photography – my take

before anyone reads any further, i just want to say that the following info provided isn’t technically, well – technical.  it’s my broke down layman’s interpretation of what i’ve learned from photography. 
some might read this and be like – “thats wrong!”  or something across those lines.   well to those that think they might gripe about it, don’t read it.  like i said, this is my interpretation of photography – not the officious pro specs and rules… 

a common question i get asked is how did i learn how to take pictures?  how did i learn photography?  how did i learn how to use that big black camera i got?

i didnt take any classes, couldn’t really afford it.  so i had to research the freebies.  we’ll start with the interwebs.  you’ll be amazed at how much information there is about photography on the net.  there’s tons of people out there willing to help you understand all the basics.

i took notes when i was trying to understand everything.  i’ve compiled information from random sources off the interweb, and as much as i’d like to give credit to those places – i can’t really remember where i got them all from.  but since they were free in the first place, i’ve put it here for others to try learning from too.

not my picture, just a borrowed shot to illustrate

we’ll start with what you typically see on the camera dial and go over the standard little picture/icons.  this isn’t anything official, this is just my own experience and opinions expressed here.

AUTO mode sucks –  this means you’re letting the camera think for you.  some folks need and want that. the problem is cameras are easily fooled by silly things like exposure and white balance and stuff like that. so colors might be wrong, or something comes out too dark or too bright, etc…  it’s always best to use AUTO as a last and final option imo.  

face icon – meant for portrait photographs

running man – high speed sports images; will adjust shutter speed to freeze action

mountain – i never used this option, but my logical guess is that its meant for landscapes and stuff

sunset – pictures at dusk; camera will probably adjust to higher ISO and maybe incorporate flash

person w/star – night shots; most likely meant to snap shots of people in dark settings – not to capture the stars at night, etc.

camera on tripod – video footage


MANUAL mode  – also known as PSAM, MSAP, MAPS or whatever combination there is. 

program mode – depending on the camera, program mode typically allows you to control a few things about your pics: ISO value, WB (white balance), & the flash.  the camera will still do a majority of the thinking for you.  even though this is still allows the camera to do some thinking for you – this is still the right step to getting away from full auto mode.

shutter priority – you get to control more stuff for your pics: ISO value, WB (white balance), flash, and SHUTTER SPEED.  the camera will adjust aperture for you.

aperture priority – you get to control: ISO value, WB (white balance), flash, and the APERTURE.  the camera will adjust shutter speed for you.

manual – you get the whole sha-bang.    you control it all; ISO, WB, flash, aperture, shutter speed, etc.


so which mode do i shoot in?  i shoot mostly in aperture.  if i’m at the track or working on something specific – i’ll shoot manual mode, but the rest of the time i shoot in A mode.  i like controlling the DOF in my images.  

aperture controls the amount of light hitting the film plane and different apertures have different characteristics on the resulting image.  

so if you hear the term, “set it wide open” – this means setting it to the widest aperture your lens has.  this would be the smallest f-stop number on your lens; f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8, etc…

if you set it wide open (smaller f-stop number) the shallower the depth of field is.  this means only the subject of what you’re focusing on will be in focus, everything else would  be a blur.  the lower the f-stop, the more blur you get. 

what does A mode results look like?  take a look at the following pics.   i found had the following images on the net and figured this best explains how aperture works.








i have a 50mm f/1.8 and i love it.  it’s a fixed focal length lens, so you can’t zoom in or out with it.  basically what you see in the view finder is what you get.  but this lens is one of the best lenses i own.   i’ve created many shots with this lens and i never get tired of using it wide open.  

although you get less contrast and softer photos shooting wide open, you also gain the benefit shooting in lower light situations.  i’ve been amazed with some of the lighting situations i’ve been in with this lens and managed to get a descent photo out of it.  (of course this takes some playing around with ISO too)

so what are some of the benefits of smaller f-numbers?

  • allows the subject to be isolated
  • creates blurry backgrounds
  • allows for creativity
  • ideal for low light environments and settings

 so what about the other end of the f-stops?  what if you shoot at a higher f-number?  f/8, f/11, f16, f/22…

well you would want to shoot at a higher f-stop when you want more in focus.   less light reaches the image sensor and more of your image is in focus.  this would be good for landscapes.  another example would be a group of people outside on a bright day.  lets say you want to get all of their faces in focus – you would shoot at a higher aperture like f/8 or f/11+.  you would shoot with a higher f-number when light is plentiful, like a nice sunny day.

so what are some of the benefits of higher f-numbers?

  • great for landscapes
  • allows for sharper images
  • tends to avoid overexposures
  • ideally used in bright ample lighting

to review:

a high f-stop number allows a small amount of light in.  a low f-stop number allows a large amount of light in.

i created my own personal cheat sheet that can be pocketed for quick reference.  if you’re interested in it, you can find it here

here are a few other sites that i found very useful.

Photography Terms

Scroll down to SELECTED RECENT HIGHLIGHTS – lots of great random tips


Look under Program Tutorials > Adobe Photoshop Elements

Looks like useful videos:

General layout of PS


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