Photography for Beginners

Are you a beginner photographer who wants to learn the basics of taking great photos? Whether you’re using a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or smartphone, this blog post is an essential guide that will help you improve your photography skills. From understanding exposure and composition, we’ll cover all the basics of photography, including tips and tricks that you need to know. Whether you’re interested in landscape photography, portrait photography, still life, or street photography, this guide will provide you with the foundation you need to start capturing stunning images. With easy-to-follow explanations, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to take your photography to the next level. So whether you’re a complete beginner or looking to refresh your skills, check out this blog posts on photography tips for beginners! 

Photography Basics: How Cameras Work

Understanding Exposure

As a beginner in photography, it is essential to understand the concept of exposure, which is controlled by the combination of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. These factors determine the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor, and therefore play a crucial role in capturing a well-exposed photograph. Learning how to manipulate these settings can significantly improve the quality of your images, no matter what type of photography you do.

First of all, it is best to have your camera set to manual mode because this allows you to manually adjust all of your settings without relying on the camera to do it for you automatically. 

Aperture or F-stop

The first setting that you want to correctly set is your Aperture or F-stop. The aperture is the hole inside of your camera lens that adjusts how much light is let in through the lens. Aperture is measured by a number called “F-stop”. This number is sometimes a decimal like 1.6 or a whole number like 2 or 4.

Basically, when you open or close the aperture it lets in more or less light, making your image brighter or darker. What this also does is effects your depth of field by making it shallower or more in focus.

For example if you open you aperture to f/1.6 your image would be bright and your background would be blurry. If you adjust your aperture to f/8 your image would be darker and your background would be more in focus. 

The main reason that you want to set your aperture first is NOT because of how much light you want to let in, it is because you want to choose if you will have a shallow depth of field or not.

If you want your background to be blurry and out of focus with your subject in focus for portraits or product photos then you’d want a low aperture like f/1.6.

If you want your whole image to be in focus then bump your aperture high like f/11, this is ideal for photos of landscapes or wide shots. 

Shutter Speed

The second setting that is essential to proper exposure when taking photos is Shutter Speed. The shutter speed is how fast or slow the shutter opens when you take a photo. The shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second like 1/60 or 1/500.

The main reasons for choosing your shutter speed are motion blur and light, in that order.

The higher/faster your shutter speed is (ex: 1/2000), the less motion blur but you will have a darker image.

The lower/slower your shutter speed is (ex: 1/60), the more motion blur but you will have a brighter image

If you are doing sports photography, or wildlife photography with a lot of movement, you may want to be able to freeze the subject in time for the photo. You can do this by using a fast shutter speed like 1/2000 this will make it so there is almost no motion blur.

A slow shutter speed is used when your image is too dark and you need more light, like if you are doing night photography. The main problem with shooting with a slow shutter speed is that there will be MORE motion blur so you would have to try to hold still or have your camera on a tripod. 

Lets say your image is too dark or too bright with your ideal aperture and shutter speed settings, that is where ISO comes in.


ISO is the final setting that you want to adjust after setting your shutter speed and aperture. 

ISO is how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. It is measured in numbers that can range anywhere from 100 all the way to 10,000 or more.

The main reason that ISO is set last is because it’s function is to brighten the image after you have set your aperture and shutter speed.

low ISO (ex: 100) would mean your camera’s sensor is less sensitive to light, making your image darker.

high ISO (ex: 6400) would mean your camera’s sensor is more sensitive to light, making your image brighter.

HOWEVER: There is one crucial aspect of adjusting your ISO. The higher your ISO is set the more grainy your image becomes which reduces the quality of the image. You generally do not want a grainy image. This is why it is important to go back and re-adjust your aperture and f-stop so that your image isn’t too grainy. 

Exposure Summary

Aperture adjusts how bright or dark your image is AND how shallow or in focus your depth of field is.

Shutter speed adjusts how bright or dark your image is AND how much motion blur your image has.

ISO adjust how bright or dark your image is BUT can create grain, effecting the quality of the image. 

If you’re interest in documentary filmmaking, check out our blog post: What is a Documentary? Where we cover the ins and outs of making a documentary.

Important Camera Settings to Understand

White Balance

White balance (WB) is an important camera setting to understand because it makes it so your image has proper color. Basically you are telling the camera what is white so that it can adjust the color temperature cooler or warmer in order to make the colors in your image accurate to reality. If the white balance isn’t set properly you can end up with blue or orange tint to your photos that will not look right. 

In order to set your white balance you want to use the manual white balance setting. Point the camera toward a white piece of paper so that it fills the entire image on the display and then click your select button to set it. This is the best way to set your white balance but you can also use your camera’s auto white balance mode (AWB). This automatically sets the white balance for you and it is decently accurate in newer cameras. Your camera might also have white balance preset options but it is usually best to not use them.

Focus Modes

There are two focus modes that you can use when shooting photos, manual focus (MF) or auto focus (AF). Manual focus is when you manually rotate the focus ring on your camera lens in order to decide what is in focus. Auto focus does this for you automatically. It is generally better to shoot photos in manual focus mode because auto focus can sometimes focus on the wrong area in your photo. This is bad especially when you only get one chance to capture your image. However if you are shooting in a fast paced environment like sports or street photography, auto focus could be your best friend. It is important to always consider when to shoot in manual or auto focus mode. 

Focus Area Modes

Single Point Area Mode

Single point area mode can be used in manual focus and auto focus. This focus area mode allows you to select a single focus point. It is great for portraits and landscape photography.

Dynamic Area Mode

Dynamic area mode can only be used when your camera is set to auto focus. This focus area mode allows you to select a focus point that follows your subject if they move. This is great for shooting sports or street photography.

Auto Area Mode

Auto area mode can only be used when you camera is set to auto focus. This focus area mode allows the camera to automatically decide and adjust the focus point.

Now that you understand how these important camera settings work, lets cover what you need to know about the physical gear.

Everything to Know About Camera Lenses

Camera lenses are extremely important when it comes to taking great photos. Understanding how they work is an essential part of photography because it will allow you to have the most creative control. Different types of lenses are better for different styles of photography as well. 

Focal Length

The focal length of a camera lens is the number of millimeters that is printed on the lens itself (EX: 16mm). 

The focal length is how magnified and how wide the view of the lens is. The higher the number, the more magnified, and less wide. For example, a 16mm lens will not be as magnified and have a very wide angle view. A 300mm lens will give you a lot of magnification and a tighter angle view. A good beginner lens would be the one your camera came with. If you have to purchase one, go for a 50mm lens, this is the standard beginner lens setup because it is the perfect medium ground focal length.

Prime and Zoom Lenses

The difference between prime and zoom lenses is that prime lenses do NOT zoom. However, it is important to know that prime lenses generally have better image quality and the ability to open the aperture more than zoom lenses. 

Essential Photography Gear Checklist

  • Memory Card
  • Battery
  • Camera Bag
  • Camera Strap
  • Cleaning Kit

Optional Gear:

  • Tripod
  • Backup Battery
  • Backup Memory Card
  • Extra Lenses
  • Lighting Kit
  • Reflector

If you shoot 35mm film photos in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out our blog post on The Top 10 Best Labs for 35mm Film Developing in the Bay Area.

Tips for Composition

In photography it is crucial that you take into consideration how you are going to compose your photo. These tips will help you decide on the composition of your photo and will result in taking better photos overall. 

Rule of Thirds

One of the best ways to compose a great photo is to use the rule of thirds, one of the most important “rules” for photo composition. The rule of thirds is when you divide your frame into thirds and place your main subject on one of the left or right thirds of the image, leaving the other two thirds more open. What makes the rule of thirds such a fundamental part of composing your image is that our eyes naturally go to these thirds of the image, so placing your subject in these areas makes for a better composition. If you think about the rule of thirds when you are composing your image, you will more likely consider everything in the frame and where it is, allowing you to decide exactly where you want to take your photo from and where you want your subject to be. 


Balance is also a great way of composing a great image. When taking your photo, you want to consider the balance of the image. You do this by splitting the image in half either vertically or horizontally. When you look at one half of the image, is there too much going on compared to the other half? You ideally want both halves of your image to have something to attract the viewers eye. Always consider balance when taking photos. 


Lines are another way of highlighting your subject or where you want the flow of the image to go. Our eyes naturally follow lines in the direction that they are going. For example, a winding road into a sunset, or a river flowing towards a mountain range. Try to use natural lines to your advantage. 

Eye Lines

If you are taking photos of people, whether it be portraits or street photography, always consider eye lines as well. Eye lines are another good way of telling your viewer where to look. If someone in your photo is looking to the left side of the image, your viewer will also naturally look to the left side of the image. Use this to your advantage to highlight a scene or a subject.


A well composed image will have good depth. Depth is what gives your image a foreground and a background. Think about what you want in your foreground and what you want in your background and whether you want your viewer to focus on what is in the foreground or background. Play with depth to convey what your focus is and what your background is.

If you’re a food lover and interested in photographing top-notch Michelin Star meals, visit out our blog on the Top Michelin Star Restaurants in San Francisco and The Bay Area. 

Bonus Tip: Practice!

The only way to get better at photography is to practice. Go out and take some photos!


In conclusion, understanding how cameras work and knowing what gear to have are essential for anyone looking to learn photography. Camera lenses, along with understanding how to compose a good image, are fundamental basics that every beginner should grasp. This beginners guide has covered the importance of familiarizing oneself with different camera modes and provided some photography tips to get started. The best way to get better at photography is to practice and experiment with different techniques. Whether it’s capturing stunning landscapes or beautiful portraits, taking the time to understand the basics and learn how to use your camera effectively will greatly improve your skills. So, take your camera out, explore, and most importantly, have fun while capturing moments! With dedication and patience, you’ll soon be able to elevate your photography game to the next level.