What Every Aspiring Photographer Absolutely Needs to Know

kid photographer Have you ever cooked? “Cooked what?” you may ask. Well… anything. Absolutely anything. Something as simple as boiling a pasta and putting sauce in it. How do you decide how much sauce to put or how much to boil that pasta? What about how much black pepper to add? Here’s how: you either know what black pepper tastes like or you know what excess of it might do to the dish.

A cook needs to know what ingredients of a recipe might do to its taste even before cooking it. So, does a photographer.


What Every Aspiring Photographer Needs to Know

No! Not those ingredients of that recipe she is going to shoot, but rather the ingredients that make a photograph. In this post, we’ll look at what a photograph is and how it is made as well as the ingredients of a photograph. All in plain English.

Understanding the photo creation even at very a high level will make you a better photographer. Once you know what goes into creating a photograph, you will know your options and things you can control to make your photos jaw-dropping. It’s like understanding what will happen if you boil pasta for way too long (it disintegrates) and if you don’t boil pasta enough (it gives you stomachache) so that you can cook better pasta.

Without getting too technical and too complicated, here is…

What is a Photograph

In plain English, a photograph is merely a documentation of what you see. It is a pictorial record of the way a person sees created by a device. All this device – the camera, as you may know it – does, is that, it captures a scene with the help of light. As simple as that.

Once you know what is a photograph, let look at…

How Photograph is Created

A photograph is created when sensor (or the film in film cameras) is exposed to light. The sharpness of a photograph depends on how accurately you focus and where you focus. The high-level process of creating a photo whether it is a point and shoot (P&S) cameras or a single lens reflex (more commonly known as SLR) is identical. The only major difference between P&S and SLR cameras is the degree of control that a user has.

Point & Shoot users Only: Read this before you move any further -

You may be tempted to ignore the next section because it may scare you. Don’t. Don’t skip the next section. Some may argue that “it is too technical and point and shoot does not let me control the following things”. And I am going to tell you that there is a hack. And you can control all the following things, okay, well most of them. In next few weeks I’ll share that with you. So, don’t skip the next section. It is the heartbeat of photography

No matter what camera you use, the things that make any photograph remain same. Let’s look at…

3 Ingredients of Any Photograph

Without talking too much, lets looks at the three ingredients that make a recipe of any photograph:

Aperture

Aperture is the opening in lens. This controls how much light should get in the camera. Amount of light getting in depends on the size of the opening. As you know, the larger the opening will be, more amount of light will get in. Controlling the aperture also lets you control the depth of field in a photograph.

Aperture is measured by f-stop. Without getting too technical, the smaller the f-stop larger is the opening. So, opening in f/4 is larger than that in f/22, meaning more light gets in if aperture is f/4 than f/22. The interesting thing to note here is that, with every stop the amount of light is changed by two times. For example, the next stop after f/4 moving up is f/5.6. In this case, at f/4 two times more light enters the camera than at f/5.6

aperture-4x4 Opening for f-stop. All photos by penmachine

Shutter speed

Shutter speed defines how long sensor or film is exposed to light. While shutter speed also controls how much light should get to the sensor, shutter speeds is mainly decided based on the speed of subject. For freezing the motion of a moving subject, a high shutter speed will be needed. But if subject is still life or food (that doesn’t move – some might consider duck in the pond food too), then shutter speed can be reduced to minimum speed that doesn’t cause blur.

There is a lot that can be said about shutter speed and there are lot of creative ways of using shutter speed, for purpose of keeping this high-level lets just say this – shutter speed depends on two things, how much light you want to reach the sensor/film and the speed of your subject.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds. It is really the time for which shutter was open, so in my opinion (courtesy this engineering brain), shutter speed is really a misnomer that is used industry-wide. Back to the topic, common shutter speeds are somewhat like 1/60 seconds, 1/125 seconds, 1/250 seconds and so on. This means at 1/60 seconds, shutter is open longer than 1/250 seconds and hence more light enters at 1/60 than 1/250. Just like the aperture, the light entering is doubled by one stop to the next. At 1/60 two times more light enters than at 1/125.

ISO Rating

In the old days of film camera, films were rated by a number. There were ISO 100 films and then there were ISO 200 films. Today even though, films are not used in digital camera, ISO rating is still used. The ISO rating defines how sensitive the film/sensor is to light. Here higher the number, better is the sensitivity. This means with everything else remaining the same, ISO 800 film (or digital camera adjusted to that rating) will capture more light than an ISO 100 film. Just like the two previous cases, ISO 100 is half as sensitive as ISO 200. This means, ISO 200 will capture twice the information that ISO 100 can.

You may say well, why then even make a ISO 100 film and why not just use ISO 800 film. Here why: the more sensitive a film is, the more noisy and grainy it becomes. So even though, ISO 800 may capture 8 times more information, it will also be almost 8 times more grainy.

Game of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO

Overall, photography from a technical point of view is a balance between these three elements. A combination of these three elements can be switched and still same amount of light can enter in the camera. For example, f/16 with shutter speed of 1/250 on 400 ISO will lead to same amount of light as f/11 with shutter speed of 1/250 on 200 ISO, which in turn will be same as f/22 with shutter speed of 1/125 on 400 ISO.

The game of balancing these three inputs, depending on the situation and scenario is the art of photography. So, lets talk about…

Art of Photography – in Plain English

When you think about shooting a scene (or a dish, for that matter), you point your camera lens towards the subject and have a mental debate about what in that scene you want to shoot. You decide what to focus on and focus the lens on the subject. If you have auto-focus feature turned on, this is done automatically. Once satisfied, you click the button to take the picture. Now the real magic begins. As soon as the button is clicked, the shutter opens and light is captured on the film/sensor. 

The process itself is very simple. In the sketch below, available light goes through the lens to the film sensor while passing from the aperture and the shutter. As we saw earlier, three things can be controlled – aperture, shutter speed and ISO rating.

Art of Photography

From the science point of view, as we talked the whole art of photography revolves around one basic decision – how much light should reach the film. As we looked in the previous section, the same amount of light can reach the sensor by multiple ways. This decision of what combination of the three ingredients to use under what circumstances is art.

This is Important

Although, this may seem a little boring to some, the knowledge of three ingredients and understanding how to play with them is very important. I hope this post gave you basic knowledge of the three crucial ingredients to creating a great photograph.

Was this any helpful? Would like to hear from you in the comments.

Photo Credits: Kid Photographer – smyle by Harold Laudeus

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Comments

  1. Oh beautiful…this is excellente……as if written for me…a point and shoot camera user and my first digi cann cam….

    Yeah ur detailed writng is jus what am looking for…coz have begun shooting in manual hese days…i keep turning the dial till i get it right or so i think….

    ok got to read thru again,have jus finished plating lunch for all and gotta join ‘em but wat i jus did to shoot was in f2.8 to f4.5,if i go higher than that the shutter speed goes lower like 1/250(jus learnt that from u jus now :-))) ),dont know if my pics are good or no or i jus think they r righ coz they all get rejected thru taste spotting et all:-))))

    and the manual iso fixed to 80 for less noisy pics…

    Oh yeah thanx a ton for the heart of look and shoot cameras that my heart so needs rite now(it’ll co ordinate with my mind too dont worry..))

    Have a rocking frolicking fun filled happy gappy day…cheers…
    e boa semana…

  2. Happy to have found your blog. I just started a food blog and would love to add more pics. I’ll be following your site for tips :)

  3. WOW!!! This is exactly what I needed. My bf has been trying to explain the science of photography but I could not grasp it completely. Now I’ll have it in writing and described simply. I may just print this out to keep referencing it until all this knowledge becomes mechanic. Really love this entry. It’s exactly what I was looking for. Thanks Neel!

  4. Loved this Neel! Very easy to follow and understand.

  5. Excellent Tips, Neel!

    Thanks!

  6. Wow I love the way you’ve explained this. So simple and yet to the point. I’m so glad i came across your blog. I’ll be following for sure :)

  7. Farah Kamal says:

    Hi!! have read many books, and in a face to face class was explained and did some hands on as well, in the last 3 months that I have been studying photography. But whoooaaa this is so simple and finally made it to my think brain which was ever confused between reading such text and then applying on my DSLR. Thanks Neel.

  8. Hi,
    You mention depth of field as it relates to aperture, but you don’t explain it beyond bringing it up.

    Care to enlighten people who read your well written “need to know” page?

    Glad to help,
    Ron

  9. Yes, but I still had to click more links from that page to get the whole story. Photography is like that.

    Posting to your site doesn’t allow backlinks. Thought it was nice that you offer them, but your code says no follow for the comments, and a program I have that tracks my backlinks doesn’t show your link. Since the site is new, it doesn’t show ANY links yet.

    You can delete or amend this post on the page too.

    Thanks,
    Ron

  10. Hi! Thank u for sharing such valuable knowledge here. The ‘cooking theory’ is a great example apply to the art of photography! Have a good day~ ^^

  11. Neel, I just found your website about a week ago and am blown away by how thorough and detailed your information is. I wish I had found you earlier so I could have participated in 31 days! But I am now reading one(or 3) of your articles every morning! I love attending your online “class”! Thank you for being so giving of your knowledge. It is much appreciated!

  12. Great that you found this helpful.But anyway,I thought it was nice that you offer them, but your code says no follow for the comments, and a program I have that tracks my backlinks doesn’t show your link.

  13. What a great article. Simple and clear. Excellent writing and diagram! Wish I would have found this when I started in photography. I’ll be looking for more of your articles.
    Thanks!

  14. Thnaks. Its simple enough and makes sense now as to what i was being told all this while but hubby dear.:D

  15. this was very helpful… i have apoint and shoot and do not intend to invest in DSLR for the time being… so have to improve on my food photography…
    this was useful…

  16. andyprabowo says:

    aspiring! your blog are easy to read and to understand. thank you for the enlightment.
    salam..

  17. This is very helpful! Thanks. The drawing especially helped me get it since I’m a visual learner.

  18. You are awesome Neel! At last I understood the basics of photography. Can’t wait to learn more! THANKSSS

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