Get to know the digital photography basics right from the beginning.

People's uncertainty about the digital photography basics is what scares most people off from either buying a DSLR, or getting more involved in photography underwater.
I know from my own experience that as soon as you approach the sales person in the camera shop, you just know they are going to ask you questions that you will have no idea what to answer and will end up feeling like a bit of a fool. Learning digital photography basics almost seems like a chicken and egg situation, you need them to learn how to use the camera but won't learn digital photgraphy basics without a camera?

Even after I had bought a DSLR (based upon the advice of a relative as to which camera to buy), I wanted to ask someone what sort of lenses they thought I should get – you guessed it..... here came those darn questions I couldn’t answer!

‘What kind of pictures do you want to take?’

My objective was/is photography underwater, I wanted to take pictures of EVERYTHING! Of course I know now what he meant but it didn’t come across like that, I just felt stupid. What I needed was the course in photography for dummies so that I could learn the digital photography basics.

What I want to do is provide you with the information for beginners photography to save you from the embarrassment of having no clue as to what to ask, or what the answers mean and in turn what decisions to make. Hopefully this will make learning digital photography basics a little less of a drama.

Let’s start by going through digital photography basics terms and a short, hopefully simple, explanation of what they mean:


Graphic Description of Aperture sizes for digital photography basics
It is indicated by f stop numbers f1.4, f2, f2.8, f5.6 and so on.

Just to confuse us – the larger the aperture the smaller the f stop number f22 is a very small aperture, f5.6 is big.

This is the control of how much light reaches the image sensor in the camera and has a direct relation - when setting your camera up for a shot - to shutter speed.

Generally the larger the aperture the faster the shutter speed. Once you get these digital phography basics you will start to look at photographs you see on billboards and everywhere and start to be able to pick out what type of settings the photographer use, focused foreground, background out of focus - wide aperture......

It can be easier to understand if put the other way around –

The faster your shutter speed, the larger your aperture must be to allow an equal amount of light through.

If you have the aperture wide open, a lot of light is going to come through so to avoid a very ‘white’ picture you are only going to want to open the shutter for a very short time to avoid burning or ‘over-exposure’. So a faster shutter speed is needed to maintain equilibrium.

At the risk of going overboard with the explanations, wide aperture has to have a fast shutter speed to avoid flooding the picture with light.

All of this would be dependent on the light conditions prevailing - low light conditions larger aperture and perhaps a slower shutter speed than in normal bright daylight conditions.

Aperture will control your depth of field – how much in your picture, near or far, is in focus – a small aperture (high number) will mean more will be in focus – objects behind the subject will be in focus as well as the object your picture is focused on. A large aperture (low number) focus will be restricted to the area of the subject.

I will go into depth of field in another page...... you know..... learning underwater photography , building the digital photography basics one thing at a time?

Shutter Speed

This is what a digital camera shutter looks like.

Shutter speeds are indicated in graduations of seconds - 1/500 (one five hundredths of a second), 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15 and so on into whole seconds.

I mentioned above that shutter speed, combined with aperture size, controls how much light reaches the image sensor.

Concerning digital photography basics it is vital you understand this so to use a metaphor - is it is like sun tanning, the longer you are in the sun the more sunburned you will get, the aperture is then like sun block cream, the slower the shutter speed (the longer it is open) the more risk of sunburn, therefore more sunscreen is required so a higher f stop number is needed to decrease the burning.

As you go on learning photography you will at some point hear reference to the exposure triangle – sounds like something you might find near a nuclear reactor! – this refers to the inter-connected relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. They all have an impact on each other – as you change one the other needs adjusting.

How quickly the object you are photographing is moving dictates how your shutter speed should be set, if it is moving – like a sports scene you may want to freeze the action and have no blurring – therefore a fast shutter speed. ( another brick in the digital photography basics building...)

The exposure triangle helps those who are learning photography, to understand the effects of basic settings on a DSLR


ISO tends to be quite a difficult concept to explain in simple terms in beginners photography, so I hope my explanations works!

In digital photography basics it is the measurement of how sensitive to light the image sensor is. The lower the number, the less sensitive (sunny bright conditions – use a lower ISO).

The common graduations are:

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600

The most commonly used are 100 and 200.

As the ISO number gets higher the shutter speed gets faster and aperture smaller. One of the reasons you would increase the ISO would be to use a faster shutter speed in order to take a picture of a fast moving event in lower light conditions like a sporting event. The event is moving fast so a fast picture and fast shutter means less light will be allowed in so you need to maximise the effect of the light by making the image sensor more sensitive.

I downside of this is that as you raise the ISO, your pictures will get grainier (often called noise) so the finer detail will degrade (crispness of the picture).

Like everything with settings all will have a trade off against another aspect. The trick is getting the balance right for the situation. Practising the digital photography basics by taking pictures over and over, noting what the settings were - will go a long way to making learning photography underwater a lot easier!

An example would be:

Aperture f5.6 ISO100 Shutter speed 1/125

Aperture f5.6 ISO200 Shutter speed 1/250

So with the same aperture setting, your shutter speed at ISO 200 would need to be half (that is - faster) what it is at ISO 100.

If you increase ISO, shutter speed needs to increase (open for a shorter time).

For an exercise, set your camera to ISO 200 and your aperture to f8. If you point your camera at a fairly well lit subject then adjust your shutter speed until the exposure indicator centres. Write down the shutter speed. Repeat this when you set ISO to 400 Repeat this when you set ISO to 800

What you should notice is each shutter speed is close to half the previous setting.

This is generally what an exposure indicator looks like on a DSLR when you look through the viewfinder, it indicates the optimal exposure settings

Here is an example of what an Exposure Indicator looks like – they do however differ from model to model. A detailed explanation should be in the manual which came with the camera.

White Balance

I cannot stress the importance to digital photography basics of white balance.

This is a compensation setting to allow the camera to adjust the colour tones of a scene. The setting you choose dictates how the camera will adjust for all the colours in the scene according to the white balance standard you have chosen.

Automatic White Balance (AWB).

The Camera looks at the overall color of the image and calculates the best white balance setting. This is not foolproof but is a good standby when you are not certain of the white balance setting to choose. Later on in your progress towards learning photography, and digital photography basics, if you are shooting in RAW format using automatic white balance is recommended, you will then be in a better position to make adjustments when you are working on your images later in your editing software.

Manual White Balance.
Almost all digital cameras will have a manual white balance setting control.

The most common white balance settings are:

• Daylight - Gives good neutral tones under most sunlit conditions.

• Cloudy - Gives extra warmth with cloudy, lower light conditions

• Flash – When you are using the flash.

• Fluorescent - For use with tube lighting.

• Incandescent/tungsten - When photographing a scene lit by standard    light bulbs.

To find out what white balance setting you like the most for the scene you are photographing, take a photograph using each or some of the white balance settings.

Custom White Balance.

SLR digital cameras allow you to define the white balance standard. Before making the actual shot you can shoot a white object that will serve as the standard for white balance. The camera will then use this standard when making the actual shot. By pointing the camera at a white card or piece of paper, filling the screen completely with it, then pressing the White Balance button (or set it in the menu), the camera does its WB calculation.

It is worthwhile taking a few photographs, before you start taking the pictures you want, to get the white balance right – remember the white balance also affects the way your camera sees the other colours.

For the moment those are the digital photography basics!

There is obviously an endless amount to be learned and as others have said, you will always learn even if it is only as a result of advances in technology there is always something new. Once you have the digital photography basics sorted out the rest is experience.

After digital photography basics click to go back to Photography page

For further information on digital photography basics like aperture priority mode

or shutter priority mode usage tips

Click here to learn about Camera lense basics

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