Understanding The Basics – Digital Photography Demystified

Before I got into photography, I always thought it was so complicated.  If you’re intimidated by the language of photography, get over it.  It’s really not so many words and what the words mean is actually pretty basic all things considered.   I’m sure you’ve heard them before, but I’m gonna concentrate on aperture, iso, and shutter speed.


Just to keep things simple let’s think of a really simple illustration.  Forget about your camera for a second, and imagine that you have an empty paper towel roll.  You put it up to your eye, and look through it as if it were a telescope. Now pretend that the combination of that paper towel roll and your eye is your camera.  Would you be surprised if I told you that the word aperture is just a way to describe the size of the paper towel roll?

Well, that’s actually the case.  All that aperture means is a hole, and you talk about size relative to aperture because on a camera you can change the size of that hole.

Of course the f stop numbers are a bit confusing, in that a bigger number actually means that hole is smaller, and the numbering system doesn’t go one, two, three, four like we’re used to, but at the end of the day all you  need to remember is that aperture means hole.  The bigger the hole, the more light can get in.  The smaller the hole, the less light can come in.


Shutter Speed

This one doesn’t require much explanation cause it is basically what it says it is.  There is a shutter on your camera, and the shutter speed refers to how long the shutter is open when you take a photograph.

Obviously, the longer the shutter stays open, the more light can come in.  Conversely, if the shutter is only open for a short amount of time, less light will be allowed in.

What can be confusing again is the numbering system, but that’s just because we’re dealing with very short time spans.  Your camera will display shutter speeds less than a second as numbers without fractions, even though they are just that, fractions of a second.

Because of that a bigger number will actually make for a shorter shutter speed, until you increase the shutter speed past 1 second, at which point a bigger number will make for a longer shutter speed.



Oh, good old iso.  I don’t know what ISO stands for, and I don’t really care.  All you need to know is that ISO is a way to describe how sensitive the sensor on your camera is to light.  So instead of affecting the amount of light coming in through time or space, it varies how easily your camera allows light in.

You have probably heard that high ISO makes for bad pictures, and this is true (unless you’re lucky enough to have a brand new Canon 5d Mark iii or the new Nikon, in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this article).

The numbering system for ISO is straightforward in that a bigger number indicates a higher sensitivity and a lower number indicates the sensor is less receptive to the light coming in.


So it’s really as simple as that.  You can affect the light coming in to your camera by making the sensor more or less sensitive to the light (ISO), you can keep the shutter open for shorter or longer periods of time (shutter speed), and you can change the size of the hole through which the light comes in (aperture).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *