Join Jim Heid for an in-depth discussion in this video Learning the foundations and broad skills, part of Getting Started in Photography.
- Every form of music is built on a foundation of notes, and scales, and rhythm. Once music students learn those foundations, they can start to explore specific genres, from classical, to jazz, to rock. Every form of photography is also built on a foundation, a core set of technical and creative concepts. Learning those foundations is an important first step in learning about photography. It sets you up to start exploring specific genres, from landscapes, to portraits, to travel, and beyond. Probably, the single most important technical concept you'll want to master is exposure, making sure the camera settings give you a photo that isn't so dark you can't make out details, and isn't so light that the bright areas are completely washed out.
Every digital camera has a built-in light meter that will make exposure settings for you right at the moment that you press the shutter button. This fully-automatic mode will usually get you good results, not too dark, not too light, usually. Camera meters can get fooled in tricky lighting situations. A bright light in the background can cause the light meter to underexpose your subject in the foreground. This is just one of many reasons why you'll want to learn how exposure works. Learning how exposure works means learning how three different settings interact with each other: shutter speed, which is the amount of time your camera's shutter is open, to let light hit the sensor, lens aperture, which is how much light your lens is letting through, and a setting called ISO, which, for now, you can think of as how sensitive the camera is to light.
These three variables form something that's often called the exposure triangle. A properly exposed photo is the result of this beautiful dance between these three variables. If your camera's light meter figures out those dance steps for you, why do you need to know them? I've already mentioned one reason, dealing with tricky lighting that might fool your meter into setting the wrong exposure, but there's more. Maybe you're shooting a fast-moving subject and you want that subject to be blurred a bit to convey a sense of motion. Maybe you want the background of a photo to be blurred instead of sharp, something called shallow depth of field.
These are just a couple of cases where you'll want to be able to control your exposure yourself, rather than leaving everything up to your camera. Knowing how to control exposure will also help you get better photos in low light. Learning how to shoot at night and in low light will really expand all your photographic options. The world looks different at night, and you shouldn't put your camera away when the sun goes down. Indoors, yes, you can certainly use flash to brighten up a room, but it's also good to know how to shoot in low light without flash. You can often get more natural-looking results, and you'll be able to shoot in places where you can't use flash, like at a performance.
Now, flash photography is a whole learning path unto itself. A lot of cameras have built-in flash, and yes, it will brighten up a scene, but you'll often end up with harsh, unflattering light and shadows. There are ways to improve built-in flash by diffusing its light with anything from a tissue to a diffuser accessory that snaps onto the camera. Still, a much better way to light using flash is by using a separate flash unit, like this one, and getting it off the camera. Today's cameras can talk to flash units without wires, by using infrared or radio controllers, for example.
Better still, one camera can talk to several flash units, controlling their brightness and triggering them all at the same time when you snap the shutter. This is often how pros use flash, and it lets you create complex lighting setups without having to carry around suitcases full of bulky lights. By now, it should be obvious that the foundation of photography is largely made out of light. Topics like exposure and flash deal with the quantity of light, but you'll also want to learn about the quality of light. For example, there's hard light and soft light.
The sharp shadows of direct sunlight, compared to the diffused softness of an overcast day or a shady spot. There's warm light and cool light, the warm yellow glow of late afternoon, compared to the cool blue of dusk. There's also black and white light, well, no there isn't, but there is black and white photography. It's extremely popular, even in this digital age, and it's a powerful creative option to have in your toolbox. A big part of learning the foundations of photography is to learn about lenses, learn about exposure, and learn about the qualities of light, which leaves just one big thing, composition.
This is the arrangement of the elements in your frame, where you put your subjects and the things around it, in order to guide your viewer's eyes to what you want them to see. Photographers use a lot of different techniques to perform this, things like the rule of thirds, which divides a frame into an invisible grid, things like leader lines which can guide the eye and make a static image feel more dynamic, things like repeating patterns, textures, and reflections, but composition isn't just about where things are in the frame from left to right and top to bottom.
It's also about where they are from front to back. A photograph is a two-dimensional version of a three-dimensional scene, and a big aspect of effective composition is to be able to set up those relationships between foreground and background. When you do, you can add a real sense of depth to a two-dimensional photo. The things we've covered in this movie: exposure, light, composition, are those foundational concepts you'll want to learn about, no matter what kind of photography you're interested in. They're the notes, and the scales, and the rhythms that will set you up for exploring specific types of photography, and that's our next stop.
- Essential gear, including cameras, lenses, accessories, and smartphones
- Shooting skills
- Using software to manage and edit your images
- Sharing and printing photos