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Learn photography

This is the definitive guide to learning photography online for free. I’m writing this guide now as a professional photographer and covering everything I wish I knew as a beginner.

There is a lot to learn with photography and a lot of technical jargon that photographers like to use. Because of this, I believe it can be a little intimidating as a beginner to dive into photography. Especially after you hear terms such as f-stops, bokeh, lighting ratios, etc.

Whenever I learn something, I find it’s easiest to look at the whole topic itself from a bird’s eye point of view and see how everything connects.

But the thing is, as a beginner, you can’t look at it from a bird’s eye view yet, because you don’t even know certain photography terms and techniques exist yet! With that being said, I’ve looked at my own learning journey as a photographer and have broken it down A through Z.

I’ve created what I believe is the best path one should follow if they want to learn photography with zero experience.


Exposure

Now let’s look at one of the most fundamental concepts in photography, exposure. Exposure is the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor.

In short, the exposure of light to your camera’s sensor determines how light or dark your image will turn out which is crucial for avoiding underexposure or overexposure

Exposure is controlled by three settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

These three settings make up what is called the exposure triangle.

Exposure compensation is a feature that allows you to override the camera's automatic exposure settings to make the image brighter or darker. Exposure value (EV) is a numeric representation of the combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO that results in a properly exposed image.

Metering, another essential aspect, involves how the camera measures the light in the scene to determine the appropriate exposure settings.

Exposure triangle

Photographers balance all three of these elements for proper exposure in their images.

That’s why these three elements create what is called the exposure triangle.

Graphic of the exposure triangle.
Exposure triangle

Because if you adjust one element, then you have to consider how it will affect the other two.

For example, if you are taking a landscape photograph and want the whole scene in focus you’ll need to use a smaller aperture.

This could potentially make your image darker so you would need to use a slower shutter speed (hopefully with a tripod) and then adjust your ISO to your desired level while watching for visible noise in the image.

Once you have a good understanding of exposure, it’s time to dive into focusing.

Aperture

Aperture is the opening in your lens through which light passes.

Aperture is measured in f-stops.

A larger aperture (smaller f-stop number) lets more light in, resulting in a brighter image, and a more shallow depth of field (blurred background also called bokeh).

A smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) lets less light in, resulting in a darker image, and a more narrow depth of field (more scene in focus).

If you just want to control the depth of field in your photo and don't feel like using manual mode, then you can use aperture priority mode.

Graphic of a smaller vs. wider aperture.
Small vs. wider aperture

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is the length of time in which your camera’s shutter is open allowing light to hit the sensor.

A slower shutter speed (ex. 1/15s) lets more light in, resulting in a brighter image and a potentially more blurry image without proper stabilization causing camera shake. When intentionally using a slower shutter speed such as with bulb mode, you can create creative photo effects like long exposure photographs.

A faster shutter speed (ex. 1/1000s) lets less light in, resulting in a darker image and a more “freeze-frame” image. If you use an external flash and a faster shutter speed, be aware of your flash sync speed.

If you just want to control the shutter speed effects in your photo and don't feel like using manual mode, then you can use shutter priority mode.

Graphic of a faster vs. slower shutter speed.
Faster vs. slower shutter speed

ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light.

A higher ISO number (ex. ISO 1600) makes the sensor more sensitive to light, resulting in a brighter image and potentially “noisier” image depending on your camera.

A lower ISO number (ex. ISO 100) makes your sensor less sensitive to light, resulting in a darker image and minimizing any chance of visible noise in the image.

Man wearing suit in a no noise photo.
Low ISO (No grain/noise)
DJ in a bar.
High ISO (High grain/noise)

Focusing

Focusing in photography is about knowing which techniques you should use to ensure sharpness and clarity in your image to ensure you take sharp photos.

Focus modes

The different focus modes on your camera control how your camera’s auto and manual focus work.

Now, there are really only two types of focus modes that you need to know as a photographer – manual focus mode and autofocus mode.

Manual focus mode

Manual Focus Mode is just what it sounds like. You, the photographer, need to manually adjust the focus on your subject by using the focus ring on your lens.

Autofocus mode

The autofocus mode on your camera use internal lens motors and advanced camera technology to focus on your subject.


Composition

Composition in photography is all about the arrangement of elements within your frame to create an aesthetically pleasing image.

Techniques

There are many different compositional techniques:

Styles

In the realm of photography, various composition styles elevate images beyond mere snapshots into captivating works of art. Aesthetic photography focuses on beauty and visual appeal, often emphasizing color, texture, and form to evoke emotions in the viewer.

Creative photography pushes boundaries, experimenting with unconventional techniques and perspectives to convey unique narratives or concepts. Techniques such as emphasis and geometry play crucial roles in guiding the viewer's eye and creating visual interest within the frame.

Emphasis directs attention to specific subjects or elements, while geometry utilizes lines, shapes, and patterns to enhance composition and add structure. The concept of Punctum, introduced by Roland Barthes, refers to a striking detail within an image that resonates with the viewer on a personal level, adding depth and significance to the photograph.

Additionally, the choice between landscape and portrait orientations can dramatically alter the composition and narrative of an image, with landscapes often emphasizing vastness and grandeur, while portraits focus on intimacy and individuality.


Lighting

Lighting is a critical aspect in photography that can dramatically alter the mood, story, and quality of our photographs. It can be broken down into several categories such as the source, quality, direction, color, and equipment.

Types of light

The light type is the type of lighting being used.

Lighting setups

There are many different ways to set up your lighting sources, especially when using artificial lights.

Lighting patterns

Lighting patterns dictate the way light will fall on your subject's face influencing the shadows and highlights and lighting ratio of your image.

Lighting equipment

There are lots of different lighting equipment you can use to get the job done.

Let’s take a look at the different types.

Time of day

The time of day strongly influences the lighting in your scene.

Techniques

There are lighting techniques you can use to create different effects and moods in your images.


Editing

I believe learning to edit and retouch your photos is just as important as knowing how to capture a well-composed, in-focus photo.

If you know how to take a photo, but can’t edit it properly, then you are missing out on a big part of your photography game. I break the concept down of photography editing into terms and techniques, softwares and apps, color theory, file types, image sizing, and printing.

Terms

The first pillar of editing you should become familiar with are the common editing terms and techniques:

Color theory

Color and the art of color theory play a vital role in the mood and story of your final image.

Knowing how to balance color in your images and the role color harmony plays in your images is important for any photographer. Many photographers don't know the difference between color correction and color grading, which is a crucial component of learning color theory.

File types

Understanding the different file types that are available to you when it comes time to import or export your photos is important to know.

Each camera has its own file type and each software and app has different file types you can export from:

Printing

If you choose to print your photos, there are certain techniques and terms you need to know in order to print out a high-quality image free of any defects. Such as knowing the difference between lustre and glossy prints.

Adobe Lightroom

As a photographer, there are many different types of software and apps available to us. Some softwares overlap with each other in terms of functionality and features, but some offer distinct advantages over another.

One of the most popular softwares is Adobe Lightroom:


Special techniques

There are different types of special techniques photographers can use when they need to capture a certain creative look or result:


Genres

In photography, there are many photography genres/niches.

Each genre has their own specific techniques and tips that build upon the foundations we have covered in the previous sections.


Business

Many photographers fall in love with the art of photography, and start to think to themselves, “what if I could make some money doing this?”

If you decide to start turning your photography skills into a side-hustle or a full-time business, you’ll need to know the business side of photography.

Being a professional portrait and headshot photographer myself, I’ve found that you can divide the concept of photography business into client management, website creation, marketing, operations, and sales.


Analysis

Once you know the fundamentals of photography, you may find yourself wanting to constantly improve your photographic “eye.”

With that being said, the next step is to analyze classic, popular photos as well as scenes from movies, as they can reveal a lot into the choice of lighting, composition, and color that was used and why.

Oftentimes, you’ll find the “why” behind photography is just as, if not more important than the “what.”


History

Knowing the history behind photography should be the next step in your journey.

While some may argue that this should be one of the first things you do in photography, I believe it should come somewhat towards the end of your learning journey.

I believe as photographers, we just want to go out and photograph.

As you start photographing, you’ll gain a further appreciation for the art and then want to learn more about the history of photography:


Gear

So while you don’t need to learn about every single piece of equipment we use as photographers, it’s good to know the basics before diving in.

The main pieces of gear and equipment we use as photographers include cameras, lenses, tripods, and certain accessories.

Let’s look at each of those individually.

Camera

As photographers, the camera is our baby. Well, okay, maybe not that dramatic…

But some photographers get very serious when it comes time to discuss cameras. Just like anything, from sports, to technology, people tend to pick sides when it comes to teams and sides they support. The same is true when it comes to picking certain camera brands and types.

It’s also important to note that the gear doesn’t make the photographer. This has become evident with modern smartphones. Phone photography has now even become a popular niche due to the power of our smartphones.

But as a photographer, it’s important you know the different brands and types:

Lens

After learning about cameras, the next step is to learn about the different types of lenses you can attach to your camera. Similar to cameras, there are many different brands of camera lenses you can use.

Usually, the brand of camera you choose is the brand of lens you have to use as well.

There are only a few brands that offer third-party lenses such as Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Samyang/Rokinon, Zeiss, Venus Optics, and Voigtlander.

Camera accessories


Reviews

As a photographer, you may want to look into getting new gear or software to make your life easier as a photographer. If so, then you’ll want to review that piece of gear or software before buying it!

Each of these products are hand-tested by me and I give my honest opinions on them:

Camera reviews

Lens reviews

Software reviews

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