Photo Basics #1: Introduction and Exposure

I’m so glad you found your way onto my Photography Basics series.  I have taught the basics of photography to millions of photographers around the world through Improve Photography, so I know just exactly how difficult it can seem to learn the basics of photography.

My goal is to make this Photography Basics series the absolute simplest way to learn the basics of photography.

I hope you’ll love this series because of what you learn here, and I hope you’ll join the Improve Photography community after you get your feet wet with the photo basics.  Let’s get going.

Basic Equipment You’ll Need

You can do photography with even the simplest of cameras, but the principles that I’d like to teach are for people who want to learn to use a DSLR camera, a micro four-thirds camera, or at least a camera that allows the photographer to adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  Even some pocket cameras have this functionality.

Now that you have your camera, it is time to learn exposure.

Exposure–the most basic element of photography

When photographers talk about “exposure,” we simply mean the brightness or darkness of a photo.  It seems simple enough to take a photo that is correctly exposed (has the proper brightness or darkness), but in reality it can be quite the trick.

PhotoCheatSheetTo help get the right exposure with your camera settings – you can download this Camera Settings Cheat Sheet guide.

If you’re reading this Photo Basics series, it probably means that you currently shoot on the “Green mode” of your camera–or the automatic setting.  That means the camera entirely controls the exposure of the picture.  When you shoot on automatic mode, your camera selects an aperture setting, an ISO setting, a shutter speed, and a host of other settings for you.

Automatic can be handy, but it also seriously limits your creative ability to make a beautiful picture.

Want proof that automatic isn’t the best way to shoot?  Check out the picture below.  On the left, the picture was taken entirely in automatic mode on a Canon Rebel DSLR.  That might look okay to you… until you see the picture on the right.  Same sunset.  Same camera.  The pictures were taken only seconds apart.  The difference?  The picture on the right was taken using manual exposure.

exposure example

The only difference between these two pictures is that one was shot with automatic exposure, and the other was shot using creative exposure.

Which photo do you prefer?  Probably the picture on the right!  By choosing a creatively dark exposure, the rich colors in the sunset were allowed to shine through.

However, technically, the photo on the left is “correct,” and the photo on the right is “incorrect.”  The camera saw through the lens and tried to expose the bird so that it wouldn’t become a shadow.  To me, the photo was not about exposing the bird properly, but exposing the sunset properly.  The bird was just a nice shape to include in the foreground.  This is exactly why you must learn exposure–because sometimes the “scientifically correct” exposure is not the best exposure to make the photo look how you want it to.

What’s next?

Now that you understand why it is so important to take control over the exposure, let’s move on to lesson #2 where we’ll learn all about shutter, aperture and ISO–which are the tools you need to control the exposure.  Keep reading for the next 10 or 15 minutes and you’ll already understand the basics of how to shoot in manual mode on your camera.  I promise shooting in manual mode isn’t nearly as scary as you might think.

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