Photography Basics in 8 Minutes or Less

Here are some basic camera features every beginning photographer should learn about. It’s always best to know the essentials of the equipment with which you create your art, even if you don’t want to dig deeper into the more technical stuff.

Resolution

Resolution determines how sharp your image will be, how much you can enlarge a photo before it starts to blur, and how much you can crop out of an image and still have a good deal of colour and clarity to work on, enlarge and edit.

Lenses

The lens is the eye of your camera. Look for the following in your lens:

  • You’ll want good-quality optics that focus a sharp image on your camera’s solid-state sensor. The best way to gauge the quality of the lens is to take a test photo or two. A vendor’s reputation or lab tests in magazines are other ways to do this.
  • The lens also needs enough light-gathering power to let you shoot in low light. A camera’s light-gathering capabilities are measured in something called f-stops.
  • The magnification power of the lens (how large or small an image appears from a particular shooting position) is another factor. A digital camera’s lens magnification is adjusted by zooming in and out to make the image larger or smaller.
  • Where magnification tells you only how large or small the image can be made to appear, the zoom range tells you the difference between the two. Some lenses have only a small zoom range, say 2:1,whereas others have a longer range, up to 12:1 or more – this means that the image size can be zoomed up to 12X.

Photography basics

Storage

The type and size of removable storage is another key feature. Most cameras use Compact Flash, Secure Digital, or other electronic film media.

Exposure Controls

Nearly all digital cameras include automatic exposure controls that adjust the amount of light that reaches the sensor based on the lighting conditions of your subject. Cameras with more versatile automatic exposure controls let you specify the type of exposure you want to use. For example, when shooting action, it’s often preferable to use the shortest shutter speed possible to freeze the motion and to adjust the size of the lens opening instead. Conversely, if you want a lot of your image to be in sharp focus (say, objects very close to the camera and very far are both important), you may be able to choose an exposure mode that favours maximum depth of field. You probably want a digital camera that can handle several different exposure modes and lets you set exposure yourself.

Focus Controls

Most digital cameras also have an automated system for sharply focusing your images. Some are more versatile than others and many cameras also let you focus manually to ensure that the subject matter you want to emphasize is the sharpest. Try experimenting on focus controls and compare results.

Viewfinders

Digital cameras generally have four ways to let you preview and compose your images prior to exposure. The LCD panel on the back of the camera shows you the same image that the sensor is capturing. The LCD is often hard to view in bright light, so digital cameras also may have optical viewfinders that let you see a non electronic version of the frame. More advanced cameras might include a second LCD (EVF) in the camera, where it is shielded from the glare of the surrounding light. Single lens reflexes (SLRs) let you see an optical version of the picture through the same lens that you use to take the photo.

Accessories

Tripods, monopods, filters, add-on lenses, external electronic flash units, scanners, printers, and other accessories are available if you want to explore and see what you need.  My advice: keep it simple; take only the essentials and focus on making more and better pictures.

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