of water) – increase your shutter speed and at the same time widen the aperture whilst increasing the ISO, but only in case its necessary.

Shutter speed 1/2500 sec, aperture f/ 2.2, ISO 100. High shutter speed allows to “freeze” fast moving objects in motion. Keep the lowest ISO, on a sunny bright day like this one.

Shutter speed 1/2500 sec, aperture f/ 2.2, ISO 100. High shutter speed allows to “freeze” fast moving objects in motion. Keep the lowest ISO, on a sunny bright day like this one.

Aperture Priority

Let’s say you are shooting a portrait and you need to blur out the background and have your subject sharp. This is when you’d work in aperture priority mode. You’d need the widest aperture and consequently you shall set a higher shutter speed. You can also allow the camera to adjust the other 2 parameters for you, keeping it semi-automatic. Just chose the lowest F stop number on your camera, zoom in, focus on your subject and press play!

Aperture at f/1.2, shutter speed 1/125 sec, ISO 1000. Wide aperture allows to blur the background. On this image you can notice a higher ISO as the image is shot indoors, therefore a higher light sensitivity is needed.

A great way to capture multiple subjects or groups of people is to set your aperture at a medium “F” stop, at let’s say, 8 or 11. That allows you to keep the best focus on multiple objects even when they are at different distances from you.

BlushBeach-16-ROJ01997.jpg

Now imagine you’re shooting an overview or a landscape photo and you want to have the whole image as sharp as possible. Then you will need to narrow down your aperture also, like in the example with multiple subjects. But as we’ve learnt, less light through the aperture will require more light captured through the shutter speed, therefore you might need a tripod when shooting in the morning or in the afternoon.

Aperture at f/9, shutter speed 1/40 sec, ISO 250

ISO

A couple of words about the ISO: remember, it’s an easy way to brighten up the photo in low light conditions, but it has its trade off. Higher ISO levels bring such side effects as “noise” and loss of image quality. Therefore, try to avoid over increasing the ISO when possible. You may use it in situations when you don’t have a tripod, it’s getting dark and you’re photographing moving objects, but you are still aiming for a sharp photo.

Here are some ISO universal tips!

  • Normal daylight: ISO 100-200

  • Mid Afternoon: ISO 400

  • Sunset/Sunrise/Indoors: ISO 800 – 1600

Exposure Compensation

It’s actually a really cool tool that often remains unexplored by beginners. It can be especially handy if you’re shooting in automatic modes, but realized that the camera hasn’t calculated the exposure for you correctly (yes, often happens). Exposure compensation allows you to brighten or darken the photo without changing the aperture or shutter speed by 3+ or 3- points. Sometimes you may want to overexpose or underexpose your image for artistic purposes.

The AUTO Mode: The Rise of the Machines

If all of the above feels a little bit overwhelming – fear not! The good news is, that modern cameras have clever designs, with a touch of an artificial intelligence. If you’ve never worked with a professional camera before, and you’re not sure of how to adjust its setting correctly, you can go with the automatic mode and be sure you won’t mess it up. Especially, if you are shooting outdoors, when the light is soft and the most pleasant (sometime in the late afternoon, for instance).

The camera will automatically chose the best settings of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO for you depending on the light and the subject you’re focusing on. You can also chose a semi-automatic mode when you are setting one of the variables and allow the camera to figure out the other two.

However beware! If you’re shooting on auto settings – you’re giving to much control to the machine, that doesn’t have neither a human eye nor inspiration for creative vision. This way you’re photos will turn out average, without any individuality to them. We are sure, you aspire for more. So don’t be afraid to get off the AUTO mode and explore what your camera is capable of when controlled by a skilled pilot.

Fujifilm XT-2 AUTO Mode

Now when we’ve listed out the basics about the camera settings – go out there and practice. This is the only way to create outstanding images that make a difference. You can read and watch a hundred tutorials, but none of them will teach you how to express yourself through photography in your own unique way. This is a challenge that you should take on your own. Keep creating and most importantly – have fun!