Photography Tips for Beginners: Three Easy Steps to Get Out of the Auto Mode

Posted March 4, 2013 by Paul Xymon García in Photography

Using a digital camera for snapping purpose is usually easy enough – just point and shoot. But what if you want to go a step further and start playing with various features on your camera? Here are three quick steps.

Step 01: Study your current lighting conditions

Your current lighting conditions determine your ISO. ISO refers to the speed that a film has to take in light and record an image. With a higher ISO, the camera is more sensitive to light and records an image faster. Thus, the less light you have, eg. when shooting in the evening, the higher your ISO you’ll need. When shooting in broad daylight, you can just used a lower ISO.

There is a trade-off thou. The higher your ISO is, the grainier your image becomes. Whether that’s a good thing is entirely up to you. Normally, under a bright sun, a 200 to 400 ISO will do. On a cloudy day, 800 will suffice. At night or indoors, 1600 or above is good. These are not hard-and-fast rules. Adjust as you see fit.

See more photos of Shanghai at ISO 800 – Shanghai: Shooting at night with low ISO could still work!

Step 02: Choose between focusing on the subject or capturing all the details

This step is about figuring out the best aperture. Aperture refers to the size of the hole inside the lens through which light passes. Depth of field, i.e., how much of your image is focused, is a function of aperture. A narrow depth of field (high aperture, big hole) means you choose to focus on just the foreground, middle ground, or background. A wide depth of field (low aperture, small hole) means the image you get will have everything in focus, preserving every little detail in your image, be they in the foreground, middle ground, or background.

See more photos of Saigon at F1.8 – Saigon: High aperture renders everything out of focus save for the subject.

Note: Aperture is in fraction format. Thus, a 1/1.8 or F1.8 means the hole in your lens is bigger, which means your depth of field is narrower. A 1/11 or F11 means the hole in your lens is smaller, which means your depth of field is wider.

Step 03: Determine how much light goes into your image.

This is all about shutter speed. Shutter speed, measured in seconds or parts of a second, refers to how fast a camera closes to take in light. The slower the shutter speed, the more light goes into your photo. The faster the shutter speed, the less light goes into your photo. The amount of shutter speed you need will depend on the ISO and aperture.

On a bright sunny day, the suggested ISO is 100 to 400. If you set your aperture to F5 or lower, your camera will tell you, via the camera meter (this: -2…1…|…1…+2), to adjust your shutter speed to 1000 (of a second) or higher. You need to stabilize the meter to the center. When you have done that, click on the button to take your shot. You can go one or two stops higher or lower. It’s up to you. Do not go too high or too low, however, as you risk overexposing or underexposing your image.

See more photos of Mount Pinatubo at ISO 400, F5.6, 1000 – Crater Lake of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines

That’s it. Simply follow these easy steps to create spectacular images you can call your own. It’s always best to experiment with different settings to figure out what works best for you and your brand of photography.

About the Author

Paul Xymon García

Paul Xymon Garcia is a Filipino, born and bred in Manila. He studied journalism and is now pursuing a career in travel writing and photography. His stories and photos have been published in several Philippine-based publications such as CebuPacific Smile Magazine, Meg Lifestyle Magazine, and Travel Magazine. He has contributed to a photography exhibition organized by the United Nations Population Fund. He blogs at

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