5 Facts Every Good Photographer Should Know

By Geoff Harris

The truly wonderful thing about photography is that's always something new to learn. In fact I don't think it's possible to know everything there is to know. Isn't that great? How can you possibly get bored with a subject so vast and rich in potential for acquiring new knowledge? Here are five things you may not know, but really should.

Lifebelt at the edge of a sand dune on the Northumbrian coast lit by flashlight on a stormy winter evening

An aperture of f/3.5 ensured that the lifebelt in this shot was correctly exposed by the flash, a shutter of speed of 1/10 ensured that the background was slightly and intentionally underexposed.

Flash exposure

The effective range of your flash is controlled by the aperture and ISO settings you use. The larger the aperture or the higher the ISO, the greater the range of your flash. What doesn't affect flash exposure is the shutter speed. The shutter speed you use only affects the exposure of the areas of the scene that aren't illuminated by flash. If you want to darken the background use a faster shutter speed. If you want to reduce the power of the flash use a smaller aperture.

Cawfields Crag on a windy summer's afternoon, Hadrian's Wall Country, Northumberland, England

To achieve a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds for this shot I had to use an aperture of f/16. There is a slight loss of detail due to diffraction but as it's a wind-blurred image anyway I thought this was acceptable.

Lens Quality

Generally, a lens is at its peak optically when you use an aperture roughly somewhere in the middle of the available range. Although using a small aperture may gain you greater depth of field you actually begin to lose sharpness through an optical effect known as diffraction. If you want to squeeze the last drop of image quality out of a lens stick to an aperture somewhere between f/5.6-f/11.

Posts and wire fence running up the Holmwath in the Tees Valley near the route of the Pennine Way, Teesdale, County Durham, England

This shot required +1.7-stops exposure compensation to ensure that the snow looked correctly exposed.


Modern camera meters are wonderful, they really are. But they're not infallible and will occasionally get exposure spectacularly wrong. Camera meters work best when the scene being measured has an average reflectivity. A scene that has a higher-than-average reflectivity (such as sunlit snow) will cause a meter to underexpose. A scene with a lower-than-average reflectivity (a black cat against a black background) will cause a meter to overexpose. When this happens you need to be prepared to apply exposure compensation. Positive compensation of 1 to 2-stops of the snow scene, negative compensation of 1 to 2 stops for the black cat.

Poppies on a war memorial in the Northumbrian village of Wark, Northumberland, England

The predominance of red in this shot caused AWB to add too much blue. A custom white balance ensured that the colours of the flowers were rendered correctly.

White balance

Auto white balance, like metering, is excellent but fallible. It can get really confused if there's a large amount of a particular colour in a scene. A red background can cause AWB to add more blue to the image than is required and vice versa. To be accurate you either need to use a WB pre-set that matches the light source you're shooting under or create a custom white balance using either a piece of white card or a commercial product such as an ExpoDisc.

Bramble leaves covered in hoar frost after a freezing winter's night, Northumberland, England

This sort of shot (with a very out-of-focus background) is difficult to achieve with a small-sensor camera. As compensation it's much easier to achieve front-to-back sharpness with a small-sensor camera.

A smaller sensor means more depth of field

The sensors in compact and phone cameras are tiny compared to those used in a DSLR. This means that the focal length of the lens needs to incredibly small in comparison too. Small focal length lenses mean increased depth of field. This is perfect if you want front-to-back sharpness. It's not so good if you want to try isolate your subject by throwing the background out-of-focus. Photography often involves compromise. Small is beautiful (and often more handy to carry around) but big allows you to bring out your softer side more easily.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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