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Beginner’s Guide to Photography: Knowing your Digital Camera

Beginner’s Guide to Photography: Knowing your Digital Camera

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Photography is a pastime loved by all, but knowing how to work a digital SLR camera can be tricky. All the dials and buttons and numbers can easily be confusing, but with just some basic understanding they can be simple to master. Even if it’s just for upping your Instagram game or you really want to delve into the world of advanced photography, check out my cheat sheet and tips on how to work the manual settings on your camera to guarantee your best snaps!


Three of the most important tools in digital photography, also known as the “Exposure Triangle” are ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. To have a basic understanding of knowing how to adjust these settings alone and in relation to one another can really enhance the quality of your photography. These three functions work with one another to create an exposure for your image.



Exposure refers to the overall brightness of a picture. Thus, depending on your tastes, exposure is a setting or style that can be rather subjective. By knowing how to balance shutter speed and aperture, one can manipulate the amount of exposure in their photographs. When a photo is overexposed, there is too much light—so much that the image appears white-looking or washed-out, and to the extent that the highlights are no longer retrievable to be edited. On the other hand, an underexposed image has seen too little light; this often results in images or subjects being too dark to see.



Aperture is the hole within the lens formed by blades to control how much light will enter the camera. The larger the hole, the more light is allowed in. Seems intuitive, right? Aperture is measured by f-stops. Low f-stops (like F/2.8) mean wider holes allowing more light, whereas high f-stops (like F/16) correspond to smaller holes, meaning less light.

Aperture also controls depth-of-field, which is the portion of the image that is either sharp or blurry. To take a picture of something up close with a blurry background (like someone’s portrait), use low f-stops (wide aperture) to achieve shallow depth-of-field. For images of panoramic scenery, use high f-stops (small aperture) to achieve deep depth-of-field.


Shutter Speed

The camera’s shutter is the “curtain” that closes when you take a photo. The length of time the camera shutter is open to light is the shutter speed. The longer the shutter speed, the more light is exposed to the camera sensor (shutter speed is typically measured in seconds or fractions of seconds). Slow shutter speeds (like 2”) allow more light in, which is great for nighttime or low-light photography. With motion photography however, it’s best to opt for a faster shutter speed (like 1/60) that’s able to capture the instant quickly.



ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light—not to be confused with exposure! As the number for ISO increases, so does the sensitivity to light. However, there’s a catch; more sensitivity means more “noise”, or a grainier image.


There you have it! Now you can call yourself an expert in the manual settings for a DSLR camera. Play around with these settings, and see for yourself how certain adjustments change the quality or lighting of your image.



Do you have any more tips on how to better understand your digital camera? Let us know in the comments below!

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