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Photography Fundamentals.
An interactive course.

Have you ever wondered why your smartphone photos don’t turn out as good as the professionals'?

What are they doing differently? Is it just a more expensive camera? An expensive lens? Is it Photoshop? Is it magic?

In this course we’re going to demystify the basic techniques behind Photography. By the end you'll have the knowledge to take your photography to the next level.

Smartphone vs. DSLR
Taking control of the settings.

The First Secret of Photograhy is that there isn’t one big secret to taking great photos. Instead there are a tons of little adjustments that all together can create a great shot.

However, most of these aren't available on your typical smartphone camera. To really take control of these settings we'll use a DSLR camera.

Quiz Time!
At the bottom of each section will be a quiz question. Answer it to earn points and reveal the next section.


Does this mean that I can't take great photos with my smartphone?

Yes! All good photos are taken with a DSLR.

Of course not!

Manual Settings: Aperture

Now that we have our DSLR camera, let's look at our first manual setting: Aperture.

Definition The Aperture is the opening in the lens of the camera.
Also referred to as the f/stop, it controls the amount of light coming into your camera.

On a smartphone, this hole is fixed in size, but on a DLSR you can control the size of the opening.

Why would you want to change the Aperture?

Changing the Aperture impacts the Depth of Field (or how much of the scene is in focus). It’s most commonly used to create a blurry background effect, or Bokeh effect.

* Drag the slider above to see how a larger aperture creates a blurred background effect.


Using a wide open aperture is very popular in portrait photography. Take a look at these blurred backgrounds:

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get this effect without a large lens which means your smartphone is at a disadvantage. The newer iPhone 7+ will simulate this effect with software and they’re marketing it heavily as Portrait Mode.


With landscapes you'll want everything in focus. A small aperture will achieve this effect.


If smartphone cameras have tiny apertures, are they better suited for blurred backgrounds or keeping everything in focus?

Blurred backgrounds.

Everything in focus.

Manual Settings: Shutter Speed

Changing the shutter speed impacts how long the aperture is open for while taking the shot. A longer shutter speed lets in more light, while a shorter shutter speed lets in less. Most smartphones won’t let you change the shutter speed.

Why change the Shutter Speed?

Taking action shots of wildlife or sports? You’ll need a super fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

* Shot at 1/4000 second shutter speed.

Want to smooth the water in a waterfall? You’ll need a slow shutter speed.

* Shot with a 1 second shutter speed.

Want to blur the motion of this ferris wheel? You’ll need a slower shutter speed.

Want to take amazing pictures of the stars at night? You'll need a very slow shutter speed (and a tripod).

* Astrophotography often requires shutter speeds of 30 seconds or longer.

Without control of the shutter speed, you're left with only one possible shot for each of these scenes and others like it.


If you have a faster shutter speed, how will this change the amount of light that enters the camera lens?

Less light will enter the lens.

More light will enter the lens.

Shutter speed will have no effect.

Changing the Lenses

The lens on a smartphone is tiny. While they keep getting better with every generation, a larger DLSR camera allows you to use much larger, higher quality lenses.

These lenses can come with tons of benefits:

  • Sharper images
  • Larger apertures
  • Auto-focus
  • Image-stabilization for those shaky hands

Creatively, being able to change the lenses on your camera allows you to take photos that were impossible to take on your smartphone. Lets look at some of these lenses.

Telephoto Lens

With a telephoto lens (zoom lens) you can get up close shots of subjects that are further away. This lens is a very popular and necessary tool for wildlife photography.

* A very up-close shot of a seagull using a zoom lens.

* slide back and forth to see the 5x zoom.

Wide-angle Lens

With a wide-angle lens you can fit a lot more into your shot. Some describe it as being able to zoom out even further.

An extreme wide-angle is often called a fish-eye lens, and is found on GoPro cameras. You can recognize these types of shots from the distortion around the edges of the photo.

Macro Lens

Macro lenses are used for getting really close up to your subjects. Most commonly they're used for taking pictures of very, very small items that are sometimes inches away from your camera lens.


Do you always need a special lens to take a great shot?


No. Even a smartphone can take a great photo.


It’s no secret that professionals edit their photos. Some think this is cheating, but did you know that your smartphone edits all your photos already?

Yup. The photo that your camera actually takes will look grey and dull (like the picture below on the left).

It then GUESSES by making adjustments to the contrast, brightness, colors, and much more. Then it compresses the file (JPG), throwing away a ton of valuable information in your photo, before giving you the photo you see on the screen (center). This means that most of the changes your camera has made are irreversible.

When you use a DSLR you can shoot in a format that’s called RAW. This is that dull and grey photo that comes right out of your camera, unedited. It doesn’t throw away any information, and doesn’t make any adjustments to your photo. For a professional, this is a game-changer.

Giving you the RAW file gives you full control over your photo. Everything from the colors, the contrast, clarity, highlights, shadows, and much more. See how much better the photos on the right look when edited by hand from RAW.


If I have to edit each RAW file myself, isn't this much more time-consuming than just letting the camera do the work?

No. Each takes about the same amount of time.

Yes, but if you want the best results, it's a must.

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