Photography is an essential skill for digital entrepreneurs and online marketers. I started this guide to share with my members the resource I used to get started with photography. This guide is my go-to photography cheat sheet. You may as well bookmark for future reference as you grow your photography knowledge. Every concept outline below is explained in detail in Extremely Essential Camera Skills. It’s a quick self-guided training with exercises that you can complete in a few hours. The eBook has less than 100 pages and a dozen of videos.
A common misconception is that you need an expensive camera (such as a DSLR) to get started with photography or videography for that matter. You don’t. The only pre-requisite to learning photography is to own a device that can take a photo or video: a smartphone, DSLR, whatever. That being said, as you grow as a photographer, you will likely want to upgrade your gear. Minimalist at heart, I wanted to use my iPhone for everything. From photography to shooting a video and recording a podcast. Here is what I ended up with:
This training has practical exercise and instructions for Nikon/Canon DSLRs that apply to iPhones and other smartphones too. It is composed of 3 parts:
- An eBook, Complete Camera Skills. The training is based around the “extremely-essential-camera-skills.pdf” file.
- “Key Concepts” Videos that supplement the ebook. You will be launching the videos from the PDF itself. Just ignore the video folder. Yes, one can do that with PDF files!
- The Field Guide to keep by your side when you’re taking photos.
As a blogger, photographs can be used as a featured image to draw the attention of a reader. You can choose to go for an image stocks platform, such as Pexels or hire labour from Fiverr.com. Or you can shoot your photos and videos!
You can also use this guide as a guide BEFORE purchasing your camera. That’s what I did. I learned about photography (the theory) before buying my Nikon D3300 back in New-York.
Types of cameras
- DSLR: DSLR cameras are composed of a body and a lens. These cameras typically offer excellent low light performance and background blur. Being able to change lenses gives you more creative control over the final look of your images.
- Mirrorless: Although mirrorless cameras aren’t yet as good as DSLRs, they’re catching up fast. Sensor sizes are increasing, and lens quality is improving. It is an attractive alternative to bulkier DSLRs!
- Middle – Bridge
- Small – Point and Shoot Cameras: If you want to get serious about photography, you may find a point-and-shoot limiting. But if you’re looking for something more portable and lightweight, without a lot of manual controls, a point-and-shoot may do the trick! I started photography with a Lumix. It was enough for me to play with the shutter speed, aperture, etc.
- Phone Cameras: Cameras on smartphones make it easy to keep a visual record of your life and share your shots. With smaller sensors and fixed focal lengths, they won’t replace your DSLR or mirrorless anytime soon.
- Cam: Action cams allow you to take shots in situations where most DSLRs just can’t go (at the same price level). When snowboarding, biking, underwater, etc. They’re relatively limited in terms of their quality and controls.
What is the price range?
- Compact point-and-shoot: $90 – $900
- Micro Four Thirds and Mirrorless: $350 – $2,300
- DSLR: $400 – $7,000
Human eye analogy
It is easier to understand what a sensor is with a side by side comparations with the human eye.
- Lens = cornea. It gathers ambient light and passes it to the iris.
- Iris = aperture. The iris expands or shrinks, controlling the amount of light that enters the retina.
- Retina = sensor. The retina functions as a camera sensor. It is light-sensitive, meaning it can adjust its sensitivity based on the available light.
- The sensitivity of an eye = sensitivity of a sensor = ISO. If there is too much light, it decreases its sensitivity. Of there is not enough light, it increases its sensitivity so that we humans can see in extremely bright and extremely dark conditions. Just like when you turn on the light in the middle of the might.
A lens is made of layers of glass that focus light onto your camera’s sensor or film for an old camera. A typical lens contains many elements of glass that work together to magnify and focus the light that goes through it. Think about it like magnifier (to some extend) that can be the light and melt a plastic soldier (I tried hard as a kid, and never managed to do that though!).
Standard features for lenses are:
- Front element (the piece of glass at the front of your lens)
- The zoom ring
- Aperture (the hole inside of your lens that let the light go through)
- Markings (indicate the focal length and maximum aperture)
- Focus ring (to manually focus on a subject)
- Autofocus toggle
- Depth of field scale
- Zoom range
There are multiple types of lense:
- Zoom lens with multiple focal lengths to zoom in and out of a subject. Convenient! I purchased my Tamron 16-300mm so that I wouldn’t miss any shots while switching lenses anymore. The downside is that zoom lenses usually have smaller maximum apertures (used for blur effect, for instance).
- A prime lens is a “fixed-length” lens because it only has one focal length. You cannot zoom with a prime lens. If you want to change the perspective, you need to either move closer or farther away from your subject. Some typical prime focal lengths are 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 100mm.
Lauren goes over the different types of lenses in her self-serve guide.
When you hear “sensor,” think “film”. The sensor is the chip inside a digital camera that captures the image. The bigger the sensor, the better the performance will tend to be, particularly in low light. Who said the size didn’t matter?
The sensor captures light like the film on old cameras. A lens focuses the light on the sensor. The more significant is the sensor; bigger is the lens; bigger is the camera! There are tiny sensors on smartphones to keep them pocketable.
Unit: 1/N (old convention! Confusing and mainly used for compact cameras, sensor sizes of higher-end cameras are given in millimetres (width x height )).
Product packaging list megapixels as if it was the one and single ting that matter with a camera. Including when you purchase a phone! The pixels are the dots that create an image. Just like the pieces of a puzzle form an image. Except that the pixels are tiny! I had a dead pixel on one of my screens a few years back. I would see a small little red dot on my screen.
Megapixels indicate how large you can print your photos. Or how much you can crop an image before it looks pixelized. It’s like spreading jam on a slice of bread. If you don’t have enough jam, you can’t cover the entire surface. If you don’t have enough pixels anymore because you cropped, you can’t cover enough surface to have a crisp image. Just because a camera has a ton of megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean it shoots sharp and high-quality photos and videos.
In most cases, the camera’s lens and the size of its sensor are more significant factors in producing top-quality images.
Exposure to the light. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the elements that combine to create an exposure (aka Exposure Triangle). You can also achieve the same exposure by using different combinations of the three controls. They all balance each other!
Unit: EV (Exposure Value). The steps in the exposure indicator scale are measured by the Exposure Value – EV. These steps are commonly known as “Stops”.
Affect: brightness of the image. If too much, overexposed, too bright. If not enough, underexposed, too dark. Otherwise, neutrally exposed.
It gives you an idea of what your exposure will be like if the photo is taken with the current aperture/shutter speed/ISO settings. The exposure indicator tells you if your image is underexposed, neutrally exposed or overexposed. But note: it’s not telling you if it’s a “good” exposure (put on you), just what it is relative to neutral.
Example for Canon:
-2: minus two EV or minus two stops.
+1: plus one EV or plus one stop.
Example for Nikon:
From my Nikon D3300 Manual:
The light meter measures the light.
When you are not in an automatic mode such as Aperture, Shutter Speed, the light meter is responsible for taking readings and updating the exposure variables to get a neutral exposure.
Press the shutter release half down to activate the light meter. Exactly like to activate the autofocus. Get into the habit of reading the exposure indicator through the viewfinder while you’re shooting if the light meter/exposure indicator shuts off, just half-press the shutter release again.
Light meter modes
- Multi-zone: measure the light across the whole scene. Useful in even lit situations.
- Spot: measures only at the center of the frame. Useful n tricky light situation. It requires careful use to make sure the right subject is metered for.
- Center: measures across the whole scene but gives more weight to the center.
I cannot see exposure indicator!
The exposure compensation is set to 0 by default. The indicator is not shown (in Program, Aperture, Shutter-speed and auto modes). It will always be shown in Manual.
For example, in Aperture Priority mode, you set a chosen aperture, and the camera will automatically match the shutter speed, so that correct exposure is produced (according to the metering mode). If you want control of all these things, you have to shoot in Manual.
Light meter – Tricky lights
Tricky light can fool the light meter. The neutral exposure it gives you can sometimes look wrong:
- Dark background: the meter thinks that the scene is underexposed.
- Even light: subject and background are even lit. The meter has no problem finding the right exposure.
- Backlit: the background is much more lit than the subject.
Aperture = Ouverture in French.
What: how wide is opened the hole inside the lens, through which the light passes. The wider the aperture, the more light can come through.
Unit: f-stop. The unit represents the size of the hole. The smaller the f-stop, the larger the aperture opening and the greater exposure to light (i.e. more light reaches the sensor/film). Aperture is measured following the f-stop scale:
f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22. An f-stop of f1.4 would be very large, while an f-stop of f16 would be very small.
Affect 2: depth of field (creative effect)
If you think of your eye, the aperture is how wide is the “pupil” is open. Just like the pupil, it controls the light through the lens.
- F/1.4 low light
- F/16 shooting in the sun.
- F/22 good details in the foreground.
Most consumer lenses have a range of f2 to f16.
This is the kind of diagram and cheat sheet you may find in the self guide I recommend to learn photography:
Shutter speed – 1/x
What: how long the shutter is open to allow light into the camera.
Affect: amount of light through the lens.
Affect 2: blur. The quicker, the less blurry (less time to “capture” light due to movement/shake).
Unit: seconds or measured in fractions of a second.
- For flash: 1/200
- It can be up to 1/8000!
- Sport: 1/4000 for sports photography
- 30 sec for night photography.
Motion blur occurs when the subject or the camera itself moves during the exposure time. That’s why the shutter speed duration needs to be very, very short!
What: Exposure compensation is used in Aperture / Shutter Priority and Program mode. It lets you compensate for a brighter or darker image.
If your image is too dark (backlit), adjust your exposure compensation in a positive direction to brighten it up.
If your image is too bright (dark background), adjust your exposure compensation in the negative direction to darken it up.
Backlit means your subject is lighted from behind. A subject with a dark background is the opposite; it’s lit from upfront. Ideally, you want to anticipate these tricky lighting situations and compensate before you even take the photo.
Unit: stop (unit of the exposure). Each movement up and down the scale is recorded in what’s called a
stop. A full stop change will double or halve the amount of exposure.
Affect: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
In this training, you will have practical exercises to learn how to master your camera. For example, adjusting the exposure compensation and see the effect live.
What: how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light.
Example of settings:
- Normal (well-lit): ~ 200 or lower.
- Cloudy: 400
- Indoors: 800 to 1600.
- Dark: 3200 or higher
Observe how the grain increases as the ISO increases!
Depth of field – DOF
How far we can clearly see without blur. The distance at which the subject will stay in focus in front of and behind the main point of focus.
Affect: used to focus (or not) attention on the main subject or sharpen an image.
Just like the human eye: You squeeze your eyes to focus on something. By opening them as wide as you can, you don’t see much. It’s blurry.
Think of the aperture (the hole in your lens that let the light go through) like the pupil of your eyes. Pupils let light to strike your retina (your “sensor”).
How to change the depth of field? Aperture!
- Increase aperture (reduce the opening) to increase the focus.
- Decrease aperture (make it open wider) to decrease the focus and generate a “blur” (called Shallow Depth of Fied).
What: angle of view captured by the lens.
The focal length of your lens essentially determines how ‘zoomed in’ your photos are; the higher the number, the more zoomed your lens will be. The focal length is an indicator of the distance from the subject.
Affect: perspective, angle of view, zoom
Unit: mm (written on your lens)
The focal length refers to the distance between the center of the lens and the sensor!
So those millimetres actually mean something!
- 300mm = big zoom = telephoto
- 50 mm = human eye = normal angle
- 18 mm = short focal length = landscape = wide angle
- 15mm = is a special wide angle a.k.a as “fisheye”
Take your hand and place it a foot away from your face. Focus on your hand, and make sure it looks perfectly crystal clear. Now, slowly move your hand toward your face as you continue to pay attention to it. This exercise is very uncomfortable!
No matter how hard you try, your hand will eventually become blurry and out of focus at a certain distance. When this happens, you have passed the focal point of your eyes. The focal point for your eyes is a point exactly one focal length away from the lens in your eye. Most human eyes focus near 50 millimetres, so the focal point is 50 millimetres away from your face.
Perspective & Compression
Compression describes the way different focal lengths can change the look of a photo.
What you see is that a bigger zoom (a bigger focal) makes the subject looking more flatten – less perspective.
Here the guy moved the camera AWAY and increased the zoom (the focal length) in order to have the same frame.
When you use shorter focal lengths, it makes it appear as though the distance between the objects is far.
As you use longer focal lengths to capture the same image (with the same subject size), the distance between the objects appears to be compressed. The background appears bigger in relation to your subject as you use longer focal lengths.
You can use the Eye-Lines to influence your viewers. Eye-lines refer to the implied lines that are produced when we follow a person’s line of sight. It’s a natural curiosity to want to follow the eyes. As a viewer, we want to know if we share the same interest in whatever has taken their attention. We want to be able to relate to the subject to understand the scene better.
Shooting on a crop sensor has what’s known as the ‘crop factor’.
The main three focusing modes
- All points focus – the automatic focusing mode.
- Flexible or multipoint focus – where you choose from the different focus points.
- Center point focus – where only the centre point focus is used.
Focus-recompose involves focusing using the center focus point, pressing the shutter release halfway down to lock focus on your subject, then recomposing the frame, so your subject is no longer in the center, and finally pressing the shutter release all the way down to take the picture. This technique allows faster, more accurate focusing because you are deciding what should be in focus instead of letting the camera decide or spending time selecting different focus points. It helps you create more interesting compositions because once the focus is locked, you can place your subject anywhere in the frame (they don’t need to be under a focus point).
If you interview people or just need a shot of someone, let’s say for your Youtube channel, maybe. It’s important to understand what to pay attention to. In portraits of people, where should you focus? Their eyes.
You don’t need to purchase a guide like Extremely Essential Camera Skills to to getting started with photography. There are tons of resources out there. However, I found it comforting and easier to trust a professional to guide me through learning photography.