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When you’re searching photography basics for beginners, it can be incredibly frustrating to land on resources that leave you feeling overwhelmed and just as baffled as you were before.

I get it. I’ve been where you are now.

Scratching my head at a bunch of photography jargon. Not knowing which equipment I’d need to acquire first and for what purpose. Feeling like the new hobby that had just sparked my interest is too big of a learning curve to undertake.

Having to wade through all of the information out there is tough. You just want to be able to take beautiful pictures, am I right?

Well, I’ll help you do just that with my step by step guide to photography basics for beginners. I’ll make things as simple as I can to understand, so that you can just get down to it and impress everyone with your new photography skills.

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Step By Step Photography Basics For Beginners

Introduction to photography basics for beginners

You don’t need the fanciest of gear when you’re learning photography but it definitely helps having a camera you can at least change the settings on.

If you’re learning photography basics because you want to take professional quality pictures for your blog, I would absolutely recommend a DSLR of some kind so that you have that extra level of control over your images.

The equipment I recommend you start with is quite minimal. It’s best to get started with a small amount of necessary gear before adding things into your collection.

There’s lots of equipment out there specific to certain types of photography, so there may be no need for you to have them at all. You should really get to know your style first and once you’ve got the basics down, ask yourself what gear might be missing for you to progress to the next level.

Basic gear recommendations for beginners

Before you can learn photography basics for beginners, you will need some starter kit. Here’s what I would recommend:

Gear you may need in the future

Any extra gear you may need will entirely depend on what kind of images you are taking.

For example, I need a completely different type of lens for taking close ups of products than I do for taking pictures of wildlife.

You might need some lighting equipment if you plan on doing studio type portraits or food photography.

You may need a remote shutter if you plan on doing long exposures with slow shutter speeds or self portraits.

Here are some things I have in my bag that I need on a regular basis:

Exposure Settings

Exposure in Plain English:

Exposure is the how bright or dark your picture is and how your choice of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO determines the amount light that enters your camera.

For what’s considered a “good” exposure, there should detail in both the highlights and shadows of your picture and nothing should be too bright or too dark.

Photography basics of exposure

It’s up to you to look at your image and decide whether it’s exposed well for the scene and for the look you are going for. Sometimes I like to underexpose my images on purpose to give them a darker and moodier feel.

Exposure settings

Here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you learn your exposure settings.

Photography Cheat Sheet - Exposure Settings. Photography basics for beginners
Photography basics for beginners cheat sheet – Exposure Settings

Each setting has it’s own purpose but all of them control the amount of light that comes in. So if you want more light to hit your camera sensor but you want to freeze fast moving objects in the photo, then you will need to either widen your aperture or make your ISO higher because you will need to keep your shutter speed fast.

If that doesn’t make sense yet, don’t worry. Here are the settings you need to know and which purposes they serve…

Aperture

What is an aperture? There’s an opening in your lens called an aperture, like a hole, that can be made small or wide and this determines the amount of light that comes through the lens.

What’s the apertures unique purpose? The aperture also determines the amount of your image is in focus. The smaller the aperture, the more will be in focus. The wider the aperture, the less will be in focus.

This means that if you want to take a portrait with a dreamy blurry background, you will need to use a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field.

Example of a shallow depth of field, using a wide aperture for a blurry background.

If you want to take a landscape and you want everything in focus, you will need a small aperture for a large depth of field.

Example of large depth of field from using a small aperture for more in focus.

A small aperture will let less light into the camera and a wide aperture will let more light into the camera.

So to make it easy to remember; Small aperture = More Focus + Less Light, Wide aperture = Less Focus + More Light.

The size of the aperture is measured in what we call an F-Stop, which are indicated by the numbers you see when changing your aperture settings. If you want a small aperture for more in focus and less light, then you need a high F-Stop such as f/11. If you want a wide aperture for less in focus but more light, you will need a low F-Stop such as f/2.8.

I know it’s confusing at first but you will get used to it the more you practice.

To get to grips with your aperture, change your camera settings to Aperture Priority mode or Av mode and see what the change of settings does to your focus and light.

Shutter speed

What is shutter speed? Shutter speed determines how long the shutter stays open for which means it controls how much light is let into the camera and onto the sensor.

What’s the shutter speeds unique purpose? The shutter speed is also responsible for how much or little motion blur you get in your image.

The longer the shutter is open for, the more motion blur you will get and the less time the shutter is open, the less motion blur you will get.

Having a “fast shutter speed” where the shutter is open for less time, will result in sharp images where fast moving subjects are frozen in time.

Example of fast shutter speed
Using this photo as an example again, you can see that a fast shutter speed has been used here to freeze my child in the frame.

Having a “slow shutter speed” where the shutter is open longer, will result in any moving subjects being blurred.

Example of slow shutter speed
Example of using a slow shutter speed and the moving elements (in this case the fast moving water) being blurred.

If you’re photographing subjects that are completely still, you can get away with using a slow shutter speed to let more light in, but I’d recommend using a tripod so that you don’t shake the camera yourself.

Shutter speed is measured in time, which makes things a little less complicated. So a fast shutter speed would be something like 1/2000 seconds and a slow shutter speed might be around 30 seconds.

To get used to using your shutter speed, try putting your camera on Shutter Priority mode or Tv mode and take pictures of a fast moving subject. Change the shutter speed and watch how blurry or sharp your moving subject becomes.

ISO

What is ISO? In film cameras, the ISO referred to how sensitive to light the film was but now in digital camera it refers to how sensitive the sensor is.

What’s the ISO’s unique purpose? The lower the ISO, the less sensitive to light your sensor or film is which is fine for bright situations but would lead to very dark pictures in low light.

The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light your sensor or film is, which helps you to achieve brighter images in darker situations but it comes at a price.

When you use a high ISO, your images become susceptible to noise or grain.

Some cameras deal with this much better than others. The top models of cameras will produce less grain at higher ISO’s and the cheaper models will produce lots of grain at high ISO’s.

ISO is measured in numbers. The lower the number (such as ISO 100 or 200) the lower the ISO is and the darker your image will be. The higher the number (such as ISO 800 or 1000) the higher the ISO is and the brighter your image will be.

Some cameras you will start to see grain or digital noise on your images as soon as you go past ISO 600 but for some you won’t notice until ISO 6400 even.

This is why you should get to know your camera inside out and get to know it’s limitations, so you can best make decisions on how to expose your photos.

Photography basics for beginners conclusion

You’ve learnt the basics of photography settings and how to expose a photo correctly but there is still so much to learn. I’ll be covering as many of these things in future posts but if there’s something in particular you’d like me to cover, then please leave your suggestions in the comments!

You may want to bookmark this post and refer back to it a few times and if you know somebody that might find it helpful, then go ahead and give it a share 🙂

Related: 40+ Photography Terms Explained For Beginners

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Step By Step Photography Basics For Beginners