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.

Once you're ready to learn to shoot in manual mode, get tack sharp focus, and master lighting, please consider buying my Photography Start video series.  It's a series of 22 video tutorials where I walk you step-by-step through the things that it normally takes my photography students two years to learn.  I've priced it at a REALLY reasonable price so you can get a good solid start in photography.

Go to Page 2 of the Tutorial


  1. Great tutorial thank you. as a newbie in photography many of these terms was difficult for me to understand your way of explaining is the best i could find. it’s really simple so thank you again.

  2. Great information! Very applicable and easy for the beginners to understand the basic concepts of photography. Thanks for this great information and sharing it to everyone.

  3. Hello
    I am just a beginner in photography world and luckily come across your blog which is very useful for me to understand the basic tips for taking good photography.

  4. Thank you very much for this blog…!! It helped me alot…

  5. Finally … My new Favorite website. I have been hunting high and low trying to find a site that explains the art of photography and unravels the complexity of Manuel. I have a bit of add, ocd and am a visual Learner. With that being said, you are talking my language on this website. Thank you SO VERY MUCH.

  6. I love this blog. Thanks so much for taking the time! I had learned all of this stuff a long time ago and had completely lost it. This is the only blog that kept me from getting more confused. I was wondering if you remembered what the different settings were that you used for the picture on the right on the first page?

  7. Hi Jim,

    I’m quite impressed about the information you’ve provided, so much so that I’ve purchased your course.

  8. Is it important to buy an expensive camera in beginning? I don’t think so but what if I purchased a cheap camera and after buying it I realized that it’s not the right camera for me. I want to buy my first camera but totally confused. Help me please.

  9. I cannot read your Camera Settings Cheat Sheet. The captions are hard to read. Do you have an original on hand?



  10. I’m having problems using manual focus. The shots appear and get really blurry. What am I doing wrong? I did play with aperture, ISO and shutter speed settings. Is there a base level for use to avoid it?
    Thanks, you’re the best.

  11. Hi Alex! My name is Sophia! I love photography and I take some pretty awesome pictures but the only problem is I don’t have a camera I just use my iPhone 6… So I don’t know what camera to get. There are so many and since I’m rookie I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions and input for picking out my camera.

    Much Appreciated

    1. Sophia
      U can start with Nikon D3200 with 18-140mm lens. It would be economical and for very good option. If you can afford some most cash, the D5300 with 18-140mm lens. I am myself a starter and this is what I was able to conclude after too much surfing over the web 🙂

  12. How are you able to create such amazing art here. I have a GoPro and although i don’t think that you have something posted with video altering, would you have blog posts about that later?


  13. Hi there I bought the photography start video series, and like to save it to my hard drive but I can not get it to work I have windows 10. I need some help please. Thank you Helena.

  14. Your page is awesome, everything you need to know and more beginners and seasoned artists can benefit from your site. this is my go to page for all my needs, thank you so much!

  15. Jim thank you for your amazing tutorials! You explain it in a clear concise manner. I look forward to learning more from you! Louise Bradley

  16. I am a photography enthusiast doing my basic course.I want to take it professionaly now. I have a Sony SLT-Y camera.I am confused about buying a new laptop. Should I invest in a hi-end laptop right now or should wait until I turn pro and use a cheaper version. , They all are heavy to carry around as camera and lenses are also heavy
    . Please suggest on th camera too. I can spend 75ooo INR on each one.

  17. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for this wonderful tutorial you’ve created.
    It would help me a lot as an amateur photographer.

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