Image for Let’s keep this snappy – a quick guide to photography
Back to Blogs

Let’s keep this snappy – a quick guide to photography

In the Instagram age, photography is something we’re all having a bash at. But, as smartphones get smarter and our in-phone camera settings automatically adjust for us, the beauty of the tech behind what makes a great photograph is lost on many. For our own benefit, we’ve gone back to basics to look at what elements fundamentally make up a camera and the different ways you can use them to get that internet-breaking shot you’ve always dreamed of.

A camera is made up of three things:

  1. A light box
  2. An aperture (a hole)
  3. Something that records light (film)

In this picture you will see a camera obscura – a box room with a hole in one of its walls. This is a camera in its most basic form. But how does it work? The three above components work together in a camera obscura to create the optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen / wall is projected through the small hole, resulting in a reversed and inverted image on the opposite side of the room (mind blown? Ours too).

Since this innovation, which was used mostly by landscape painters, advanced technology now enables us to capture the projected image on film and, more commonly today, digital. Now, instead of waiting for the perfect lighting and weather our cameras have features like a shutter and viewfinder (in place of a light box), an adjustable lens to focus the light (an aperture) and a digital sensor (to record light).

Below you can find out more about the key features in cameras we generally use today, what those setting buttons really do and how we can control them to capture the picture-perfect snap:

Know your focus (AV)

The ability to control the amount of light hitting a subject is key to accurately focusing on the subject, so get to know your “AV” button. For this, we can adjust the aperture value, from a small “AV” of f/22 to a large f/1.2, creating vastly different results. Landscape photographers will typically use a small aperture to capture a large scene, while portrait photographers use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field which makes the subject stand out sharply against a blurred background. For instance, the Humans of New York (@humansofny) Instagram account follows this technique. This style of photography is essential for the viewers to focus on the subject – the person – amid the busy streets. This is made possible as their faces are in focus, but the background is soft and blurred.

Watch your speed (TV)

The shutter speed setting on any DSLR (that’s Digital Single Lens Reflex btw) is responsible for changing the brightness of the photograph and creating dramatic effects by either freezing action (high shutter speed) or blurring motion (low shutter speed). Sport is an area of photography in which photographers use high shutter speeds. For example, Canon Ambassador and England World Cup 2018 football team photographer Eddie Keogh (@eddiekeoghphotos) strives for sharp, clean images of fast-moving footballers and, for him, the difference between an average photo and great photo (that makes it to newspaper front pages) could be a split second. To capture a ball just leaving a player’s foot, for example, Eddie’s shutter speed will be set to around 1/1000th of a second. On the flip side, low shutter speeds are often used for artistic effect, for example, photographers looking to capture light trails of a car in the darkness. Another example of a slow shutter speed is Australian photographer Cameron Spencer’s, of Getty Images, now infamous shot of Usain Bolt mid-race in the Men’s 100-meter semi-final during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. To capture this shot Spencer’s shutter speed, on his Canon 1DX MK2 with a 70-200 mm lens set at 135 mm focal length, was set at 1/40th of a second. He followed the champion with the lens to achieve the blur.

Get sharp (ISO)

Choosing the right ISO setting starts with recognising the amount of light in the scene you are photographing. An ISO controls the sensitivity of an image and ultimately influences the ‘graininess’ of the picture. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive your camera is to light, the darker the image and the finer the grain. Portrait or fashion photographers working in well-lit studios will use a lower ISO. For example, Jörg Kyas (@kyasphotography) aims for sharp, clean images of models for his clients, so he photographs in bright studios in which he can use a lower ISO. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light a camera; therefore, photographers can use a faster shutter speed. This is useful for sports or wildlife photographers shooting fast-moving subjects enabling them to freeze the moment.

Shout out to our in-house photographer @danwongphoto for his pro tips that helped us create this post! NBU has been working for Canon Europe for over 16 years, so putting our book knowledge to the practical test with Dan Wong was a fantastic way to get hands on and learn more about the products we are PR-ing every day. We hope you can put the above to use – happy snapping!

Written by Nelson Bostock’s Canon Pro team.