Digital Photography

Digital Photography: A Beginner’s Guide

Digital Photography

Digital photography can seem like a daunting task at first. While cameras have always been complex, yet wonderful tools — digital cameras have a whole other layer of complications. Most photographers will remember the first time they went from a standard camera to a DSLR and some of the different obstacles that they had to overcome when mastering the art of using this type of camera.

Digital photography opens up a number of new options for photographers and brings about amazing new ways to capture life in images. However, while digital photography can be quite amazing, it can also be quite challenging, if you don’t know what you are doing.

There is a big learning curve that can come with learning digital photography, whether you are a seasoned traditional photographer, or a novice to the entire experience. The best way to really master the art of digital photography is trial and error—spending the time to learn about our own style, your own device and your own post-photography editing process.

ice bubbles

Learning how to expose, compose and edit a photo can make or break an image.

However, this beginner’s guide to digital photography is a great place to start and can serve as your foundation as you learn more about how to become a truly proficient digital photographer.

Before any beginner can start perfecting the art of digital photography, they need to have a basic understanding of how cameras actually work. In today’s day and age, it can be easy to want to just grab a digital camera and start pointing and shooting. While, sometimes this can deliver a good photo, if your images are looking less than stellar—it may be because you don’t really understand what you are doing.

Exposing Exposure

If there is one are that beginner photographers should be paying close attention, it is with exposure. If you are new to digital photography, then you can start with exposure. It is the key to capturing a great photo.

Exposure is made up of three elements: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. These three elements will impact the depth of field, motion blur and digital noise.

lava flow from above

The Right exposure can bring out subtle details of an image. This is An aerial view of lava flowing from above the big island.

You will use these settings when you want to start actually using the manual mode on your camera. This is the first step in really gaining control over what you are shooting and changing the result of your photos. It is the difference between someone who points and shoots and someone who is taking photos.

Here’s what to know about the three elements of exposure:


The Aperture

“The aperture” is the diameter of the hole inside a camera lens. When you change the size of this hole, it allows more light or less light into the camera. A wide aperture means more light, while a narrow means less.

This also has an affect on the depth of field of your image. So if you just want to focus on one thing in the foreground, you will want a wider aperture or shallower depth of field. If you want several things, at varying levels to come into focus, you want a deeper depth of field and a narrower aperture.

Start by setting your aperture first and bringing your subject into focus.

Leading line Sunset Photography

A longer shutter can create movement within an image.

The Shutter Speed

Once you have your aperture in place, you want to make sure that you set the shutter speed. When the mirror flips up on a camera, and the shutter opens, it records the light present onto the sensor. The speed at which this motion happens will determine the exposure length as well as the amount of motion blur.

Depending on what you are shooting, you may want to show some motion blur, or none at all. If you set your shutter speed to a fast speed, it means less light and that it will freeze your subject in motion with no blur. If you use a slow shutter speed, it captures more light and more blur.



 The sensor that captures light is controlled by the ISO. When you set your ISO remember, the higher you set it, the more sensitive it will be, but the more digital noise you can capture. A low ISO is less sensitive while a high is more sensitive with more noise. ISOs can typically range anywhere from 100 to 24000.

While exposure may be one of the more complicated aspects of mastering digital photography, it is an important foundation that every photographer needs to learn. Once you have learned how these three elements of exposure work together, then you can start really honing your skills.

However, moving on to learn more about composition, framing and post-production is obsolete if you don’t first understand exposure. So, once you have this element of digital photography down—here are a few more areas to focus on.

Canon 6d Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones

Cranking up the ISO can light up a dark scene. When you balance the levers properly like a teeter totter a natural feel will emerge.


The Other Essential Elements of Digital Photography

Now that you know about exposure, here are a few other areas of digital photography that you need to focus on as you continue to take photos.

Metering Modes

Metering modes are there to tell your camera how you want to look at the scene in front of you. Different metering modes are going to cause you to end up with different exposures. There are three primary types of metering modes on modern digital cameras:

  • Evaluative Metering Mode- This mode divides the scene up into a grid and analyzes each segment—looking for highlights and shadows. The camera will then take that information, calculate the average value and base the exposure on that value. This is great for a scene that has relatively similar bright and dark areas, but not one for varying high contrasts.


  • Center-Weighted Metering Mode- This type of metering mode places the most importance on the central portion of the frame—focusing on a central circle in the middle of the scene. This is the most commonly used metering mode by most digital photographers.


  • Spot Metering- This metering mode only measures the light from a very small part of the scene. Most digital cameras will allow you to arrange the placement of the spot as it usually only makes up about 5 percent of the total scene.
June Lake Fall Colors

Setting up the right scene requires shooting in Manual more often than not. Avoid the GREEN button (auto mode)

Shooting Modes

One of the great things about shooting with digital cameras is that there are so many different modes and settings on today’s modern camera devices. When you are ready to take a photo, you may notice that your camera has several shooting modes.

You can choose between complete auto mode, manual mode and typically several settings in between. There are some photographers who may tell you that manual-only is the way-to-go, but sometimes it is worth it to let technology take hold and do some of the work for you.

You can also shoot in AV mode which can come in handy when shooting time-lapse photography .

White Balance

White balance is important component in digital photography, but it is one that many beginners don’t learn early on in their efforts. The white balance feature will change the color cast of an entire photo—it is responsible for adding warmth.

Simply put, the white balance will determine whether your photo has a cool blue tone or a warm orange one. Just take a look at different scenes that utilize color balance and those that don’t to see what a difference it can make.

Crop Factor

Most beginners shooting on digital cameras will be shooting on a device that has a crop sensor in it. This sensor is much smaller than professional-grade SLR cameras and will essentially crop the image when you take a photo.

Simply put, it create a narrower viewing angle for your photos and impacts which lenses you can and should purchase in the future. Even if you aren’t ready for new lenses yet, it is important that you remember this and do your research whenever buying a new lens for your camera.

Keck Telescope

Don’t lose your scale and clarity — make sure you get a full frame camera!

Polarizing Filters

Filters are a great addition to any digital camera and while there are countless filters that pros can ultimately explore, for newbie digital photographers, it is best to just stick with polarizing while getting started.

These filters allow light into the lens only from a certain direction. What this does is it removes glare and reflection from non-metallic objects. It can also be great for sunset photography .  This is something that will not only improve the look of your photos, but also help you in post-production as you won’t ever be able to get the same effect of this filter in post, so it can really save you some time.

Now that you have a basic understanding of digital photography for beginners, it is time to get out and start shooting photos. The more images you take and the more tweaking you do with your own camera as you get to know your DSLR, the better and better your photos will turn out.

Griffith Park Sunrise

Shot at 400 mm from Griffith Park Over Los Angeles. f 32 to get detail from the sun


This is the first of many guides I’ll be writing to educate people on the basics of digital photography. I am also putting together a free e-book on digital photography in the hopes that many others can find beauty in my favorite hobby. Feel free to ask questions below if you have any!

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