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Paul Harris Blog

Become a Photographer: Understanding the 3 Pillars of Photography

I get asked from many people how to improve their photography. Like most skills and professions, it is one’s ability to do the basic things proficiently that makes someone great at something. You must first understand what the basic ‘things’ are before you can improve at them.

When you start to work on anything it is best to do the simple things properly. Furthermore, the more you practise and learn at the simple things daily you begin to compound your understanding the more you can advance down the road.


Mostly all of capturing the perfect picture is a photographer’s ability to judge light. When you judge the light; for instance, the direction, intensity and tone you have mastered the main battle.

When considering light there are certain attribute of a DSLR that you must know. These consist of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. These are the three attributes that I will explain within this blog.

Please note that I will go over how these attributes change when using flash in my next blog.


Simply put, aperture is a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. A camera acts light the human eye, the more light that enters the eye the smaller the iris becomes. Therefore, the smaller the Iris, or in this case, the aperture the less light that can enter.

The aperture and the F stop have an inverse relation. When you increase the F stop value (e.g. from f1.2 to f2.2) then you decrease the amount of light that is available.

One secondary and crucial factor to consider is that the aperture also affects the depth of field. The lower the F stop, such as f/1.4 in the diagram above the more blurred everything other than the focal point in the image becomes.

A lens that has an aperture of f/1.2 or f/1.4 as the maximum aperture is considered to be a fast lens, because it can pass through more light than, for example, a lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.0. That’s why lenses with large apertures are better suited for low light photography.

If you are using flashgun that the aperture will dictate how much light you portray on the foreground of your image, or the thing you are focusing on. There if you are shooting on f1.4 and therefore you would expect the background to be blurred out, with flash the background will appear blackened out.

Shutter Speed

The second pillar of understanding how your camera operates is the shutter speed. The shutter in this case being the door that opens and closes in order to let the light in. The longer the door stays open the more light that comes in.

Sutter speed is when shooting in both light and dark areas. When in light areas the function is very regularly set to automatic with just the ISO and aperture dictating the timing. However, in dark area the automated function does not work so seamlessly and you have to be aware of the tools you have available to you. If you are hand holding in darker areas that a very low shutter speed in required. However, if you are using a tripod than you can afford a lower shutter speed.

The lower the shutter speed the more light drag you will see in your shot. If for instance you are photographing fireworks you will see the light as one steady stream. Although this can sometimes distort shots it can also create a significant level of atmosphere to your images.

Say for instance you want to capture a picture of someone in a dimly lit bar, using flashgun, by increasing the shutter speed and decreased the aperture, you should be able to capture the person clearly whilst also capturing the colours and atmosphere that is shown in the back ground.


Lastly, ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera. The component within your camera that can change sensitivity is called “image sensor” or simply “sensor”. It is the most important (and most expensive) part of a camera and it is responsible for gathering light and transforming it into an image. With increased sensitivity, your camera sensor can capture images in low-light environments without having to use a flash. But higher sensitivity comes at an expense – it adds grain or “noise” to the pictures.

In high light areas, you can again set your ISO to automatic and the levels should correct themselves in line with the aperture you require. However, in low light areas the ISO will be something you want to set manually.

One important thing to factor in setting the ISO is that every increment from 100 to 200, then 200 to 400 and so on will effectively double the sensitivity of the sensor, and therefore the light captured in the photograph.

The main way to get the most from your photographs to have your setting on as low as ISO as possible which is generally 100 or 200 to retain the best quality and most amount of detail. In low light situation, you will therefore have to increase to the point that reduces all blur to produce a clear quality image.

When using flash both the direction of the flash light and the ISO will dictate the overall exposure. Where you are pointing the flash directly at the subject or person you will want to lower your flash right down to say 400, however when the is less light as you are bouncing the flash off the wall you may want to have a 500-800 ISO.


These are the so called “3 pillars” of photography and are the cornerstone to capturing an incredible image. Assuming you know how to operate these functions with and without flash and you who’s the appropriate lenses you should be able to capture some amazing pictures.

For more advice on photography please visit the rest of my blog.


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