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Understanding the 3 Basic Elements of Photography 

Photography. What once was a skill for those seeking to pursue it as a career or hobby, now with the rise of social media it has become a much more widely desirable and useful skill to have. With the introduction of Instagram into our daily lives and constantly at our fingertips, we are consuming thousands of images daily and sharing our own too as every minute the platform is flooded with hundreds of thousands of beautiful photos from all around the world. Whether you are a social media influencer, a small business owner or just an average user sharing photos to friends and family, as active users on Instagram, learning and understanding the basic elements of photography and composition can drastically improve your photography skills and vision; therefore improving your presence on the platform. These skills are vital, particularly if you are or seeking to be an Instagram Influencer, or even as a small business owner,  because remember, your images are your VENUE to reach millions of its users including potential followers and clients. Photography is the underlying foundation of the content creation process and a vital part for your digital marketing and branding strategies.


Understanding the 3 Basic Elements of Photography 


Photography is all about light. To capture an image, it is all about having the correct exposure meaning a balance between the brightness and darkness of the photo. The exposure, or how much light your shot was exposed to, will determine the final image. Therefore, in order to create an image that is properly exposed, we use the three basic elements of photography- Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. These three settings all work conjunctly and will control and determine your final image. 


1. Aperture 

Aperture refers to the hole within your lens through which light travels into the camera body. With this setting you can basically control the size of the opening of light to determine the brightness of the image - how much or how little light you want to pass through the lens into your image. The smaller the aperture, the less amount of light is let through and conversely, the larger the aperture the more light passes through.

 Aperture is measured in f-stops such as: f/2.8 or F2.8 (or simply 2.8 as displayed on your DSLR camera) and the number of stops is determined by your lens.

The SMALLER the number such as f/1.4, the MORE capable it is to capture more light as the opening is wider; therefore the brighter your image will be. 

The LARGER the number such as f/7 will capture LESS light as the opening is smaller, therefore the image will be darker. 

So remember, as the aperture widens (gets bigger), the f/number gets lower and more light is allowed into the camera. 

Aperture and Depth of Field 

Aperture not only affects the brightness of the image but it also affects the depth of field. Simply put, the depth of field is how much of your image is in focus or “sharp.” When shooting portraits or photos with an evident subject, in order for your subject to be the main focal point of the image, you would typically have a shallow depth of field - meaning that the background would be blurred, in contrast to when you are shooting landscape photos , you would typically have a deep depth of field so everything in the image is in focus. 

The lower the stop such as f/1.8, the shallower the depth of field will be meaning that your background will be blurred and your subject will be sharp.

The higher the stop such as f/11 , the greater the depth of field will be meaning that all of your image including the background and the subject will be fully sharp. 

Let's take the below images as reference which are exactly the same, except for the f/stop. The photo on the right is shot on f/1.8 and the one on the left is shot at f/13. Having them side by side at two stops that are at opposite sides of the spectrum, you can really see how depth of field affects the feel and look of the image - It all depends on your style, vision and the look you are going for. 


2. Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the length of time that the camera shutter opens to allow light to pass through. Now, the camera shutter is basically a “curtain” in front of the camera sensor that opens to allow the light to pass through. So essentially, the shutter speed controls the speed that this “curtain” opens and closes to let a certain amount of desired light in. It is measured in fractions such as 1/8, 1/60, 1/125 and reflects the amount of time the shutter is left open. 

1/250 shutter speed means that the shutter was open for one two hundred and fiftieth of a second.  

Consecutively, the shutter speed affects both the brightness and the “motion” of the image. A fast shutter will let less light come in through the camera sensor, therefore producing a darker image but also, since the camera shutter is closing faster, it will also help properly capture subjects in motion. That’s why when you wish to capture moving objects sharp and in focus (freeze motion), you would set a fast shutter speed. Unless you want to capture motion blur to bring the action to life, then in that case you would set your shutter speed lower. 

  A fast shutter speed is also useful when you want to shoot with a wide Aperture opening to capture a shallow depth of field, because the hole in the lens is wider, a lot of light will come in; therefore you would need to set a fast shutter speed so not a lot of that light is captured and your image is balanced and well exposed. 

Slow shutter speeds are typically used to capture images in low light or night photography as well as when you wish to include Motion Blur (show the movement of the object of subject). For slow shutter speeds above 1 second you will need to use a tripod for stability to ensure the photo is sharp. Particularly for night photos such as the below, were both photos were shot with a shutter speed of 15 seconds. 

3. ISO 

The third basic element of photography, ISO put very simply is basically the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light, meaning that with this setting you can brighten or darken a photo as needed. You can think about it as adding “fake” light to your photo. The higher your ISO, the brighter your image will be and the lower the ISO, the darker it will be. Here is the thing though, raising your ISO for added brightness is not always the best option. A high ISO can significantly lower the quality of the image as it will show a lot of “grain” or “noise.” Always try to adjust your shutter speed and aperture to brighten the photo and then resort to bumping up the ISO, but at times due to lighting, it is inevitable such as in both images below. Both were shot after sunset with not much external light around, so we had to bump up the ISO. The photo on the left was shot at ISO 1250 and the one on the right at ISO 800 and if you look closely you can see the image is a little grainy from attempting to pull back the shadows while editing. 



ISO is one of the KEY components that differentiates a DSLR camera with an iPhone, as the DSLR is much more powerful to capture photos in low light and has a wider range and capability when it comes to ISO. The below phot