The Basics of Taking Photos, “why are my photos grainy, blurry, dark, bright…?”

Karl Is WrightDSLR Cameras, Photography

If you’re like me, and after a couple of hours of ogling over the, “ohhhh, pretty” photos of professional photographers. You may well be tempted to take a few photos of your own. But we all know how that went.

Maybe you decided to make a viral YouTube video of your cat or perhaps you thought you’d flatter your family by making your own Christmas photos this year. It goes well right up until you see the photo; it’s too dark, too bright, grainy, your wife has alien eyes, your dog looks more like a Hell Hound. Despite your best intentions, your photo came out horrible. First, congrats on being able to recognize a horrible photo when you see one (there are those who may find it challenging), and second, I’m here to help with some tips and tricks on how to take a photo.

Now, these basics of photography can be used to apply to both photo & video, both real & virtual. Meaning that whether you’re a real world photographer or a computer graphics artist create 3d animations, you’ll find these tips invaluable.



It may help to know a bit about where the word photography comes from. Photograph, is comprised of two Greek words, photos – light, and graphe – drawing. So essentially a photograph is a drawing of light, or as others put it, to paint with light. So a huge part of photography, is all about light. Ever noticed how professional photography studios often have ample lighting, the same goes for movie,  and television studios.



We have two main ways of controlling how the camera takes photos. The first is by adjusting the aperture, which controls how much light hits the film (or image sensor if you use digital).

Websters dictionary defines aperture as;


ˈap-ə(r)-ˌchu̇r, -chər, -ˌtyu̇r, -ˌtu̇r

: an opening or open space :hole


a: the opening in a photographic lens that admits the light b: the diameter of the stop in an optical system that determines the diameter of the bundle of rays traversing the instrument c: the diameter of the objective lens or mirror of a telescope

The opening the definition refers to, is created by a ring of fans, which sit in your lens, expanding and contracting as necessary.

Another word for this is, F-Stop, represented by an integer value, where typical usage ranges from f/1.2 (bigger) to f/32 (smaller). To help you remember the way these values work, try thinking of them as fractions, ie 1/½  >  1/32. Most lenses have a specified range of “F-Stops” that they can be set to, or that they work best with, a single “F-Stop” denotes a factor of ≈ √2.

It functions something like this;


Area = π (ƒ/2N)²

Here, ƒ stands for, focal length, N is the F-number, and Area refers to the area of the aperture.

Note: If you’re using this equation to compare between two lenses of the same length, you can replace the ƒ with a 1.


Typical “F-Stop” values are listed here:

f/1.4 – f/2 – f/2.8 – f/4 – f/5.6 – f/8 – f/11 – f/16 – f/22 – f/32


Because a single “F-Stop” is ≈ √2, you can find the next “F-Stop” value from where you are currently at but multiplying by √2 and then rounding to the nearest tenth.


Shutter Speed

The second method used to adjust the lighting of your photo, is shutter speed, however another word for it is exposure time. The shutter speed of the camera controls how long the film, or image sensor, is exposed to the light source. With a faster shutter speed, the film is exposed to fewer photons, thus reducing the brightness of the image. The inverse is true with slower shutter speeds.

The shutter speed is denoted by a fractional numeric value corresponding to how many seconds or fractions of a second the film is exposed.. These values are as follows;


4s – 2s – 1s – 1/2s – 1/4s – 1/8s – 1/15s – 1/30s – 1/60s – 1/125s – 1/250s – 1/500s – 1/1000s

*values are measured in seconds and fractions of a second.


Shorter shutter speeds like 1/125s will allow you to take clear photos of fast moving objects, or freeze-frame. While a slower shutter speed, like 4s produces a motion blur effect, where objects moving at greater speed have less clearly defined edges.