Photography: The Basics

Photography is often a part of our work in the Attitude studio, for products, records and illustrations. But what about you? Have you ever been trying to capture something but been hindered by your cameras automatic settings? Difficult subjects to photograph usually include moving objects, night scenes and close ups. Once you have a basic understanding of how the manual setting on your camera work, you can begin to solve the problems that automatic doesn't and even channel your creativity more effectively.

When photography was young, cameras were big, heavy, and required a full technical knowledge (and a lot of money). Today in a world of digital, photography has become available to everyone and has become integrated into every area of our professional and personal lives. We said goodbye to basic technical understanding and moved on with our new auto-everything cameras that are built into every device. But as many photographers, artists and designers are now opting for Digital SLRs or are returning to film for that vintage quality, these basic technical tips could help you capture better pictures.

We are going to cover the basics of exposure and give you some tips for better composition.

How the Analog Camera Works

A camera works much like the eye. Light is focussed by the lens to land on the light sensitive film. The film is coated in a chemical that reacts when light hits it. Digital is pretty much the same - except light sensors are used instead of film.


The term exposure originates from film photography to describe the amount of light that hits the film through the lens. Exposure is controlled by the speed of the camera shutter (shutter speed) and the size of the shutter opening (aperture). These correspond to each other. Digital cameras will adjust them automatically, but on a manual setting, these must be adjusted to compliment each other.

Shutter speed & Motion

Shutter speed is the length of time light is exposed onto the film or image sensor. Measured usually in fractions of a second ( 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250), the speed can be adjusted to up to 30 seconds plus.

Shutter speed not only effects the lighting of an image but also the amount of time recorded in a still image. A motion blurred image is the result of capturing time in a timeless still image.

Aperture & Depth of Field

Aperture refers to the size of the lens diaphragm opening. This is measured in f-stops, usually displayed as f/22, f/16, f/11, f/8.0 down to f/1.4. The strange thing is - the numbers work backwards! Stop f/22 being the smallest opening and f/1.4 being the largest opening

Aperture is also used to create depth of field. Depth of field is the scope of focus area. A deep focus area allows you to take a photo of a friend standing in front of a landscape and view both in focus. Below are two photos of the same subject. One was taken with a small aperture of f32, resulting in a very sharp focussed image. The second was taken with a large aperture of f5.3, resulting in a shallow depth of field where only the very foreground is in focus.


Exposure can also be adjusted using ISO. ISO or ASA is an indication of how sensitive the film (traditional) or digital image sensor is. ISO is measured in numbers - usually 100, 200, 400, 800. So the larger the ISO, the faster the light is recorded by the camera. With a traditional camera, you need to set the ISO dial to the ISO of the film you are using. But on a digital camera you can set the ISO as required to compensate for exposure when adjusting shutter speed.

Example: To capture a moving object, you would need a fast shutter speed to avoid blur. But if the moving object was in a dark room, the fast shutter speed would also result in an under exposed image. The ISO, in this case, could be set to be more sensitive 800 - 1000. This compensates for the fast shutter speed by absorbing more light within a shorter time, resulting in a lighter image, without blur. The same principle applies the other way round when trying to create blurred effects on a bright sunny day.

Manual Setting on a digital camera

When using a digital camera, you can switch from "M", "S" and "A" manual settings. "M" is full manual and will require you to set both aperture and shutterspeed. "S" which will allow you to set the shutterspeed and will automatically adjust the aperture to correspond.  "A" which will allow you to set the aperture and the shutterspeed will automatically adjust likewise.


There are no real rules to composition - their are no boundaries! But here are some guides that can help you enhance your composition to effectively photograph a subject.

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is a traditional but timeless technique that is based on the natural movement of the human eye. Imagine a your viewfinder is divided into thirds and compose your subject on a division line. The thirds composition naturally uses the space to draw your eye across the image to the subject and create movement of the eye around the whole image. This technique is particularly useful when picking out an object in vast scenery or focusing on a subject close up.


The eye moves very fast around an image, collecting and translating the information. A well composed image can influence the trail of the eye. The rule of thirds encourages eyes to view in a swooping motion, but the circular composition encourages the eye to follow one object of focus to the next. This technique is useful when taking a photo that contains more than one or several subjects. This gives the photographer the power to prioritise and decide on the order the viewer may view each subject. Make use of existing lines or forms to tie a composition together.


Finding patterns or symmetry in your subject helps bring impact to an image. Finding a way of framing your subject to reflect itself helps balance an image with sometimes striking results.


The whole picture isn't always the most effective, sometimes it more interesting to get closer to your subject to really capture its feel. The example below shows how the same building is photographed twice. The first one shows the bigger picture of how the building looks in its setting, but the second photo focuses on the detail that actually makes the building interesting. This applies to any subject - there are a hundred ways to photograph something so always try different points of view and pick out the details to find the perfect shot.

Using the frame

Its very easy when taking photos to look through the viewfinder and focus your attention only to the subject. It is very important that before you click the shutter, you look at the frame edges. This will help you line up any horizontal/vertical lines to enhance structure and will also draw your attention to small details that may look awkward if cropped in half! Consider the whole picture - what you want in, out or half way.

Use space to your advantage. If a subject is particularly detailed, you may want you give it space to balance it out - perhaps using the rule of thirds. But sometimes the subject is lost with too much space or extra background scenery. Be picky and crop out clutter by zooming in or repositioning the composition.

Get Snapping

So there you have it! We hope these tips will give you confidence to try them out for yourself and have fun - there are no rules!