Understanding how a camera works is the first step in learning to take great photos. So how does a camera work?

Every time the shutter button pressed to take a photo, light enters the camera through the lens and fall onto the camera sensor. The sensor will then translate the light into an image.

Your camera is essentially painting a canvas with light.


In order to take great photos, you need to adjust the controls and allow for the right amount of light to enter the camera. Otherwise, the photo will be overexposed (too bright with no details) or underexposed (too dark to see anything).

Photo is overexposed and loses all the details.
Photo is underexposed and it's too dark to see the details.

The example above is exaggerated of course, but now you can see how critical it is to allow for the right amount of light into the camera to take a great photo.


There are 3 fundamental ways of controlling the light and these are also referred to as the 3 pillars of photography.


Shutter Speed


Camera Gear

Before we dive any deeper, let’s go over some basic gear requirements and setup tips.

Photography equipment can be expensive. So, when you are starting off, don’t invest large amount of money into a camera system. Buy a entry level digital camera (new or used) with manual controls.

1. Digital Camera

Any digital camera with manual controls will do. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a camera when starting off. Refine your skills first, then only look into investing into a camera system that works for you.

Remember, a camera is only good as the hands which it’s in.


2. Lens

The standard lens that comes with the camera (usually 18-55mm) is referred to as the “kit lens” and it will do just fine when starting off.


3. Tripod

This is an important extension to your camera that often goes overlooked. Some photos, such as long exposure shots, simply cannot be taken without a tripod. Again, don’t spend a fortune, just grab a basic, but sturdy tripod.

4. Memory Card

Get a minimum size of 16GB or larger. You will be shooting in RAW format, which means that the memory card will fill up quickly. So grab a memory card with a large capacity.


5. Remote Shutter Trigger

This is an optional item. By using the remote shutter trigger you can avoid camera shake during long exposure shots. Of course there are ways around to take long exposure shots without a shutter release, which will be discussed later.


6. External Flash

Another optional item. Built in flash is decent, but nowhere as good as the external flash. Again, no need to spend a fortune, just grab an after market flash, which will work just as well as the brand name flash.


Camera Settings

Before you start using your camera, make sure to follow recommended settings and make the necessary adjustments. The directions below are for a Nikon DSLR camera. The menu options for your camera may differ, so refer to your manual.

Format Memory Card

Format your memory card using the camera (do not format the card using the computer). If you format it using the computer, depending on the type of format, the capacity on your memory card can be reduced (temporarily). For an example, if you format a 16GB SD card, it may only allow you to take photos only up to 1GB.

On a Nikon camera, go to Menu > Setup Menu > Format memory card.

RAW Format

Always shoot in RAW format! RAW will allows you to maintain all the details (colours, light, shadow, etc) of the photo, which comes in handy for post-editing.

On a Nikon camera, go to Menu > Shooting Menu > Image Quality and select NEF(RAW) or choose to shoot in RAW and JPEG format by selecting NEF(RAW)+JPEG Fine.

Shooting in RAW + JPEG is more beneficial, since JPEG files load up quickly for easy viewing on the computer (smaller file size) and also ideal for quickly posting photos online.

Set White Balance

For now, set White Balance to Auto. We’ll dive deeper into White Balance at another time.

On a Nikon camera, go to Menu > Shooting Menu > White Balance and set it to Auto.

Metering Modes

For now, set White Balance to Auto. We’ll dive deeper into White Balance in a subsequent chapter.

On a Nikon camera, go to Menu > Shooting Menu > White Balance and set it to Auto.