Basics of Photography that you Must Know to be Successful


Updated: 2019

Basics of photography aren't so basic... ...especially in the beginning!

I'll admit it, I shot on auto for a long time. It was fast and easy but it didn't always result in the best image.  And also to be quite honest with you, this stuff bores me to death. I've never liked the technical side of photography but it is something you need to understand to take decent photos.

I'm going to give you the super basics here. I recommend checking out Expert Photography if you want the in-depth guide. Josh is a truly a master!

There are three pillars of the basics of photography  that you are going to want to know inside and out.


The aperture is the size of the hole inside the lens. This controls the amount of light that is let into the camera and also affects the depth of field (the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that give an image judged to be in focus in a camera). Aperture is measured by "F-stops" (the ratio that relates to the size of the opening.  There's a whole mathematical background for this that gets extremely complicated! The formula is: focal length of lens/diameter of lens.)

The apertures on most cameras are:  f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32

The aperture decrease half of its size as the f-stop gets higher (f/22) allowing 50% less light through the lens.

At the lowest, f/1.4  is a wide aperture. It lets in the most amount of light and has a very shallow depth of field (blurred background)

At the highest, f/22 or f/32  is a narrow aperture.  It lets in the least amount of light and gives a sharp background (will also starburst light)

This is confusing in the beginning because a lower Fstop (f/1.4)  means a larger aperture (or opening) and a higher fstop (f/22) means a smaller aperture.


The shutter speed is the length of time that light hits the sensor, measured in seconds. This one is easy. The longer the shutter is open, the more light will be let into the camera resulting in a brighter image. The shutter also controls how motion is recorded.

This one is easy. The longer the shutter is open, the more light will be let into the camera resulting in a brighter image. The shutter also controls how motion is recorded.

A slow shutter speed of 1/60 and lower, lets in more light and shows blurred motion. (Examples: night photography, flowing water, blurred movement)

A fast shutter speed of 1/125 and higher, lets in less light and freezes motion (Examples: sports, events)


ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor that captures the light. As you increase the ISO, you increase the amount of light, or "exposure", of the image but as a result, the quality decreases adding digital noise or "grain"

A low ISO of 100-400 is best during the day and allows for less digital noise.

A high ISO of 1600 or higher is best in low light situations but has more digital noise.

Some photographers may cringe at what I'm about to say, but here's a tip in the beginning , if this all makes your head spin, try shooting on the different shooting modes of your camera.

Use Aperture Priority: YOU control the aperture, the CAMERA adjusts the shutter speed for proper exposure

Use shutter speed priority:  YOU control the shutter speed, the CAMERA adjusts the aperture for proper exposure

Aperture Priority - Basics of Photography

For example, when you are first learning, this is great if you know you want to shoot sports and the motion is fast (shutter speed above 1/250) but you aren't sure where to set the aperture.

AND THEN... learn from this! look at the settings to see where the camera set whichever one you aren't controlling

Exposure Triangle - Basics of Photography

Aperture, shutter speed, ISO are the elements that work together to make up the basics of photography and properly expose a photograph. Also known as the exposure triangle (see image on right). If one of the elements change, the others must change as well to maintain correct exposure. For example, if you decided to decrease your shutter speed by two stops, you will need to increase your aperture or ISO by two stops. You could also change both aperture and ISO by one stop with the same effect. (A stop refers to a stop of light. A stop doubles or halves the amount of light let into the camera)

Again, these basics of photography can be a lot to wrap your head around in the beginning. My advice is to keep shooting and keep practicing and like I said, it will become second nature.