Inside: New to photography? Download this free DSLR photography for beginners PDF HERE.
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Simple DSLR Photography for Beginners PDF
I looked down past my large, round belly, to the brand new DSLR sitting in my lap. I was 8 months pregnant with my first child and I couldn’t wait to take beautiful photos of our new baby.
But as I read the instruction manual and fumbled with the camera settings my excitement waned.
All the terms in the manual sounded like a foreign language to me. I wanted to take great photos, but had no idea where to begin.
“A photography class is what I need!” I mused.
A few days later a discount on a local photography class landed in my inbox. I registered right away.
Surely this would unlock the mysteries of my camera and have me taking beautiful photos in no time.
I went to the class one week before my due date, larger and rounder, and spent 2 hours scribbling notes on ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
I was sure I understood.
Then it was time to go out and test my new knowledge by taking photos in manual mode. And I was LOST.
I couldn’t remember
- which setting to choose first,
- which setting controlled which aspect of the photo, or
- why I thought this class was a good idea in the first place!
How was I supposed to hold all this information in my head???
The Photography Basics PDF I Needed
I checked my notes again. I was still lost.
In frustration I switched the camera back to Auto mode.
The instructor came by to check my progress. He saw that I’d reverted back to Auto. I felt the heat creeping into my cheeks.
“It’s challenging, isn’t it?” he said.
“Um, yeah, understatement of the year” I thought. I was ashamed to admit I’d already given up.
My scribbled notes weren’t cutting it. This photography class didn’t deliver the results I’d hoped for.
I needed someone to simplify this for me.
Can you relate to my experience? Does photography terminology sound like a foreign language to you?
Here’s why: just as you can’t learn a foreign language well until you begin to speak it, you can’t learn how to take great photos by reading.
The learning is in the DOING.
That why I’ve created this simple photography cheat sheet and quick start guide. It will help you understand your camera settings through a quick exercise.
Download the FREE DSLR Photography for Beginners PDF here:
Basic Photography Lessons PDF
If you’re new to photography, the exposure triangle is the first thing you need to understand. It’s the foundation for understanding how to use your dslr camera.
Every camera (even your camera phone) utilizes three elements – Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO – and balances them to create an “exposure,” or image.
Exposure refers to how much light reaches your camera’s sensor when you take a photo.
A photo can be “overexposed” (too bright), “underexposed” (too dark), or “properly exposed.”
When you shoot in auto mode your camera makes the decisions of how to balance the three elements of the exposure triangle based on the scene you’re photographing and the light available to produce a properly exposed photograph.
When you shoot in manual mode you get to do the thinking and choose the best settings to achieve not only proper exposure, but also the best creative effect possible.
Manual mode gives you 100% creative control.
Let’s look at how each leg of the exposure triangle affects exposure.
We’ll start with ISO:
ISO stands for “International Standards Organization.”
That’s not important except to know there are internationally recognized standards for this camera setting.
How ISO Affects Exposure
Your ISO setting determines how sensitive your camera’s sensor (the part inside your camera that captures an image) is to light.
The lower your ISO setting, the less sensitive. The higher the setting, the more sensitive.
The higher you set your ISO, the more light your camera will be able to “gather”.
A higher ISO setting has one major drawback. The higher you set your ISO, the more “noise” you’ll get in your photos.
A higher ISO setting also limits the range of highlights and shadows (known as the dynamic range) your camera can capture.
Rule of Thumb:
Keep your ISO setting as low as possible to avoid noise in your images, but don’t be afraid to raise it when shooting in lower light to “gather” more light.
I took this photo of my daughter watching fireworks under dark conditions. I have a higher-end DSLR and my ISO setting was at 20,000!
If you zoom in (below) you can see the noise caused by the high ISO setting. This noise is considered undesirable in terms of image quality.
To avoid this keep your ISO setting as low as possible.
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The next leg of the exposure triangle is SHUTTER SPEED.
Shutter speed refers to how long your camera’s shutter stays open when you snap a photo, expressed in fractions of a second.
For example, a shutter speed of 1/125 means the shutter will stay open for one one-hundred-twenty-fifth of a second.
You’ll sometimes see shutter speed written as a whole number, like SS 125, but this can be confusing, so it’s best to write and think of it in fraction form.
The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter speed.
For example, SS 1/800 (one 800th of a second) is faster than SS 1/50 (one 50th of a second).
How Shutter Speed Affects Exposure
A faster shutter speed also allows less time for the camera to capture light, so with a faster shutter speed less light will reach the camera’s sensor.
A slower shutter speed gives the camera more time to gather light, so more light will reach the camera’s sensor.
A slow shutter speed can lead to blurry photos. This is known as “motion blur.” Sometimes this can be used creatively, but in most cases, you’ll want to use a faster shutter speed to freeze your subject’s motion.
Rule of Thumb
When photographing moving subjects (such as children) it’s best to set your shutter speed at 1/125 or faster if possible.
Also, consider your lens when choosing your shutter speed.
Set your shutter speed higher than the focal length of your lens. For example, if you have a long 200 mm telephoto lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/200.
Shutter Speed Examples
These photos illustrate how shutter speed can help you achieve a sharp photo.
This photo was taken at a fast shutter speed of 1/8000. That’s one eight-thousandth of a second. Notice how sharp and in focus the flower looks, even though the wind was blowing.
The photo below was taken at a slow shutter speed of 1/60 (that’s one 60th of a second).
1/60 is too slow to capture an object blowing in the wind.
For sharp photos, set your shutter speed at 1/125 or faster.
What Aperture to Use
The third leg of the exposure triangle is known as APERTURE, also referred to as f/stop.
Aperture means “opening”
The camera has an opening inside of it that allows light to pass through to the sensor. The f/stop number, expressed as a fraction (yes, fractions again!) refers to how “wide open” or “closed down” the camera’s aperture is.
How Aperture Affects Exposure
A wider aperture (lower f/stop number) lets more light reach the camera sensor. A narrower aperture (higher f/stop number) lets less light reach the camera sensor.
Aperture and Blurry Backgrounds
Aperture is the camera setting responsible for creating a beautiful blurry background often associated with professional photos.
The wider the camera’s aperture opens, the lower the f/stop number will be, and the blurrier the background of the photo will be.
The more closed the camera’s aperture is, the higher the f/stop number will be, and the less blurry the background will be.
I had a tough time keeping this one straight when I first started learning manual mode.
If you feel confused, be sure to download this DSLR Photography for Beginners PDF HERE. It contains a quick exercise to help you understand how aperture works.
Related: What Aperture To Use
Rule of Thumb
Choose a lower f/stop number to achieve a blurrier background. A lower f/stop will also help with capture images in low light.
If you’re photographing a larger number of people or a landscape a higher f/stop number will be needed.
The photos below illustrate how your aperture, or f/stop affects your photo.
This photo was taken at f/3.2. Notice the nice blurry background:
In this photo I changed my aperture to f/7.1. Notice how the background doesn’t look as smooth and the tulips in the background are more in focus.
This photo was taken at f/16. Notice how the background is much more in focus and we see more of the distracting elements in the background.
If you want a blurry background, choose a lower f/stop number.
FREE DSLR Photography for Beginners PDF
It took me 5 years, until after my third child was born, to understand my camera settings and to get the most out of my camera in manual mode.
I truly love my photos now that I’ve mastered shooting in manual mode and understand how the exposure triangle affects my photos.
I don’t want you to struggle with it for as long as I did!
That’s why I created this FREE Basics of Photography PDF.
It’s designed to help beginners understand their camera settings through simple explanations and a quick exercise.
And there’s a downloadable camera settings cheat sheet included!
Learning manual mode was the key that unlocked the mysteries of photography for me and allowed me to take beautiful photos I love.