A SIMPLE GUIDE TO MANUAL PHOTOGRAPHY + Free Cheat Sheet

I started learning about photography when I was about 13, my freshman year of High School. I decided to take a class on darkroom photography and took every photography class that was offered over the years. My love for photography started when I was younger and I was always was using that Polaroid Izone camera. Remember those? They would print out mini stickers of your photos. Anyway, I used that and developed a love for photography by collecting pictures, and getting my disposable cameras developed at Costco and making large photo collages all over my walls with magazines and cut out photos that I took with those disposable cameras. Ever since then photography has been a huge passion of mine. While I am mostly a designer now and Cody is our Director Of Photography. I still have so much knowledge to share and help in so many other ways with our photoshoots like creative direction, concept, and post process. Cody is really great with everything technical and can make beautiful cinematography and has some really amazing compositions for our pictures. Anyway enough about Cody and I, we want to help you get better at photography!

If you are just starting to get into photography or have been doing it for a while and want to freshen up on your skills then this blog post might help you out a bit. There are so many different technical descriptions on the internet when it comes to photography and It can be entirely overwhelming. One of the most important things you can do to begin to understand and grasp how photography really works is to get to know the most basic fundamentals. We are going to keep it super simple for you and at the end of this post we have a free printable manual photography cheat sheet that you can use on your next photo excursion. I made this cheat sheet because when I was using a 35mm film camera it helped me so much when trying to figure out how to use the damn thing. Alright, lets go over the four fundamentals below.

EXPOSURE

Exposure is the unit of measurement for the amount of light permitted to reach the electronic sensor when taking a photograph. The two main things we use to control exposure are Aperture and Shutter Speed.  Getting that perfect exposure for your images takes a lot of trial and error. I can't tell you how many times i've taken a photo and been like, "Welp, that didn't work let's see what happens when I do this."

I wish it were easier than that but it's not, it takes a ton of practice, a ton of fuck ups, and lots of patience. But, knowing this basic fundamental to photography can help you shave that time in half! That's why we created the cheat sheet for you because we know that its a lot of information to remember! Heck sometimes even I forget! Cheat sheets are your BFF. I always use one :-D

Anyway, let's move on. Using Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO all together creates a recipe of main ingredients for a photograph. Unfortunately, the recipes measurements are always changing depending on what is going on in your environment. It's up to you to decide how to make that happen by observing what is going on around you and then knowing what specific ingredients (aperture,iso, shutter speed) will make it fantastic. 

Lets talk about the exposure triangle. This is where the main ingredients of the recipe come in handy. The three of these ingredients determine the amount of light coming into the lens. Thus creating a relationship with each other. All of them need to be set to the right setting in order to make the photo look great and they all work together as one. Once you make an adjustment to one, you'll most likely have to readjust the others to make them work. Understand how exposure really works by following the exposure triangle guide below.

 

APERTURE

If you can understand aperture, then you'll be able to know what f-stops mean, and also get sharper more dynamic photographs. There are two ways to control how much light will reach an image sensor. One is shutter speed, and the other is aperture. Aperture can impact the sharpness of your image, and also can make for some really great photos using depth of field. Thats some complicated stuff for later. We just want to focus on the basics here. 

Aperture means a hole or an opening. The aperture is the opening located within each lens that you will use. Adjusting the aperture adjusts the amount of light going in. The larger the opening f2/8 for instance will let in more light and less depth of field. Creating the effect of a blurry background like you'd see in some portraits. The smaller opening being f/22 would allow less light in and more depth of field meaning that more objects would be in focus.  I always like to think of it as the lower the number f1/8 the less objects will be in focus. The higher the number f/22 the more objects will be in focus. That right there has always helped me remember how to determine which is which especially because aperture can be quite backwards and confusing at first.

ISO

ISO is used to measure the cameras sensitivity to light.  The lower the number, the less sensitive it is to light. So if you were to take a photograph of a bright sunny day, you would need to turn the number down to 100 so that the cameras sensitivity wouldn't pick up all that bright light! If you were taking a photograph at night or inside you would need to turn up the ISO to 6400 so that the camera has a high sensitivity to light. A tip for ISO is that it is definitely best to avoid the higher ISO settings because each time you increase the ISO there will be a decrease in the quality of that image. I'm not saying you should never use a higher ISO, because it can also help you depending on your situation.

 

The ISO being higher can increase the image quality as it helps with camera shake. The higher the ISO the faster shutter speed you can use. This would be best used for photographing something moving! Like a person on a bike, a pet, or a car. A higher ISO can also enable the use of a narrower aperture.

 

SHUTTER SPEED

The shutter speed is the amount of time that the aperture (hole or opening) will be open and allowing light in. This is where we can use time to allow more light into our camera lens. For example, photos at night need to have a longer shutter speed in order to allow the most light in. The higher the shutter speed the brighter the image! A low shutter speed would be 10 seconds. The highest would be in fractions of a second. so 1/600 would be the shutter moving at a faster rate. You would use the fractions of a second depending on the brightness of the day. If its really sunny out you would use the 1/3500. 

Bulb means that the camera will keep taking a picture until your finger comes off of the shutter button. This mode is used for long exposures. Again closer to night time we would use this setting. The advantage of using bulb is that it allows the photographer to achieve shutter speeds longer than the 30 seconds that is allowed on most DSLR cameras.


And there you have it. The four basic fundamentals to photography. Now you have to experiment and use all three together! Find that recipe to make your photographs JUST the way you want them. To give you a better idea and to help you remember what each setting does we created this free manual photography cheat sheet. Everything you read in this article you can use with the cheat sheet we made for you. Sign up for our studio resource library by clicking the image below and we will send you this downloadable PDF for you to print and take with you on your next adventure.