Photography basics

In this article we will touch on the basic things of photography so you know what are the things you must be paying attention when taking a photo.

The article is based on my course so it is a bit in the workshop style :)

Click here to start earning money with your photos.

Let’s start to learn about photography

Today we are going to work in professional studio settings. We are going to jump into the deep water. Get your camera and take different shots in front of the white background.. See how to vary our shots in a number of these ways:

  • shoot from different perspectives – up high, down low etc
  • getting in close – stepping back for a wider angle shot
  • moving around your subject to shoot from different sides
  • experimenting with different settings

We will probably make a lot of errors in our shot, but the meaning of this first class is mostly to get to know each other and our camera. So just take different type of shot of your ‘model’ or ‘object’ you choose. Shoot in any angle and any style you are confident with. It is called ‘free-style’, no rules….of course the photo technically must be perfect, which means it must be sharp (not out of focus, not too noisy and the exposure must be set correctly).
Don’t worry if you don’t know these we will talk about these settings a lot in the following lessons, since these are the 3 most important things in photography (next to light of course, which we will talk about later on).

ISO, Shutter speed and Aperture

Until we talk about them here is a quick but very good illustration about these 3 important settings, the first row being the Aperture settings (also called f-stop), the 2nd , grey row shows the Shutter speed (how fast you camera’s shutter is) and the last row, -with the little people- shows you the ISO) (this you can set higher in darker situations, but the image will get ‘noisier’)

We will also learn about the tethering. This is when your camera is connected to your laptop, so when you take a shot it shows right away on your computer.

Lighting basics

In our second course we will talk about lighting. Lighting is the most important thing in photography. If there is no light, there is no photo either.
The word “photo” also means “light” in ancient Greek. (‘graphé’ means ‘drawing’ so together it is “drawing with light”)

The most beautiful and natural light is the ambient light or natural light, when there is no flash or artificial lights used. This can be done easily during the day. Our sun is our main light, but we must use it properly: it must be behind you so it shines on your object. If it is in front of you your lens get crazy, it is too strong, just like you can not look at the Sun, your lens can not either.
Of course if it is not too strong(at sunset) you can shoot at it.
Professional photographers in studios always use so-called 3-point lighting. It basically means they put three lights on the subject. These are:

Key light (or main light) – this is the strongest light

This is the main light. It is usually the strongest and has the most influence on the look of the scene. It is placed to one side of the camera/subject so that this side is well lit and the other side has some shadow.

Fill light (this is not too strong, fills in shadows on the side that the keylight can not lit)

This is the secondary light and is placed on the opposite side of the key light. It is used to fill the shadows created by the key. The fill will usually be softer and less bright than the key. To achieve this, you could move the light further away.

Back light (this lights up the back of your subject)

The back light is placed behind the subject and lights it from the rear. Rather than providing direct lighting (like the key and fill), its purpose is to provide definition and subtle highlights around the subject’s outlines. This helps separate the subject from the background and provide a three-dimensional look.

Flash: in short nobody likes flash, it is something we use unless we have something else to use (ambient light, or some external light source). Flash is needed in dark places, when you can not carry light with you but today’s cameras and lenses are getting so good that you can even get away without flash with a good camera even in the darkest church. (if you are a wedding photographer)


However we can use flash if we want for example for some artistic shot, where we light up the background with a flash (using a trigger – more about that later) or if we want to take a photo of a sunset and our friend standing in front of it. What happens in this situation is that if we use strong flash we don’t see the sunset, if we don’t use flash we see the sunset but we don’t see our friend’s face – so how can we take the proper shot here?

The first photo on the left was taken without the flash. You see how nice the sunset is? But you don’t see the faces of the subjects. So you will need flash to light up their faces (but still keep the background nice)

The second photo on the right was taken with flash. here the sunset is nice and the subject face is also lit perfectly.

(If we don’t use flash but we want to see the face we set the exposure and ISO high. The result will be a noise image, where you see the face but you don’t see the sunset behind it.)

So in that case flash was a must, and since it was getting dark, you needed to use some light (you remember the greek word “photos”, right? We need it! That is why we used flash.

Red-eye effect

Flash however can cause problems, one that everyone hates is the so-called red eye effect. If you flash someone their pupil will reflect back some light and it looks like they got red eyes.

Luckily there are softwares (f.e. Photoshop) that have a built-in red eye remover function.

You can also avoid the red eye effect if you place the flash a bit to the side (this of course only possible if you use a trigger, so the flash is not on your camera, also called off-camera flash)

In order to use that you will need a trigger, basically a small sender on your camera (sending out the signal to the flash) and a receiver on the flash (receiving the signal) so when you click on the shutter it “triggers” your flash, even if it is not attached to the camera.

Composition tips

The composition is something all art form use. It is basically how a painting or a photograph looks good, pleasing for the eye. Hard to explain but I will try.
Look at this drawing below:

If you place something in the red circle, like the head of your subject or the eyes or a tree, or a car on the road, etc, it will look better than if you would place it dead center in your image. Why? Because it feels right! Our eyes are also not in the middle of our head, maybe that is why? :)

This composition rule also called Rule of Thirds.
The tiger is on the red circles, not in the center, so it feels more natural and it is good to look at.

There is another composition rule (called Golden Ratio) comes from the ancient Greeks as well. The Golden Ratio is similar to the Rule of Thirds but a bit more advanced. It’s based on a mathematical concept that we can find all throughout nature, and this concept theoretically explains why we find certain things to be aesthetically pleasing.

Simply put, the Golden Ratio describes a relationship:
In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.
This ratio can be illustrated by the Golden Rectangle and the Golden Spiral, a design that’s commonly found in plants, animals, and other forms of nature. The bottom line, however, is that this ratio can be simplified as 1 to 1.6.

Here is a good example that was shot recently in a riot in London by a Dutch photographer. A random shot on the street and suddenly it feels like a painting :)

Product photography

In our 4th workshop we will take some photos of objects, products. Can be anything really that is not alive. A shoe, a box, a chair, a lego man, etc.
Try to use the things that we learned in the previous lessons, the proper lighting, camera settings and the Rule of Thirds.

Here is a nice product photo to get you started:

If your object is shiny you can not use direct flash because it will be ugly like this photo on the left. You can see your flash in the glass. Not very nice, is it?
In this type of situation you must use natural light or in studio a so-called soft box so the photo will be like the previous one with the red water boiler. Nice, soft lighting, no annoying flash reflections.

Nature and macro photography, depth of field

Nature photography refers to a wide range of photography taken outdoors and devoted to displaying natural elements such as landscapes, wildlife, plants, and close-ups of natural scenes and textures.
Macro photography basically means taking photos of very tiny objects. Anything really.
Below is a macro shot.

To take this type of shot you need a very good macro lens and a tripod, so the camera is not shaky in your hand,
because the object is very small every little movement can make your photo blurry.

For nature photos you don’t have to use a macro lens since you don’t shoot small object. You need the opposite, you shoot big, wide areas, so you will need another type of lens, a so called wide-angle lens. There is no definition of what type of lens are called wide-angle but it is something between 14 and 40 mm. This type of photos are almost sharp everywhere, the front and the background equally.

And now: Depth of Field. A bit technical but important thing, so we can not avoid it. Lets see what it is. In short: Depth of Field is the distance in front of and behind the subject which appears to be in focus. So everything which is sharp.

If you want of course you can play with it and create some amazing effects, for example you can set the DoF narrow (only a few meter is sharp in front of you) and all the background you blur out….nice!
Different lenses have different DoF: (the red area showing what is in focus)
You see that with a 24 mm lens almost everything is sharp, so it is not possible to blur out the background with a wide angle lens like that.
With the 400 mm lens everything in front of you and in the background is blurry only a short distance (starting from 4 meters) are in focus.

The DoF can also be altered by using the aperture (or f-stop) value on your camera. This is the parameter where you can tell the camera to blur out the background, this value is a smallest on our camera, 1.2 or 2.0 up to 5.6 or so.
If you set it to 16 or even 22 everything will be sharp. (whatever lens you use)
So these things, the lens itself, and the aperture (f-stop) settings can affect the depth of field (or DoF) on your photo. you can control what must be sharp on your photo (with that you also control where the viewer must look at, because by nature we always look at the sharp areas on the photo first.
Your distance from your focal point also affects the depth of field. If you are very close to your subject, your depth of field is smaller. If you are far away, your depth of field is larger, even if you don’t change your aperture number!

The aperture or f-stop basically the opening size of the lens.

This first image was shot with 
f/1.8 aperture on a 50 mm lens.The background is totally blurred out. At f/11 the background is starting to be visible. and at f/22 everything is in focus the fore- and the background.

Photos and social networks

We are already at our 6th workshop. You almost know everything now about the basics but we must not forget to talk about social networks. What you can and can not do with your photos on the internet.

First of all a photo is a intellectual property, if you took it, its yours, just like a house or a car. You own it. You can lend it or sell it if you want.
If you put something on the net there is a chance that people steal it and use it without your permission. So be careful what you post. If you have a very good photo that you are proud of, make a small version of it, put a watermark on it and upload that to the net (never the high resolution version without any copyright on it)
On the photo above you see that there is a watermark on it, so I make it impossible to re-use it and also people see who the photographer is, so they can contact me if they want to buy it, for example. I only give the high resolution version if they pay for it – that’s how professional photographers earn their money.

There are websites where you can show previews of your photos and sell them for example here.

You can not sell you photos on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram but you can advertise them there by posting your low resolution version and provide the link to people (to your photo hosting site) to go there if they want to buy them.

Finally dont forget to check out more tutorials about Photoshop and Lightroom on our blog.