Photography basics

So you want to know how to get into photography

Photography, like any skill, takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. The starting point for anyone who wants to get into photography, whether you want to be a professional or you just want to do it in your spare time, is learning the Exposure Triangle. The entire world of photography revolves around knowing what the settings on the camera do and how to use them to your advantage in every situation. This is part one of a four part series where I will teach you the basics of photography so you can begin to understand these principles feel confident taking full control of your camera.

The Exposure Triangle: What is it and why do I care?

There are three settings that together are called the Exposure Triangle, since they all work together to make a photo look the way it does. If one of these is out of balance with the scene, something will be wrong in the photo. For example if your shutter speed is too long and your subject is moving you will have a blurry photo. Understanding these settings, their effects and how they work together will make you a better photographer. Below is a brief overview of each setting.

Shutter is the mechanism that actually causes your camera to take a photo (also called an exposure). The shutter opens to let light in for a determined amount of time and then closes, completing the exposure. You can set your shutter extremely fast, say 1/8000 of a second, and freeze fast motion to capture things like water splashes or you can slow it down to 5 seconds or more and capture beautiful firework trails. If you’d like more info on using shutter, I have a whole post about using shutter speed.

Aperture is an opening inside the lens that determines how much light enters while the shutter is open. By setting your aperture very wide, f/1.8 for example, you can maximize the amount of light your sensor can use which also allows you to use a higher shutter speed. If you were to set it to f/22, the amount of light entering the sensor is very small, so a longer exposure may be necessary. Aperture has a number of other uses which I will explain in another post all about aperture.

Lastly, ISO is how sensitive to light you make your sensor. The more sensitive you make your camera the brighter your scene can be. Keep in mind however the higher your ISO, the more noise will be introduced into the image. If you want to read more into ISO I have a detailed post about it.

Here is a visual quick reference guide to make all of this a little easier to follow.


exposure triangle Photography basics


Metering Modes

Metering is essentially how a camera determines what settings it needs to use in order to take a perfect photo. If it detects a bright scene then it will lower the ISO and start to close the aperture to let in less light. Cameras don’t have the ability to think creatively however so it’s the photographers job to determine if other adjustments are needed based on the desired result.

All cameras have a light meter built in to measure the amount of light on the subject. This allows them to adjust the settings to produce a correct exposure. There are four modes with which the camera will meter a scene, Center Weighted, Spot, Partial and Evaluative. Depending on your situation you may want to change your metering mode to get a better result. I’ll discuss the specifics of each below.

Evaluative Metering

Evaluative is the most automated, the camera uses all available light to calculate the settings and set the exposure controls. It assesses the overall scene and makes the needed corrections. This mode is usually useful for large scenes like landscapes that are evenly lit.

Evaluative Metering Photography basics

An example of what area Evaluative Metering will cover.

Center Weighted Metering

The opposite end of the spectrum is Center Weighted, which has a small area focused in the center of the viewfinder. This is good for portraits. The light in the rest of the scene is used but higher priority is placed on the area in the middle.

Center-Weighted Photography basics

The priority area of Center Weighted Metering.

Spot Metering

This mode gets its name from the points it uses to meter light. The light inside the spots that are spread throughout the viewfinder is all that is used to determine the cameras settings. All other light outside those areas is ignored. This mode is perfect for small objects and subjects with dark backgrounds.

Spot Metering Photography basics

The spots used for Spot Metering mode.

Partial Metering

Partial Metering can be thought of as an expanded version of Spot Metering. The overall area is larger but this mode doesn’t average the overall scene like Spot Metering does. This is good for back lit subjects where you want to control what areas are used to meter.

Partial Metering Photography basics

General area covered by Partial Metering.

How do I make the meter work?

This is the simplest part. Once you’ve chosen your mode (see your camera’s manual) all you must do is place the area you want to use over your subject in the viewfinder and press the shutter button half way down. The camera will focus on the subject and meter the scene. Once you’re happy with your photo, press the shutter button down all the way to complete the exposure.

Now that you have the basics down you can start experimenting with various subjects and scenes to see what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things!


Ready for part two? Check out Making sense of all those modes.

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