Photography 101

So you bought yourself a new digital camera or a DSLR and you think to yourself, “Now I can take this thing everywhere and have better looking photos than I would take on my cellphone!! Then you open the box and you have no idea how to even turn the thing on, let alone take photos. 

Now I can tell you that when I bought my first DSLR, it came with this nifty little feature where you could toggle a switch to choose what you wanted to shoot. For example there was a portraits choice, landscape, in-motion, baby,  auto and a few others. I would pick a selection and the camera did the rest. That was great until I bought my Nikon D800. This thing was as foreign to me as learning Chinese. I read that manual front to back multiple times, until my brain hurt. I googled videos and read articles, and literally walked around my house taking pictures of anything (mostly Jack and my feet).

I can’t say that it eventually clicked for me, It was a slow process of learning, and I’d be a liar if I said I knew everything, because I’m always learning new tips and tricks.

Now I know that there are many brands of cameras, so I will go over what the lingo means, and how I use my camera, what settings I find myself using most often.

Let’s get started with what it all means.

When your in, say Best Buy, looking for a camera like I was 4 years ago, I couldn’t tell you what all that sh*t meant. I just wanted a “professional” camera. Here’s what I have gathered so far…

PS it is raining so I decided to use images from the internet… because I don’t really feel like going outside in the rain to take some example shots. So thanks for letting me be lazy today!


In my opinion they are the tiny little “squares” or dots that make up your photo. So this measurement that you notice about your camera is pixels/inch. Obviously the more your camera captures, the more detail your photos can have, also meaning that you can potentially print LARGE size prints that will still look great.

My first camera had 24.6 megapixels and my current camera has 36.3.  So roughly my current camera has about one and a half MORE pixels then my old one. Let me tell you, this was a huge difference to me! LIKE WHOAAA, I felt like a bad ass!

Now there is nothing you can do about your cameras pixels now that you’ve bought it, but for next time now you know! I’ve noticed a lot of professionals are digging that grainy, noisy and film-like look, so you kind of already have that!


In very basic terms, ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera. Now this sounds great! Right! Well the higher the ISO you use, the more noise your photos will have. For example….

Normally you would use a higher ISO in darker situations like concert photography, or city shots at night.  I have a high ISO limit set, so that means when I have my camera set to auto ISO, it can only go so high, to avoid the noisy images you see above (right).

Normally when I shoot outside during daylight hours I rarely go over ISO 400. Sometimes when I shoot weddings my ISO can go up to 1200 for indoor dancing shots, where it may be dark. Being the super pro that I am, use a bounce flash, defuser, and off body flashes, so that also helps keep my ISO low. I recommend you setting an ISO limit if your camera can.


Up next, MY FAVORITE!!! So you wanna know how to get that dreamy and softened hazy out of focus background? I know that was the ONE thing I was obsessed with learning right off the bat! Well my friend you are in the right place now. That is called aperture magic. Now before I start gushing about f/1.4 and f/1.8 let me explain it!

Aperture is the size of the “hole” in your lens that lets light through your lens. The iris of the lens that controls the size (diameter) of the aperture is called “diaphragm” in optics. The sole purpose of the diaphragm is to block or stop all light, with the exception of the light that goes through the aperture. In photography, aperture is expressed in f-numbers (for example f/5.6) See image below if your still not picking it up, because it took me a long time to really understand it.

As you can see, the smaller the aperture, the smaller window of “in focus” area you have. For a low aperture, your background and even foreground will be blurred. Wanna see how cool it looks with lights in the background, one of my favorite words… Bokeh.

So now we know about the magic of aperture, but what do you need to know about it? Here is my super intelligent response (with no photography education background, except that one class in high school where we made cameras out of shoe boxes).  If your aperture is low f/1.4 or f/1.8 your image captures a lot of light, which means that it will appear super bright! You might have to adjust your exposure compensation. Don’t worry, if you don’t know what that is, I’ll cover that next.

Now if you want everything in focus, because you’re an amazing landscape photographer, then you will want a very large/wide aperture (probably f/16 or f/32).

Now you can see that the grass in the foreground is in focus, and so are the mountains! Whoa, neat right? Well folks, aperture is my favorite little guy when talking about my photography. I rarely shoot over f/1.8 unless I’m shooting receptions or parties where I want everything to be in focus. I guess I should say that if you are using a large/closed aperture, your image may appear darker, because your lens is letting in less light.

Exposure Compensation

Since I brought up exposure compensation up there, I figured I would talk briefly about what that is. Also something I use religiously.

You have all your settings exactly where you want them, a nice small aperture and a shutter speed to match, and you snap the picture and you look at the preview, and what the crap? It’s too dark! But I have everything set exactly how you told me Julia! Why doesn’t it look perfect? Well darling that is where you can use exposure compensation. Usually a pretty easy button to get to.

This button is usually right near a knob that while holding it down, you can scroll for a lighter image or darker. So your first picture is dark, alls you have to do is hold down your exposure compensation button, and rotate the knob up one setting or two, or even three. You can go as high as you want, but be careful not to overexpose your subject! This same principle goes for  overexposed images, and using the knob to turn the compensation down. Here are a couple examples….

Shutter Speed

The last thing I want to touch on is shutter speed. This is also important. Shutter speed is how fast the lens “Snaps” the photo.  The faster the speed, the more your frame freezes. For example if you’re randomly pouring sugar on some strawberries….

You’ll notice that the fast shutter speed basically froze the grains of sugar in mid air (right). The one in the middle shows some movement of the sugar but not all of it (middle). With the image on the left the sugar looks like a waterfall because the slow shutter speed allowed the grains to fall through the shot. Pretty neat huh?

Slower shutter speeds are great to capture waterfalls or falling sugar or whatever else your creative mind can create.  I love when you can capture a bouquet toss in freeze motion.

Photos by Wild Ones



Ok so now what know what all that crap means, but you still have no idea how to use your camera. Well, let me tell you, no one taught me to use mine, I literally just tried every button. I am sure there are still a million things to learn. But what  I shared are the basics, to help you understand how to create the best image. Normally your camera will have an aperture priority or shutter priority mode. These are great to help you. Basically you tell your camera what aperture you want to shoot with and it adjusts your shutter speed to help you out. The same goes with shutter priority. I suggest you use these until you feel comfortable and then advance into manual mode, which is where you choose it all! Shooting in manual is great to experiment and really find the way you like to shoot the best. You can also use a program mode, which is were you preset your camera to settings and when you are in the mode, the camera shoots with those settings, its like creating your own mode that you can turn on when you want.

And remember, most cameras have an auto mode, so you can still default to that mode if you’re not quite comfortable with the other settings yet. My camera does not have that option, so I was forced to learn, or be left behind.

It’s a lot of trial and A LOT of error, but once you find your flow, and what you like, it’ll get easier. The number one piece of advice I can give, is to not give up. Having tangible memories to look at and touch, is something that we cannot have enough of. Just because a moment only lasts for that long does not mean that we should not be able to relive it. We can relive the story, the emotions and feelings and all we have to do is get out the photo album.

Please feel free to comment with any questions or comments!


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