Basics of Photography: Simply Take Beautiful Photos!

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I’m glad you’re here. Because that means that you want to get closer to your camera and are ready for the basics of photography. Here you will find a compact overview of the most important functions of your camera.

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The aperture

The aperture controls how far the lens is open and therefore how much light falls on the sensor of your camera. You can tell the aperture number by the f/ in front of it.

You should burn the following sentence into your memory:

The smaller the f-number, the larger the aperture, the more light hits the sensor of your camera, i.e. small number, much light and large number, little light.

Aperture priority – Mode A (Av)

Your camera has an A (or Av) mode where you can set your own f-number. So you decide how much light hits the sensor of your lens and your camera is nice enough to set the appropriate shutter speed.
The aperture and depth of field

With different f-stops, you can determine not only how much light falls on your sensor, but also how much depth of field your image has.

The smaller the f-number, the less depth of field your image has. This means that with an aperture of f/1.8 the background is very blurred and with an aperture of f/13 the complete image is very sharp.

Photo with a wide open aperture of f / 2.8. Here you can also see that the front area is also out of focus. Photo with aperture 16 Photo with a relatively closed aperture. Photographed with f / 16. You can see that there is only very little blur in the foreground and the background is much sharper than with an aperture of f /2.8

The shutter speed

The shutter speed, also often called exposure time, determines how long the shutter of your camera stays open while you take a picture. The shutter speed is specified in seconds.

Shutter curtains are usually open for only a fraction of a second. If your camera display shows a shutter speed of 1000, then only 1/1000 second of light falls on the sensor of your camera.

Shot time priority – Mode S (Tv)

If you set your camera to S mode, you can control the time it takes for light to fall on your camera’s sensor. Your camera will then set the aperture to match.

This works like this:

  • Shutter speed becomes smaller (less light), the aperture opens, the f-number becomes smaller (more light is let through).
  • Shutter speed increases (more light), aperture closes, aperture number increases (less light passes through)

How the shutter speed affects your subject

There are two basic effects of shutter speed on the display of your subject:

#1 A short shutter speed freezes your subject.

Why? For example, if the shutter speed is only open for 1/4000 second, the camera can capture even the smallest detail at the exact moment.

#2 A long shutter speed gives your subject motion blur.

Why? For example, if the shutter is open for 2 seconds, everything that moves in your picture will be blurred because your subject has come a certain way in that time.

This black throated mango hummingbird was spotted in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. This picture with a very short shutter speed of 1/800 second

This photo was taken with a long shutter speed of several seconds to give the waterfall this beautiful effect.


The focal length

The focal length has something to do with the lens of your camera and will be

You need to know about the focal length:

  • With a short focal length you have to get close to your subject to get it completely on the picture.
  • With a long focal length you can be relatively far away and still capture your subject clearly.
  • With a zoom lens you can adjust your focal length variably.
  • With a fixed focal length you have, as the name suggests, a fixed focal length.

What are the different focal lengths?

Depending on what focal length a lens has, it’s called differently. Common terms are these:

Wide-angle lenses – up to approx. 25 mm
Normal lenses – approx. 25 to 50 mm
Telephoto lenses – from 50 mm

Don’t be surprised if you find different focal lengths in other sources. There is no such thing as a clear definition. By the way, these values apply to cameras with an APS-C sensor. Professional cameras often have a full-frame sensor built in, where you have to multiply these values by 1.5.

The exposure

With the exposure correction of your camera you can also influence the exposure of your image yourself. Sometimes this is necessary, because your camera does not always expose correctly by itself.

Every picture can be under-, over- or even correctly exposed. Your exposure meter will show you this. In the Auto, P, A and S modes, your camera decides for itself which is the correct exposure.

Dynamic range: Your camera can’t always see what your eye sees. At a sunset, there is a large difference in contrast between the foreground and background.

Your eye can see both, but your camera can’t. It chooses either the foreground or the background and adjusts the exposure accordingly. Unfortunately, it is not always correct.

Your camera also often can’t cope with a picture that contains a lot of white or a lot of black.

Solution: We simply correct it ourselves with the exposure correction.

Here the sunset is correctly exposed, but the foreground is completely underexposed and therefore too dark.

With this photo, however, the foreground is correctly exposed. But the sunset in the background is completely overexposed and hardly visible.



The ISO describes the light sensitivity of your camera sensor and stands for “International Standard Organisation”.

The common scale for ISO values is this:
iso scale valuesScale ISO values

  • Small number: The sensor absorbs little light
  • Large number: The sensor absorbs a lot of light

What does the ISO do for you?

If you increase your ISO value, your camera’s sensor can pick up more light. Your camera’s sensor will become more sensitive to light. You have more light available and therefore more freedom when setting the shutter speed.

What’s the catch?

Simply always set the ISO high, if you have little light available, sounds naturally fantastic.

The catch: image noise! The higher the ISO value, the stronger the noise. When your photos start to rustle depends very much on the camera. Really good cameras hardly rustle even at ISO 6400, but very cheap cameras start to rustle at ISO 800.

But you can also use this as a stylistic device, like in the following picture.

Image credits Copyright:Spencer Cox Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata

Image credits
Copyright:Spencer Cox
Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata

White Balance

The temperature of light is a very complex subject and incredibly interesting. You often photograph in the most diverse light situations: indoors, outdoors, in the sun, in cloudy skies.

Each time the light has a different color. Your eye doesn’t care, but your camera perceives the colors differently.

What do you have to consider when taking photographs?

Your camera can often assess the color situation of the light itself, so that you can usually cope well with the automatic white balance.

But it becomes difficult with mixed light, for example, when you have two different light sources. Then you might have to experiment and try different white balance settings.

If you are going to edit your images afterwards, we recommend that you shoot in RAW mode. This way you can change the white balance afterwards. With JPG files, this is only possible to a very limited extent.

Failures can also occur and look like this:

This is what a shot with false white background looks like. Not so nice, is it?

The Exposure Metering Method

There are several ways from which part of the image your camera measures the incident light.

1. Matrix measurement

Here the light meter of your camera measures all the light hitting the camera sensor.

Matrix metering is the right setting in most situations. So for every image where it is important to you that all parts of the image are correctly exposed.

2. Centre-weighted

Here, your camera only interprets the incident light in an area of the camera that you specify.

There are situations where you want your camera to correctly expose only a certain part of the camera, e.g. when taking portraits.

3. Spot metering

Spot metering is similar to center-weighted metering. Here, however, the camera only measures a single point.

This can be helpful, for example, if your subject is relatively far away from you, but you still want to correctly expose a certain person or a certain detail.

It can also help if you want to take a picture where your camera exposes a subject with a very extreme contrast difference.

The basics of photography

That was a lot of basics all at once, wasn’t it? Of course, the presentation in this article is extremely compact.

Do you have any questions for us or would you like to tell us something else? We are looking forward to your comment!

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