Sure, it takes a good eye and a great camera to capture the perfect wanderlust moment, but it also takes an understanding of the basic terms and settings. While the technical jargon can seem like a foreign language at first, it’ll help you improve your photography. Like, a lot.
To help, we’ve compiled a glossary of the most important basics. Now you can combine your creative eye, your camera, and all of the settings you need to capture beautiful landscapes, skylines, and architecture. Added bonus: after reading this, you can start dropping words like ‘bokeh’ into conversations.
What it is: This one’s a biggie. Aperture is the size of the opening of a lens. It works just like our pupils adjusting to sun or darkness. A wide aperture lets in more light, while a narrow aperture reduces light. Depending on what type of light you’re shooting in, you can adjust the aperture to make sure you have enough light you need for the photo.
How to use it: Aperture is measured in f-stops. A small f-stop (anything below f/4) is a wide opening, whereas a large f-stop (anything above f/16) is narrow. In addition to determining the image’s amount of light or darkness, aperture also determines how much of the image is focus. Want a soft, defocused background? Use a lens with a wide aperture. Want the whole image in sharp focus? Use a lens with a narrow aperture.
2. Depth of Field
What it is: Depth of field (DOF) is the focal range of your photo. A shallow DOF creates a defocused background while a deeper DOF keeps more of your scene in focus.
How to use it: A deeper DOF is great for capturing travel or landscape photography to keep as much of your scene in focus as possible. As you become familiar with how aperture works, it’s important to know how it affects your depth of field. As your aperture gets wider, your depth of field gets shallower with less of your photo in focus.
3. Shutter Speed
What it is: Shutter speed means how slow or fast your shutter opens and closes to expose your desired image to the camera sensor. It’s measured by the second, with faster speeds being a fraction of a second (1/4000), and slower speeds taking as long as 30 seconds. The speed of which your shutter opens and closes will determine how much light and motion your camera captures.
How to use it: For travelers looking to photograph a low light occasion - like an evening in Paris - a slower shutter speed will allow your camera sensor to be exposed longer and absorb more light. If sharpness is a priority, opt for a camera with built-in image stabilization to counteract hand and camera movement, enabling the use of slower shutter speeds without stabilizing gear (like a tripod).
A slow shutter speed can also offer creative ranges for travel photographers snapping intentionally blurred subjects of traffic or waterfalls, while a faster shutter speed is necessary when you want to freeze motion, like a sharp image of a bird in flight.
What it is: ISO measures the light sensitivity of your camera sensor. When you think of ISO, think of quality: High ISO means low image quality.
How to use it: To start with, use Auto ISO. If you’re outdoors or in a bright environment, your camera will automatically adjust to a lower ISO, decreasing “noise” or “artifacts” in your image. However, when you’re in a low light environment, your camera will boost your ISO to get better exposure and less blur.
5. White Balance
What it is: White balance is the camera’s way of adjusting to different light sources. This means the white you see in real life will also appear white in the photo.
How to use it: When shooting in a scene with a variety of lights and colors, make sure to set the white balance properly. The Auto setting is the best starting place, but if you want to change the mood of an image, set the White Balance to under 5000 K for a cool look, and over 5000 K for warmer feel.
What it is: Metering is used to measure the brightness of your frame to ensure proper exposure.
How to use it: This is particularly useful for backlit subjects, particularly when shooting portraits. Spot-metering will calculate the proper light for the center of the image, while Matrix-metering will calculate the amount of light for the whole image.
What it is: Bokeh is the term used to reference the soft, out-of-focus blur you create in parts of your image.
How to use it: First, make sure you’re shooting with a shallow depth of field by shooting with a wide aperture. This creates more distance between your subject (which will be sharp) and background (which will be blurry) to create beautiful bokeh effect. The more distance you have between the subject and the background can help you create greater separation and three-dimensionality in your image.
8. Long exposure
What it is: Long exposure is -quite literally - an image that has been exposed for a long time.
How to use it: To achieve this, keep your camera on a tripod to steady the frame. Then, adjust the lens to a narrow aperture and use a slow shutter speed (5 to 30 seconds). Try using a camera with a Live Composite as this will automatically stitch your photos together. It works by extracting the brightest areas from a sequence of interval shots (like car lights or fireworks, for example) and stacking the shots together into one perfectly exposed image. By capturing dim and bright areas simultaneously, this feature allows you to easily capture night scenes, cityscapes, and star trails without using more advanced photography techniques.