Photography 101: Basic Things You Need to Know

Photography is a great way to capture the world and a great hobby for anyone. If you are interested in photography, I highly recommend you give it a try. From portraits to landscapes, food and fashion, there are many types of photography to choose from! No matter what kind of photos you want to take, there are several key concepts that are essential to know.

Basics of photography

When you first look at a DSLR camera, all the buttons can seem a bit intimidating. However, there are a few basic settings (and a term) you need to know! Many cameras have different ways of adjusting these settings, so it’s important to consult your camera’s manual.

Exposure refers to the amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor or, more simply, how bright or dark your photos are. In order to have a properly exposed image, there are three settings you need to know how to use.

1. Opening

If a camera is an eye, then the aperture is its pupil! The same way your pupils expand in the dark and shrink in the light, the size of your camera’s aperture can be adjusted to let more or less light enter the sensor. Aperture is measured in f/stops and can often range from f/1.4 to f/32. A smaller opening lets in the most light, while a larger opening lets in the least. Aperture also controls the depth of field of a picture. A smaller aperture results in images with a blurred background, which is often used in portrait photography. A larger aperture allows for a wider and sharper range, which is often used for landscape photography.

2. Shutter speed

When you take a photo, your camera’s shutter opens to let light into its sensor, then quickly closes. Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter stays open. A slower shutter speed not only increases the amount of light in your image, but also creates motion blur. With a slow shutter speed, moving subjects in your photos will appear blurry. People use a slow shutter speed when taking pictures of dark objects like stars that require the camera to pick up a lot of light to be visible. A faster shutter speed can freeze motion, making it possible to capture moving objects in great detail. However, it can make images look darker because less light enters the camera.


ISO controls the amount of light let into your image sensor. A low ISO is great for sunny days when the lighting is bright, while a higher ISO is good for shooting in darker environments. Although high ISO values ​​increase a camera’s sensitivity to light and make your image brighter, they also cause grain to appear in images. It is generally recommended that photographers avoid using a high ISO unless necessary.

All three settings influence your exposure, so it’s important to use all three in harmony in order to take properly exposed images! For example, if you’re shooting during a sports game at night, you’ll need a high shutter speed. However, in low light conditions you will need to use a higher ISO value and/or a lower aperture. The exposure triangle is a great visual that shows how each setting affects the brightness of an image!


You might be wondering how to know exactly if your image is overexposed or underexposed. Although you can usually tell by looking at your images, you can also use the light meter. If you look through your camera’s viewfinder, you can see a meter with bars running from left to right with a zero in between. If your camera is pointed at a bright area, the bars will point to “+”, indicating that there is too much light with your current settings. If your camera is pointed at a dark area, the bars will go all the way to “-“, indicating that there is not enough light. The optimal exposure is “0”. It is important to adjust your settings to zero if you want a properly exposed image. If there are different objects with different levels of illumination, you can use different metering modes to evenly expose different things. For example, if you have a main subject that you want to properly expose, you can use spot metering!

White balance

White balance is used to accurately capture the colors in your image. Color temperature is measured in “K”, also known as Kelvins. A lower K value gives a warmer image and a higher K value creates a cooler image. A camera can use auto white balance, presets, or a custom input. I recommend using presets, as they provide options for a variety of environments!

Camera Modes

On the top of a DSLR camera, there is a dial where you can select the mode in which you want to shoot.

Manual mode

In manual mode, you have full control over your camera settings. In this mode, you can make your photos as light or dark as you want. Having full creative control lets you take all the types of photos you want: silhouettes, bokeh backgrounds, low-light images, and more. Although you don’t need to shoot in manual mode all the time, I recommend everyone learn how to use it.

Program mode

Program mode only lets you adjust your ISO while the camera automatically adjusts your shutter speed and aperture. Program mode is good for those unfamiliar with these settings and is super beginner-friendly. When ISO is the only setting that matters at the moment, this mode is ideal to use!

Shutter Priority (Tv)

In shutter priority mode, you choose the shutter speed and ISO while your camera automatically adjusts your aperture. I recommend using this mode when shutter speed is the most important factor. Personally, I use this mode when taking pictures at sporting events! In fast-paced situations where you want to capture a clear image without worrying about lighting, Shutter Priority is a great mode to use.

Aperture Priority (Av)

In aperture priority mode, you choose your aperture and ISO while your camera automatically adjusts your shutter speed. Setting a fixed aperture in this mode means you will have a fixed depth of field. For example, if you are taking a photo and want consistent lighting and level of sharpness/blur, Aperture Priority will help you achieve this. When your main priority is to have a blurred or sharp background, I recommend giving this mode a try!

Mobile phone photography

No camera? No problem!

A DSLR camera is not necessary to take great photos! You can still follow many photography fundamentals to capture great images! In your phone’s camera settings, for example, there should be an option to enable grid lines. This lets you use the rule of thirds, a guideline that divides your image into thirds. This allows you to place your subject on a third, leaving you with a compelling shot.

There are also many mobile applications, such as Lightroom, which you can use to edit your photos. Editing apps offer tons of features and filters that can make your photos stand out!

Basic equipment

If you are interested in buying a camera, I highly recommend that you get a DSLR. This type of camera has a ton of versatility and is great for beginners. Several brands such as Canon and Nikon offer many options. My first camera was a Canon EOS T3, and I loved using it! Although it’s a slightly older model, it worked great for the photos I took and was user friendly.

One of the most important things you’ll need if you’re shooting with a DSLR is a memory card. I recommend that you buy a memory card that has at least 16 GB of storage. This allows you to store many photos in your camera, which you can then transfer to a computer or your phone. Personally, I use a 64GB memory card, which gave me plenty of space for taking photos at events!

A tripod is also extremely useful depending on what you plan to shoot. Tripods are great for landscape or low-light photography because they allow you to use a slower shutter speed without creating motion blur when holding the camera. There are tripods for all kinds of cameras, including your cell phone!

A few other things I recommend are a camera bag, different lensesand extra batteries!


After taking photos, the next step is to edit them! Editing is important to balance exposure, correct colors, sharpen images, and any extra details! I recommend using software such as Adobe Lightroom. I think the best way to learn editing is to use the programs built-in tutorials and watch videos from other photographers! Social media is a great way to learn photography skills! You can also see how many photographers have their own unique styles!

It is practice makes perfect

The best way to learn photography is to practice! Go out and take pictures of different things to see what you like the most – never be afraid to experiment! Soon, the fundamentals of photography will almost seem like second nature. Taking photos lets you see the beauty of the world and capture countless special moments. Photography is an amazing hobby that anyone can learn to do, and even if you have any doubts, I highly recommend giving it a try!