Photography does not have to be a pain, as it should be fun and one of the purest means of creation. This guide makes you feel more comfortable with your camera or smartphone to enjoy this art better! Disclaimer: Some parts of this guide are based on my experience, and therefore, they are directly correlated with a level of subjectiveness, as they're mostly my takes on photography.
With this guide, you will be able to grasp all important concepts regarding photography, from the most technical ones (such as the Exposure Triangle) to more abstract techniques that undoubtedly are a big helping hand to improve your photography skills!
Photography Essentials aims to teach you how to master your camera (or smartphone) in manual mode, so you can take absolute control of your shots, mastering light conditions and composition! Let's do this!
In this guide, we'll discuss the main principles of photography to help you master its most essential concepts.
For starters, this guide is intended for everyone that wants to know a bit more about photography, whether you have a Camera or a Smartphone. As a personal preference, a Photography Camera is still, to this day, the best tool to take the best photos possible, but this is nowhere near limiting to Smartphones, especially considering how much they have evolved through the years. Some Smartphones also currently present pro/manual modes, which is a bonus for everyone that wants to embrace this guide to the maximum!
Suppose you fancy more advanced techniques used in Manual Camera modes. In that case, this is also the guide for you, as I will share more advanced techniques (such as exposure compensation and Astrophotography) that are mostly intended for advanced users that can control their camera settings.
It's always said that practice makes perfect. With that in mind and having the concepts provisioned below, you'll be able to substantially improve your photos by applying simple tips and tricks.
This guide will also focus on photography oriented to Social Media, namely Instagram, considering my reasonable amount of experience on it, where I accumulated over 1500 posted photos and 11800 followers upon creating this guide.
Creating a brand around your photography is undoubtedly challenging, especially considering that the most common exposure platform is Instagram and that you have to play, to a degree, by their own rules in terms of content. That will also be focused on in this guide since I had to make that same transformation to get my photos into an 'Instagram-ready' status to develop my brand further.
A picture is a time freezer, and it's something we take to remember that moment. Some photo opportunities will only appear once, so the better the theory is learned, the less you fail in these crucial instances.
The most important thing is that you must remember that photography is the 8th art. As an art, it is endorsed with high subjectivistic intents and opinions that differ from person to person, based on personalities and tastes, and that's why it is indeed an art. While all this is true, some principles lead the way in creating a solid photo.
Besides this, the remarkable thing about photography is that you are the one deciding the rules, as you make your abstraction of what you want to portray in a photo! The tips shown in this guide are just simple guidelines to construct a picture, but everything else in the construction of a photograph is based on the person that takes it and nothing else. That's what makes photography such a personal and unique art form!
Let's get to the guide!
Light is an essential factor in Photography. A photo is nothing more than the result of the output that a lens receives from the environment where you are taking the photo. The camera/smartphone can then reproduce it into an image, computing a set of parameters/values that dictate how the picture is captured in terms of how exposed to light it is.
Most photos (unless you are going really artsy with it) should be taken in a steady posture to enhance the results. Camera focus might be disturbed by the slightest movement, so you should aim to keep your stance and grip as stable as possible. This tip is essential in environments where illumination is not the best since your camera needs to be even steadier to focus appropriately.
It is easy to fall in love with expensive equipment. They usually take sharper photos with more color detail, better stabilization, and produce overall better results. My advice: Don't play it too quickly. Photography gear is usually costly, and an excellent entry-level choice might be enough to start your journey for a couple of years. Before buying my current camera (Fujifilm XT-4), I used an entry-level Nikon D3300 for about five years, which took some of my best photos to this day. Photography is mainly about the moment you are capturing. The overkill quality is just a nice-to-have.
The Exposure Triangle is fundamentally the most crucial factor to consider in Photography, and it defines a combination of factors that create the photo in its final state.
These factors are the Shutter Speed, the Camera diaphragm, and the ISO. We can manipulate those values in Cameras/Smartphones that support manual mode to achieve personalised and optimal photo-taking results.
The Shutter Speed is essentially the time it takes for a photo to take. The lower the shutter speed, the easier it is to freeze a photographic subject. We can change those parameters to generate results according to our needs. This value is usually set to high instants if the light conditions are not optimal or on purpose if we want to create long exposure images.
For example, imagine we set a shutter speed of 5 seconds on the camera to produce a light paint photo. The camera would combine all those 5 seconds of data, creating an illuminated trail on the picture. As a general rule of thumb, more shutter speed time lets in more light, and less time means less light in opposition.
The Camera diaphragm is defined by a piece that sits near the lens, opens and closes, and allows us to control the light intake on a photo. The more it closes, the less light it can gather. In this case, there is a curious thing about aperture measures - The more the diaphragm is closed, the higher the Aperture number. For example, A f/1.4 aperture is one of the best ways to gather light since the diaphragm is wide open. Using this aperture will also create a more blurred background, as the amount of blur is defined by the distance of objects to the main scenario. This technique is used in portrait photography to isolate the model from the landscape.
If you use average aperture values (like f/8), you will usually get a perfect blend of depth on a photo, where the camera can focus most of the picture. Higher aperture values (like f/22) would theoretically create a more focused shot, but using these aperture values makes diffraction. Therefore, I do not recommend you to go higher than f/8 or f/11 in terms of aperture.
Finally, we have the ISO, a mechanism in your photographic device that controls its sensitivity to light and can be used to create more light gathering artificially. The main tradeoff translates to generating noise in the image; the higher the ISO value, the higher the noise. Today's photo equipment can perform well even at high ISO values, creating very little noise and being very useful in dark environments that would otherwise require longer shutter speeds or higher apertures. Therefore, the amount of ISO you can use is highly dependent on the camera, and you can use it to your benefit!
The art of taking THAT perfect photo can be greatly eased by a measuring unit in photography called Stop of Light. A Stop of Light is the measuring unit that translates to shifting one value of the ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture scales. If you are at, for example, a shutter speed of 1/64s, decreasing one stop of light means that you would now be at 1/125s with a 1-stop darker image. Increasing one stop of light would put you at 1/30s, with a 1-stop lighter image. The same principle applies to Aperture (with the scale shown in the triangle) and the ISO.
For Aperture, considering that we would be taking a photo at f/4, reducing two stops of light would put us at f/8, and increasing two stops would put us at f/2 (check the triangle for the full stop scale). ISO has the most straightforward measure of stops, which translates to doubling or halving the value based on the stops we want to apply. For each stop up, we double the value, and for each stop down, we split it in half.
This Stop measurement is crucial, and mastering its balance enables you to take any photos at any given time, adapting to whatever context in which you are. For example, let's say you are taking a portrait photo with a beautiful landscape at f/2.8 with ISO at 100 and Shutter Speed at 1/2000s. In this case, you prioritize the Aperture setting because you want a blurred background. Let's get scenario number two in place. Now the person you were taking portraits of went away, and you want to take a photo of the beautiful landscape in front of you. Remember what I stated before - Lower aperture values are usually worse for correctly focusing all elements in an image (foreground and background). Therefore we should aim for higher aperture values.
Considering we were at f/2.8 Aperture, with an ISO of 100 and a Shutter Speed of 1/2000s, we would now want to get the Aperture to f/8 to get that fully focused landscape shot. According to the Exposure Triangle above, going from f/2.8 to f/8 implies reducing the exposure by 3 stops of light. If we want to re-balance the exposure, we should now seek to increment three stops of light in the other scales. This means we could increment all stops in the shutter speed and the ISO or get a healthy mix of both (2 in shutter speed and 1 in ISO, for example).
In this case, considering we still have much room in the Shutter Speed scale, we would increment 3 stops to it, going from 1/2000s to 1/250s, bringing us to the same exposure level as the one with the f/2.8 Aperture. If moving 3 stops on the shutter speed would ruin your photo's focus, you could increase one stop in the ISO, going from 100 to 200, and grow only two stops in the Shutter Speed, going from 1/2000s to 1/500s. This would still create the same exposure balance but with a different configuration. As long as you balance the number of up and down stops, you should always have a perfect exposure balance!
This concept is one of the most important ones in the Photography space. Mastering this balancing ability prepares you for any circumstance, with an incredible ability to adapt to the surrounding environment.
Composing your photos is also one of the most important things you can do in Photography, not only for you but also for people who enjoy your photos. Photo composition translates to how arranges visual elements within the frame. The image itself is a canvas, and the photographer is responsible for organizing it pleasantly and appealingly. The photo itself can be perfect, but if the composition is off, it's enough to lose the IT factor, so I recommend you follow some of these practices to improve your photos!
The motives behind the need to compose your photos come from scientifical sources: People are generally more prone to look at specific parts of a frame, prefer balanced and composed displays, or rather see a pleasant symmetry. These motives make Photo Composition so crucial to us and others. The most valuable and well-known composition patterns are the following:
RULE OF THIRDS is a way of dividing frames for optimal composition. In this case, we divide the frame into two equally spaced gridlines, forming a three-by-three grid. For balance purposes, it is recommended for you to insert your main elements on the lines of the grid intersect (or the gridlines themselves). Doing this tends to create more compelling and flowing images, as it deviates from the typical image centering and creates a new and exciting way for our brain to process an image.
SYMMETRY represents the notion of geometrically aligning elements in a somewhat mirrored manner. This creates a sense of perfect equilibrium within a frame, which is very pleasant to the person who sees it. If your shot is not purely symmetrical, you can still try to apply coherent BALANCE to the photo, both horizontally and vertically, to create an image where both sides complement each other.
You are also encouraged to work with leading lines, focus, and depth of field to create a better feeling of spatial complexity in the image. Composing elements in different depths adds valuable richness to a picture since you essentially add layers to your creations.
A well-composed photo relies on its value, the perception of space, the color science behind your image, the textures it portrays, the rhythm, the balance, the proportions, and the enphasis on its elements, the harmony, variety, and movement. Considering all of this, combined with a solid composition, it should provide amazing photos!
Social media is the primary medium of service digitalization in today's society. You probably prefer to keep the photos you take for yourself, which is fine, but remember that social media platforms are a significant opportunity to grow a product/community that might start with your photography.
For example, I started taking Instagram more seriously (in terms of sharing content) in 2018. All I wanted was to share my photos and provide content for someone to enjoy it. If you are learning a skill and you practice it to your best abilities, nothing stops you from taking the next step and sharing it with the world. This context brought me here today, where I wanted to learn everything about creating a brand, developing personal websites, and learning marketing, all because I have an audience. This story intends to encourage you to force your way into getting your content on social media, and I will give you some tips so you can commit fewer errors than I did when I started.
If you are going to use Instagram or other social media, do not fear trying to go for the maximum exposure. SHOW YOURSELF by using discoverability features like HASHTAGS and location tags, and don't be afraid to interact with your community and other creators. Since you are getting into the space, you might as well do it properly.
ADAPT YOUR CONTENT to social media. Never forget that most digital consumption is made on mobile, and social media applications are mobile-oriented. I edit all my photos to keep an image proportion of 5:4 (vertical), but you can also do 5:4 horizontal or squared (1:1). This is usually the best ratio for Instagram posts since, this way, it won't cut your post.
Following the tips above on image taking, your image will have optimal results if it is designed to be catchy. A catchy photo will catch many people in the home feed, therefore improving your reach. Always strive for quality and aim to stand out.
If you can, BE CONSISTENT. Consistency is one of the best ways to keep promoting your work. If you have a unique style and fantastic work, people will strive to see your content every day, establishing a positive point for you since you can create a notion of spectator retention.
CREATE AN IDENTITY. There is nothing better than being unique. We live in a world of trends and copies. If you establish your work as memorable, you will stand out from everyone else. A personal example is a fact that I pride myself on finely editing all the photos I post, and people usually recognize my posts by my colors. In this case, being different and intelligent is an excellent premise to grow!
I hope you liked this guide and that it helped ramp up your photography skills. I aim to empower people with the things I have been learning for years, and it is my pleasure to help everyone I can! I love doing this as it combines my willingness to learn more and more, and creating these guides also allows me to expand my horizons.