5 Ways to Learn Photography Basics and Improve Camera Skills


Aperture. Shutter speed. Exposure. Depth of field. You’ve heard these terms before. Camera enthusiasts love to talk about them. But what do they really mean? What effect do they have on a photo? It’s time to find out, and use the knowledge to take better pictures.

While you should read tips for photography beginners and other such articles, they won’t magically make you better. Photography is an accessible skill, and like every skill, you need to understand the basics, the techniques, and practice.

These websites and tutors will teach you these basics with interactive demos. Next you’ll find some courses to go through. And finally, a thorough guide to improve your smartphone photography game.

1. Photography Mapped (Web): Learn the Basic Elements of a Camera

Let’s start with Photography Mapped, an unusual but effective new tool. This interactive web app teaches you the basics of a camera, using an illustration of helicopter against buildings.

photography mapped

You can adjust five settings: light, aperture, shutter speed, sensor, and exposure. When you toggle the value of any of these settings, the picture will change accordingly. Right under these settings, there is an explanation of what effect your change has. For example, opening the shutter longer will make the picture look blurry.

At any point, the exposure works as a meter to balance the image using the other values. Try it a few times and you will understand the interrelation between these basic camera elements.

2. Photoskop (Web): Interactive DSLR Tutorial

Photoskop is like a polished, big-boy version of Photography Mapped. It uses real photos, shows changes in real-time, and explains a lot more things.


Things get a little more technical in Photoskop. For example, it details each element that changes when you toggle the aperture. You’ll understand photography details like exposure time, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, focal length, white balance, and more.

This interactive, changing-on-the-fly demonstration is incredible. It takes complex subjects like white balance and shows what they really mean. You can go back and forth as you need, since the whole site is in Adobe Flash, and not a video.

In the end, you’ll be much better prepared to make full use of your DSLR or compact mirrorless camera.

3. Reddit PhotoClass (Web): Practical Knowledge, Not Theory

Reddit, the internet’s largest general-purpose forum, isn’t only about fun and trolls. You can learn a lot from Reddit. Take, for example, this excellent Photo Class.

reddit photoclass

Back in August 2010, photographer Alex Buisse posted a 30-lesson tutorial on photography basics. The idea was to “assume no prior knowledge, and focus on the practical over theoretical explanations.” It now lives on its own site, free for anyone to access. Make it your own 30-day life-changing project, or take Buisse’s recommended week-by-week approach. It’s really up to you.

The class is so popular that there’s a new subreddit for it each year. This year’s /r/photoclass2017 is already under way, but maybe you can catch up. If not, there are other ways to improve your photography skills with Reddit.

4. Smartphone Photography 101 (Web): A Guide for Any Phone

They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and today, that’s usually your smartphone. Let’s face it, phone cameras are no slouches. And if you have the right techniques, tricks, and apps, you’ll take some great shots.

Photography Concentrate created the most detailed smartphone photography tutorial I have seen online. It has everything from how to pick a phone and the apps you need, to editing images and sharing or printing them.

The most important part of this course though is the focus on composition. Your phone’s camera has some limitations compared to a DSLR. But the tool isn’t the problem in 90% of photos. What you need to learn is how to compose photos and what to look for or avoid in any frame.

5. Digital Photography Exposed (Web): Take a Free Harvard Course

That’s right, you can take an entire photography course taught at the Harvard Extension School, completely free. Computer scientist and photographer Dan Armendariz uploaded his “Exposing Digital Photography” course for anyone to view online or on YouTube.

digital photography exposed

Don’t rush to YouTube though, go to the course’s homepage linked above. There you will learn what the course entails. It explores the art of photography, its scientific principles, and its techniques. Finally, it teaches students to properly use photography software like Photoshop or Lightroom.

The site also has the proper order to watch the lectures, as well as accompanying slides. It’s more technical and time-consuming than the tutorials mentioned above, but that also makes it the most thorough.

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