Photography Tips Series: Basics and Settings

photography tips series: basics and settingsPhotography Tips Series: Basics and Settings

In the first part of this Photography Tips Series, we talked about the gear. In this second part, we are getting a bit more technical, so grab a coffee or something energizing because this one is gonna be tough. Welcome to the second part; Photography Tips Series: Basics and Settings.

To help you better understand all the technicalities that I’m going to shoot your way, I’ve made some cheat sheets for you to have on your phone to check them out when in doubt.

Also, I recommend pinning all of these cheat sheets to your Pinterest for future reference. And while you are at it, maybe a follow for me too?

photography tips series: basics and settings


Aperture is how wide the lens can open. Remeber the iris analogy? The wider it gets the more light it gets in, you have a shallower depth of field (blurry backgrounds). The closer it gets, the less light comes in and more things are in focus (deeper depth of field).

photography tips series: basics and settings


Shutter speed is the time the digital sensor is exposed to light. Faster shutter speed, less time exposed to light so less light comes in, and you freeze any motion. Slower shutter speed means more time exposed to light, lets in a lot of light, and motion is blurred out.

Do you reckon those pictures of people drawing hearts or messages with light? Those are made with long exposures. That means, slow shutter speeds, so you have more time to move your source of light and draw, and the camera is going to register all that movement in that given amount of time the shutter is set. It is important to set your camera on a tripod to remove any handshake movement so the “drawing” is going to be sharper.

photography tips series: basics and settings


ISO measures the sensitivity the sensor has to the light. The lower the ISO the less sensitive it is to light, higher ISO more sensitive to light. That means that when you are in a low light situation, you need to push your ISO up. That way your sensor is going to be more sensitive to whatever little amount of light is available.

However, high ISO’s aren’t always adviced because they produce a lot of grain in your image, and they become softer (less sharp).

So to expose your photos correctly you have to balance this three out; aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

photography tips series: basics and settingsTake a sip of that coffee. Go ahead, you deserve a break at this point. But make sure to come back because there is more important information in this Photography Tips Series: Basics and Settings!

Ok, let’s continue.

If you, for example, are outside on a sunny day, that means there is going to be a lot of light available. And imagine you want to shoot with your widest aperture, say 1.4.
That aperture lets in A LOT of light, so how do you balance it so your picture isn’t overexposed? You set a high shutter speed, and the lowest ISO possible.

But imagine that you want to shoot a landscape in the same sunny day, so because you want a lot of depth of field, you choose an aperture of 8. That lets in a lot less light. So you have to set your shutter speed much slower.

But slower shutter speed means motions isn’t going to freeze anymore, so even you hand-holding the camera will cause motion blur.

So first of all, I recommend using a tripod when shooting landscapes. That way you remove any motion blur and can shoot with the aperture you want and slower shutter speeds with no need to bump the ISO up, so you preserve your image quality.
But if a tripod is not available, you push your ISO up, so that way you can set a higher shutter speed and remove any motion blur.

All cameras have an exposure guide. Notice that ruler you have when shooting? If you pay attention when shooting in manual mode, that there is going to be a dot moving along that ruler that goes from -3 to 0 and to +3.

When that point is on the + numbers, that means your picture is overexposed, so you have to adjust your settings to let in less light.
The same goes when the dot is on the – numbers. That means your picture is underexposed and it is too dark, so you have to adjust your settings accordingly to let in more light.
You should ideally keep that dot in 0.

But this can change depending on your camera. For example, my camera tends to overexpose my images at 0. So I usually 1/3 underexposed, so my images turn out a little dark than it would on 0, but that is the correct exposure of my camera.

So you have to get to know your equipment, so you know what proper adjustments you need to make.


That exposure ruler (correct name is exposure level indicator), tells you if your image is under or overexposed my measuring the light in the image. You can control how much light of the image the camera will measure by changing the metering modes.

photography tips series: basics and settings
In the cheat sheet, I illustrate the most common metering modes there are.
I recommend if you are a beginner to play with them so you can see the difference in practice, not only in theory.

Another thing to keep in mind for a correct exposure is white balance. Notice when you take a picture in the shade it turns out blue? or when you take a picture indoors with the normal lights of your house, the picture turns out orange? That’s color temperature.

photography tips series: basics and settings
Our eyes have the ability to compensate for color temperature, so we can see as whiter as possible. But cameras can’t, so they have to find a way to balance the whites correctly (white balance).
All cameras have AUTO white balance, which the camera decides what the correct adjustments are for you (not always accurate). They also have different modes that cover a range of different light situations, as shown in the cheat sheet (not always accurate).

So because they are not completely accurate, I like to control de Kelvin number manually. In whatever situation I am in, I move the Kelvin number up or down, to manually decide if I want my photo cooler or warmer.

Now you have all your settings so they make the correct exposure of the image you are about to make. But now, you need to get your subject in focus regardless of the other settings, so that’s when the focusing modes come to play.

photography tips series: basics and settingsFor manual focus, you have to put your lens in Manual. Move the ring on your lens till your image is in focus.

If you want to use AutoFocus with all of its advantages, there are two common settings.

AF-S which stands for Single Autofocus. This focusing mode is easy to use. You select the focusing point or area and you put your subject in that area.

In general, you press the shutter-release button halfway (or your camera may have a separate AF-ON button). The camera will lock focus on a subject on which you have placed the active autofocus sensor. Press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the image.

If neither you or the subject moves and the subject remains in that focusing area, in the final image your subject will be in focus.

But if either of you moves, and gets out of the focusing area, the subject is going to be out of focus in the final image. And not only that. Also if you move closer or farther together after you made focus, it will be out of focus too.

AF-C stands for Continuous AutoFocus. This focusing mode follows your subject if they move. So you no longer have to worry about the issues AF-S has.

But remember autofocus is not perfect. Even if it follows your subject while moving, it will depend on your lense’s AF speed. If it’s too low, it won’t follow the subject fast enough so the image will be out of focus.

So by now, you have the perfect exposure. You have your subject in focus. What else do you need to have a perfect image? Composition.

photography tips series: basics and settings
One of the most common composition rules is the Rule of Thirds; which states that you have to divide your image by three vertically and by three horizontally. So for good composition, you have to place your main subject on whichever of the 4 intersections those lines made.

The composition is extremely important. It doesn’t matter that you nailed all of the other settings. If a photo is wrongly composed, it won’t work.
There are other rules out there, but this one is the easiest and it works really well.
Also, remember rules are made to be broken. But first, you have to learn them. So before experimenting with alternative compositions, practice a lot with the rule of thirds.

Photography Tips Series: Basics and Settings

There are people out there who still defend that jpeg works just fine. But if you are going to pursue photography more professionally I’ll always recommend shooting in RAW.

photography tips series: basics and settingsPhotography Tips Series: Basics and Settings

JPEG files are smaller than RAW files. But they are a result of whatever the camera decided was correctly exposed, colored, sharpened, etc. And they lose all of the other information the camera decided was no worth it.

RAW files are like the negative film in analog photography. These files conserve ALL of the information there was when you took your image. So it is easier to correct mistakes, to enhance or change colors, to adjust white balance. If some part of your image is too dark, you can save a lot of the shadows and bring them back to the light.
With jpeg, there is only so much you can do, because the image doesn’t have that much information.

But for you to be able to develop RAW files correctly, you will need an editing software. But I’ll talk about this in future posts.

Hope you liked this episode of the Photography Tips Series: Basics and Settings.

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments! I’ll gladly answer all of them!

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