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Hi there! This week I’m taking some time out to discuss Photography Basics. It’s no secret that I adore my digital SLR (and my smartphone’s camera) and I’m working hard to be a better photographer. Before we begin, I’d like to mention that I’m not a professional photographer, and I’m not an expert – I’m just a photo addict and want to share some of what I know in the hope you might be interested too!

To be honest, I’ve started this post a few times today and kept delving into the technical aspects, even though I wanted to avoid them. And there was WAY too much jargon and terms to explain what I was trying to say. So today I’m just going to introduce a few new terms and jargon and tomorrow I’ll start putting it together into some useful tips. I hope you’re ok with that – I REALLY don’t want to scare you off photography.

So, some photography terms you need to know.

Sensor chip

Do you remember the olden days of actual 35 mm film? I do – yes I am that old! In digital cameras the film has been replaced by a sensor chip, which is the part of your camera that captures the light. Back when we used 35 mm film, we could buy film that was super-sensitive to light (a high ISO) or was not-so-sensitive (low ISO). With a digital camera, instead of changing the roll of film to capture light better we adjust the sensor chip’s sensitivity to light.


This is the sensitivity of your sensor chip to light and is the first way to control the amount of light your sensor picks up. A low ISO means the sensor isn’t that sensitive and it’s great for using in full sun situations. A high ISO means the sensor chip is more sensitive to light so it’s perfect when shooting in low light, such as at night-time.

ISO is represented by a number in the hundreds, from 100 (low sensitivity to light) up to about 25,600 (crazy-high sensitivity to light).


The trade-off between light sensitivity and grain

The image on the left was taken with ISO 800, and a small amount of grain is apparent. The image on the right was taken with ISO 6400 and grain is much more obvious.


When you make your camera’s sensor more sensitive to light then you’re also introducing an element of visual noise. This visual noise is called grain. It’s not necessarily an issue, just something you should be aware of.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is how fast your shutter opens and closes and is the second way to control the amount of light hitting your sensor chip. Choosing your shutter speed will allow you to either freeze the action (fast shutter speed) or blur it (slow shutter speed).

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds (or whole seconds for loooooong exposure). You will typically see a shutter speed such as 1/60 (or one sixtieth of a second) or 1/4000 which is – you guessed it — one 4000th of a second).

Comparing shutter speeds with water from a hose

The image on the left was taken using a slow shutter speed of 1/40th of a second, blurring the water's movement. The image on the right was taken using a fast shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second, freezing the movement of the water drops.


Aperture is the third way to control the amount of light hitting your sensor and is the width of your lens opening. A wide aperture lets more light in and a small aperture lets less light in. But, there’s a trade-off again. The wider your aperture, the shallower your depth-of-field. Again, not necessarily a problem, just something to be aware of.

Aperture is measured by an f-number (for example f/1.4 or f/16). I’m not going to explain how f-numbers are calculated because it’s waaaaaay too complex and you don’t need to know. All you really need to know is that a low f-number means a wide aperture and a high f-number means a narrow aperture.


The trade-off between aperture and depth of field

The image on the left was taken with an aperture of f4.5, giving a deeper depth of field. The image on the right was taken with an aperture of f1.4, giving a shallow depth of field.

Depth of field

Yup, I knew you’d ask what this was! It’s the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in your photo that are in focus. Technical, huh? It’s actually pretty simple. If you’re shooting with an aperture that’s wide open, you will have a very shallow depth of field of about 10 centimetres. That means that a slice of about 10 centimetres will be sharply in focus and the rest will be blurry. A deep depth of field means that the background will also be in focus. A shallow depth of field is great for portraits while a deep depth of field is terrific for landscapes.

And that’s my VERY basic introduction to digital photography terminology. Next post I’ll be discussing basic composition guidelines. Until then, pull out your digital camera and its manual and work out how to adjust your ISO, shutter speed and aperture. If you’re REALLY game pop it into manual mode and have a play! Don’t worry about taking dodgy photos – just delete them and keep on playing!


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