Back to Basics

What a busy, crazy month its been since I wrote about wanting to post photography fundamentals here on Sorry if I’ve kept you waiting, but here we go. I’d like to start out this series with a topic that befuddles many beginners: exposure.

Details in both shadow and highlight make this a properly exposed photo

Definition of Exposure

So, what is exposure? The definition of exposure, according to Wikipedia, is “the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium  during the process of taking a photograph.” In simpler words, it’s the amount of light that hits your film to produce an image.

Three variables determine a photograph’s exposure. The first is aperture (which is just another word for “opening”). The second is shutter speed (the amount of time your camera lets in light). The third is ISO (the sensitivity of your film to light). The first two variables regulate the amount of light that enters a camera. The third determines how much light is needed to burn an image onto the recording medium (the higher the ISO, the less light needed for a shot). Understanding the relationship among these three variables is fundamental to our understanding of what exposure is and how to control it.

The Drinking Glass Analogy

The Drinking Glass Analogy

There are several analogies used to illustrate this relationship, but my favorite is the one that uses a drinking glass, a faucet and some water.  You can actually go and do this in real life, just to drive the point in.

The drinking glass represents a blank frame of film, while the water represents light. In order to create a photo, you have to fill that glass up by opening the tap and letting the water flow. Now, you can open the tap just a little bit to let the water drip out slowly. Or, you can open it wide to fill that glass up fast. The tap represents your first control, aperture. The second control is shutter speed, which is represented by the time you keep the faucet running. The third variable, ISO, is represented by the size of your glass. If ISO 50 is a huge Slurpee cup, ISO 800 is a shot glass. (more…)


For the folks who received cameras last Christmas, welcome to the fold! It’s a wonderful hobby, this photography thing, whether you shoot digital or film, have the most advanced of gear or the  simplest of cameras, are in it to express your creative longings or are in it because it’s the in thing to do.

You’ve probably already shot the hell out of your new toy. Are you pleased with the results? If this is the very first time you’ve used a camera, a film one at that, you may be wondering: where are all the awesome shots I was expecting? Where are the crazy colors? What happened to the vignettes? Why’s it too dark? Why’s it too light? Why’s it all black? This is, of course, if you’re honest. Many new photographers like to convince themselves that their photos are award-worthy, even though they’re just photos of random clouds.

We all want to be better photographers, and the first step towards becoming one is admitting there’s a lot to learn. That means you. That means me. Photography requires us to understand some things, the basics, before we move on to the meatier stuff. To help everyone along, especially the beginners, I’ve decided to embark on a series of articles on the fundamentals of photography. Rather than go all technical, I’ll be focusing more on the basic principles of the art and craft.

I’m not a professional photographer, just an avid amateur, so this serves as a refresher course for me as well. I don’t live and breathe photography the way folks like Scott Kelby or Kevin Meredith do, so a return to beginnings can only serve to deepen my own understanding of this hobby.

We’ll tackle topics like exposure, shutter speed and aperture. ISO/ASA as well. Basic composition and framing, depth of field, panning, the Sunny 16 Rule of course. If I can find guest bloggers, that’d be great, a breath of fresh air to be sure. All that and more. But, I am asking for your forgiveness in advance. I can only write these when I find the time. Some weeks, it’ll come fast and frequent. Other times, it’ll be an agonizing drip-feed. Gotta prioritize writing that puts food on the table, heh.

Well, that serves as our introduction to the course. Now let me go and prepare the first lesson. Cheers.