Photography made simple: It’s All About the Light

I was on a photo outing with a new person who was soo excited to get out with his new camera. Along the way, some of the others tried to help by explaining depth of field, bokeh, vignetting, f-stops, etc. My friend’s eyes glaze over as he became overwhelmed.

A lot of those things are important, however you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to compose an awesome photo. Throughout this article, I’m going to share some very simple, yet powerful photographic tips. Don’t worry, you won’t even need an app or a calculator.

So lets get to it……..

The number one thing to know about photography is this….It’s all about the light.

The light makes or breaks a photo. Early morning, late evening and dusk are popular because the light is rich and deep. Midday is often challenging because the light is bright and harsh. You can take a great photo at midday or anytime, you just have to work the light. If the light isn’t good in one direction, remember this; turn around. The light is rarely bad in both directions and sometimes a great picture is behind you.

Now, how do you work the light? There are two camera settings that control the light. And you’re probably thinking, here comes all that math. Nope……keep reading.

The first one is the aperture which is like your pupil; when it’s dark, your pupil opens wide to allow more light in. When it’s very bright, it contracts to limit the light. A camera aperture works the same way.

When it’s bright out, close it more so you don’t overexpose the photo. When it’s darker, open it up to compensate for the low light. Typically a lower number aperture allows more light in and a higher number one allows less light.

The second one is the shutter, which is like your eyelid. If you keep your eyes open for a long time, such as in the dark, you see more because more light comes in. When it’s really bright out, you blink a lot because it’s so bright.

A shutter works similarly to blinking your eye lids. When the light is low, you’ll want a slow shutter speed (keep your eyes open longer) to allow more light in. A slow shutter speed will also cause moving objects to blur which is a fun effect such as with waterfalls and car lights at night. When it’s bright out, you can use a faster shutter speed (blink fast) to limit the amount of light.  A slow shutter speed (lower number) will convey motion and a fast shutter speed (higher number) will stop the action.

So how do you remember how these two work together? Easy; it’s an inverse relationship. If you open up the aperture to let more light in, then you’ll need to use a faster shutter speed (less light) to compensate. And vice versa. The best part is that most cameras will allow you to manually adjust the aperture or shutter and the camera will automatically adjust the other. It’s a quick way to learn the settings as the camera will handle one of them for you.

For example, you’re out hiking around 2 in the afternoon and see a beautiful stream, like the cover photo at the top.  You’d like to capture it and have the water appear like it’s flowing. To capture that, you’ll want to have a long exposure or slow shutter speed. That slow shutter speed will let a lot of that bright afternoon sun in. To balance it out, you’ll want to dial down the aperture to limit the light. So you’ll have a very low number for the shutter setting and a high number for the aperture. At low shutter speeds, the camera is sensitive to the slightest movement so a tripod is necessary.

After a little bit of experimenting with your camera, you’ll figure out how these work together and you’ll have a lot of fun using the light to create beautiful scenes.

In summary, next time you’re out with capturing photos, remember the number one thing; it’s all about the light.  Work the light to your advantage. If it’s not good in one direction, turn around; the light is rarely bad in both directions and sometimes a great photo is behind you. Also, remember that those aperture and shutter settings are fairly simple, yet powerful tools. Use them with the light and you’ll easily create some amazing photos.

And most importantly….don’t over think it. Just have fun and watch what unfolds.




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