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Photography Basics

Ever wonder what it is that actually makes a camera work? This tutorial will cover the inner workings of a camera, and introduce you into photography basics and the expansive world of taking better photographs.

To take beautiful photographs you do not need an expensive camera and a bag full of equipment. What is important is the photographer’s ability to see his/her surrounding and use knowledge and personal feel for the subject.

Being the first article in a series, this lesson is meant to only cover the basics of photography. The idea with this series is to get people more interested in photography, awaken creativity and hopefully help people enjoy this hobby even more. The community here at Tutorial9 is an important part of this series and I would love to hear your feedback and questions.

An introduction to Photography

The word “photography” is French but is based on Greek word and literarily means “drawing with light“. That’s what photography is all about, without light — no photograph. The art of photography is basically seeing and balancing the light.

The illustration to the left shows the path the light travels from the object to the sensor (or film in non-digital cameras).

First the light needs to go through the lens, which is a series of differently shaped pieces of glass. If the focus is good then the light will meet on the sensor.

The aperture is placed inside the lens and is basically an opening that controls how much light reaches the sensor.

On most modern cameras the shutter is placed inside the camera body. This piece of mechanics is what controls how long time the sensor is exposed to the light.

The sensor is a very sensitive plate where the light is absorbed and transformed into pixels. As you can see on this illustration, the image the sensor picks up is actually upside down, just like our eyes sees the world, the processor inside the camera then flips it.


The aperture sits inside the lens and controls how much light passes through the lens and onto the sensor. A large aperture lets through very much light and vice versa. Knowing how the aperture affects the photograph is one of the most important parts of photography — it affects the amount of light, depth of field, lens speed, sharpness and vignetting among other things. I will talk more about these things in later parts of this series.

F-numbers, a mathematical number that expresses the diameter of the aperture, are an important part of understanding how the aperture and exposure work. All f-numbers have a common notation, such as ƒ/5.6 for an f-number of 5.6. There are a set numbers of f-numbers that are used in photography, there are several different scales but the “standard” full-stop f-number scale is this:

ƒ/# 1.4 2 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22 32

These are known as full-stop f-numbers. If you decrease the f-number with one full-stop, like ƒ/4 to ƒ/2.8, the amount of light that passes through will double. If you increase the f-number with one full-stop, like ƒ/5.6 to ƒ/8, only half the amount of light will reach the sensor.

There can be several f-numbers between the ones above — depending on what scale is being used. The most common one is a 1/3 scale, which means that every third step is a full-stop, and thus giving you two settings between every full-stop. For example between ƒ/8 and ƒ/11 you will find ƒ/9 and ƒ/10. This can be rather confusing at first, so here’s a short reminder:

A higher f-number = a smaller aperture = less light

A lower f-number = a larger aperture = more light


The shutter is what controls how long the sensor is exposed to the light. The longer the shutter is open the more light can be captured by the sensor. A fast shutter speed will result in “freezing” a moving object and a slow shutter speed will let you capture the motion of a moving object.

There is a scale of stops for the shutter speeds just like for the aperture, below are the full-stops.

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

And just as with the aperture, the shutter speed is often on a 1/3 scale, giving your two steps in between every full-stop. For example between 1/60s and 1/125s you will find 1/80s and 1/100s.

The two primary factors which control exposure are shutter speed and aperture. We will cover these things in greater detail in other lessons.

See [LINK TO EXPOSURE TUTORIAL] for an article on how exposure works.


The ISO speed (the name comes from the International Organization for Standardization) is a measure of the film speed, or its sensitivity to light. With digital cameras the ISO affects the sensor instead of the film, but the principal is the same. A low ISO speed requires a longer exposure and is referred to as slow, a high ISO speed requires less time to give the same exposure and is therefore referred to as fast. One step in the ISO equals one full-stop, so the ISO is not on a 1/3 scale — film can be found with 1/3 ISO speeds, but it’s uncommon in the digital world. These are the most common ISO speeds.

ISO 50 100 200 400 800 1600 3200

On 35mm film, a film with high ISO speed had much more grain than a slower film — but the modern sensors don’t create the same grain with high ISO speeds. Instead it creates noise. The digital noise is not as favorable as the film grain and can destroy a photo if it’s too visible (the same goes with the grain, but it’s effect was more subtle and often more liked).

If light is no problem, then always use a low ISO number but if you’re indoors with bad light or other conditions when you find the combination of aperture/shutter not to be enough the ISO speed can be a great asset. New digital sensors are constantly developed and the noise levels with high ISO speeds are decreasing with every new release.

Ready to check out our basic and advanced photography tutorials?


  1. Add point Subtract point
    sam cena (1 Point) February 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Hi,it is nice and i know about basic of photography .

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  2. Add point Subtract point

    Great article, it cleared my mind, I was so confused on what the shutter speed and aperture really does. I’m playing with my new Nikon D3100 and I can see the difference on the pic when different f values and shutter speeds.


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    sarojsaroj (1 Point) January 15, 2011 at 4:52 am

    excellent article
    thank you very much
    do u have more of this stuff?

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  4. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks you so much! It’s helpful!

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    Prathap (2 Points) December 29, 2010 at 3:21 am

    Good explanation for the basics of photography. I am a beginner and your article is really helpful and guiding. Thanks Fredrik. :)

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  6. Add point Subtract point

    Thank you v.much…
    im a starter and this helped me understand a lot of concepts :)

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  7. Add point Subtract point

    This is one of the best photographic basics at the elementary level. I plan on asking my kids to read this article as a starter.

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    Sameer Shakya (1 Point) December 15, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Struggling for photography

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    น้ำหอมฟีโรโมน (0 Points) November 19, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I’ll remember…

    A higher f-number = a smaller aperture = less light
    A lower f-number = a larger aperture = more light

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  10. Add point Subtract point

    Wonderful article! Thank you so much! :)

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  11. Add point Subtract point

    Amazing information.I am new to photography but it makes me fell like i am a good photographer….:)thanks guys…:)

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    Top Rated Cameras (3 Points) November 15, 2010 at 3:58 am

    This is such a wonderful explanation and illustration on aperture and shutter priority! This article is indeed a very helpful and informative post specially for newbies like me. I just bought a new camera and I’m on the process of learning some basic shots particularly with different light settings, aperture and shutter speed settings, focus and some macro shots :) I learned a lot from your post and I hope you post some more techniques on photography! :D

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  13. Add point Subtract point

    Thankyou! Very Thoughtful and User Friendly Approach for Beginners. Kudos!

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  14. Add point Subtract point

    A very good article for the upcoming photographers. Neatly explained all points.


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    Ashish Nimsarkar (1 Point) October 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Very nice article.Thank you.

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    Himanshu (1 Point) October 19, 2010 at 9:07 am

    its really very good for beginners…..:-)

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  17. Add point Subtract point

    thanks a lot,,,,use full article for beginers.

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    الفيس بوك (1 Point) September 28, 2010 at 8:18 am

    very simple basics but in facts its the very main basics in photography world

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    Virginia Grant (1 Point) September 27, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Concise and informative – good job

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  20. Add point Subtract point

    Excellent!Very lucid indeed.

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    Mahesh (1 Point) August 31, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Thank u 4 this valuable informations, it’s really great..

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    Anand Srinivasan (1 Point) August 29, 2010 at 9:05 am

    nice article. definetly a must-a-read for beginners

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  23. Add point Subtract point

    Very good article. Simple to understand. Best thing for a beginner. Thanks.

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    Veronica (0 Points) August 18, 2010 at 9:43 am

    This article was great! Thanks! A good follow up would be how these three work together when taking photos

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    Sreekanth (1 Point) August 17, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Superb article what could be a complex understanding has been made simple.

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  26. Add point Subtract point
    Shehanya (1 Point) August 11, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Thank You very much! it was very useful!

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  27. Add point Subtract point

    thanks for this useful information

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    slasch – Davidson, NC (1 Point) July 9, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Thanks, Fredrik. Well done. Precisely what I was looking for: clarity, not confusion. I’m looking forward to the rest of your series –


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  29. Add point Subtract point
    MicMart (1 Point) July 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

    As a beginner to have interest on photograpy, its good to know more about the basics.



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  30. Add point Subtract point
    Ashish (1 Point) May 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    This article eliminated most of my confusion with aperture and shutter and ISO. Very nice article. Thanks for having such good information here :-).

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Kathy – Chicago, IL (1 Point) April 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Thanks very much. I am just getting back into photography and the simple, easy to understand info is a great kick-start.

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    Mark – London, UK (1 Point) March 14, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Thanks for this tutorial. It covers the basics in a very understandable and easy to follow way. Something that several books I have recently purchased failed to do.

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    SACHIN (1 Point) March 9, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Great article !!! Thanks a lot !!!

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  34. Add point Subtract point

    Have read lots of books but they go into so much details I got confused, this first tutorial has made much more sense.

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  35. Add point Subtract point

    It is a very nice tutorial for the beginners..

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  36. Add point Subtract point
    Ahmad Zaki Ahmad (1 Point) February 8, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Good explaination and easy to understand for beginner like me.

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  37. Add point Subtract point

    What’s the actual meaning of Focus ?

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  38. Add point Subtract point

    Whats the actual meaning of Focus ?

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  39. Add point Subtract point

    Whats the actual mening of Focus ?

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  40. Add point Subtract point
    ฟังเพลงออนไลน์ (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 4:07 am

    Great reading! Thanks for sharing137

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  41. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Great reading! Thanks for sharing130

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  42. Add point Subtract point
    โค้ดเพลงhi5 (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Great reading! Thanks for sharing

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  43. Add point Subtract point

    Very Simple and Very Effective… Appreciate your job…!

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  44. Add point Subtract point

    a detailed explanation in very simple words.thank u .

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  45. Add point Subtract point

    a detailed explanation in very simple words.thank u .

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  46. Add point Subtract point

    a detailed explanation in very simple words.thank u .

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  47. Add point Subtract point

    a detailed explanation in very simple words.thank u .

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  48. Add point Subtract point

    The basic tutorial is very proffessional.

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  49. Add point Subtract point

    excellent work. now i am confident of purchasing SLR

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    Amber Russell (1 Point) November 16, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Hello Frederick!

    I am in the military and new to the wonderful world of Public Affairs. With that, comes the responsibility of taking excellent pictures. As of late, my pics have not been so great. Admittedly, in formal training, PJ wasn’t my strength.
    I am very grateful to have this tutorial to reference for advice and tips on becoming a great photographer.

    Thank you : )


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  51. Add point Subtract point

    Soooo Thanks… It was Too Better for Begginars..
    Thanks For Sharing….

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  52. Add point Subtract point

    Thank u
    Your site is of my help

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  53. Add point Subtract point

    This is one of the best post i found on Photography !!
    Thanks for sharing :)

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  54. Add point Subtract point

    Simple and clear, the beginner in photography can understand it too.
    Thanks for share…

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  55. Add point Subtract point
    elangovan (1 Point) October 30, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Xcellant work . Great gift to Beginners

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  56. Add point Subtract point
    vinay sayal (1 Point) October 29, 2009 at 9:39 am


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  57. Add point Subtract point
    Girish Chandran (1 Point) October 17, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Incredible explanation. Very easy to apprehend and understand. Basics cant be explained much clearly than this. Thanks a bunch.

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  58. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks a lot for a detailed explanation in very simple terms. i would recommend all my friends & beginners to go through this tutorial.

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  59. Add point Subtract point

    thank u for description is great and simple.

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  60. Add point Subtract point
    Arindam (1 Point) August 26, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Thanks, simple yet informative tutorial.

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  61. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks. Its simple and of great help for beginers

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  62. Add point Subtract point
    Rohit jain (1 Point) July 20, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks so much, this was a great help.

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  63. Add point Subtract point

    This is very helpful for beginners like me. Thank you very much

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  64. Add point Subtract point
    Amila G. (1 Point) April 30, 2009 at 1:31 am

    Thank you very much sir!

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  65. Add point Subtract point
    Marites Cabaral (1 Point) April 25, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Thank you for this very

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  66. Add point Subtract point

    wow, gee thanks! I guess you did a fine job in summarizing these critical knowledge for beginners such as me. (Trust me, I’ve been looking here and there for these info and seriously, you just helped me understand a lot of terms by putting everything in a big picture. no pun intended:)

    this is some of my background: I am interested in buying a DSLR and looking around (interested in the olympus E-420) and i also want to look into other canon cameras (why are they so popular anyways) you think you can give me some tips on how to find the best camera…you know what to look for?

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  67. Add point Subtract point

    i really need to know the basic requirement for a beginer like me,can u provide me with usefull information to this effect,i’ll be glad to see ur feedback.
    Thanks alot

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  68. Add point Subtract point

    Gr8 information. i mean it actually made me understand the basics which are extremely necessary foa a beginner. Gr8 work indeed!!

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  69. Add point Subtract point

    This is a great little start tutorial. I wish i had this when i was in class back in the day. Thanks

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  70. Add point Subtract point

    Excellent tutorial and well written

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  71. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks for this tutorial. I’ve always had knowledge of most of what is in here but it always helps to refresh that.

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  72. Add point Subtract point

    This is an excellent beginner tutorial. This covers that concepts that a beginner needs to know to proceed further. As a relative beginner myself I am glad that I now understand the basics before trying to get too advanced. Thanks.

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  73. Add point Subtract point
    Dewdrops (1 Point) October 11, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Hi Fred,
    I was searching for a tutorial to learn basics of photography …and finally ended here…
    the tutorial is awesome…..I just got my DSLR….after reading this Iam confident that my photos will turnout well…

    If you have time visit this :
    I have uploaded few of my DSLR works…do comment and I need you guidance

    Thanks once again for your detailed explanations….very helpful


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  74. Add point Subtract point

    As a Wife, Mother and Grandparent, that has almost forgot everything I ever knew about cameras, I just want to Thank You for such great tutorials that helps me with my new camera and on my way to getting wonderful merories of my grown children along with their children. You certainly put in the time and effort. I want to give you my heart felt Thanks.

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  75. Add point Subtract point

    What a great reference. Your imagery really makes it all concrete and understandable. You make a great teacher. :)

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  76. Add point Subtract point

    I have been searching the internet a lot for information on basics of photography… This site is by far one of the best….clear simple concise info on how a camera works!! Thanks for sharing

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  77. Add point Subtract point

    Thank you so much! my savior! =P I’ve been wondering a lot about the grains in my camera, lately. Whew. Thank you! thank you!

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  78. Add point Subtract point

    these are really good guide for beginner.
    have been spending few days on other guides but I find this is really the best guide so far:)

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  79. Add point Subtract point

    absolutely awesome! I wanna read it again… Thank you

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  80. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Jana, I’m glad to hear you find it to be interesting reading even when you don’t have a camera!

    Okay, both the aperture and shutter controls how much light reaches the sensor. They control this together and do it in two different ways, the aperture how much at a time and the shutter how long.
    To simplify it a bit, let’s compare it to a dam with floodgates. The aperture controls how much water (light) is let through and the shutter controls how long the gates are open. That might not be the best comparison but the idea is the same. You can leave the gates open with a small opening for a long time or you can open them up full for a very short time and still get about the same amount of water to the other side.

    I hope I didn’t confuse you even more…

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  81. Add point Subtract point

    It’s been a few days since I started reading the tutorials here and it doesn’t matter if it’s photography or Photoshop or Illustrator, because they are detailed and well written and explained it just makes me want more to do those things. If only I could have a camera now, but at least I’m beginning to understand the basics of photography and ways how one feature or another works! And thank you for that, cause you keep me inspired :)

    just one question:

    “The aperture is placed inside the lens and is basically an opening that controls how much light reaches the sensor.”
    “The shutter is what controls how long the sensor is exposed to the light. The longer the shutter is open the more light can be captured by the sensor.”

    Are there any more specific differences between the shutter and the aperture functions as they both control light flowing through, but they’re kind of 2 different things?

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    doncarlito (1 Point) May 27, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    while reading,im doing some manual setting of my camera..thanks for making it simple to understand,thanks.

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  83. Add point Subtract point

    @ Becky – Everything Fredrik just said! Here are the rest of our Photography Tutorials. As Fredrik said, we’ll have many more by fall ready!

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  84. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Matt!

    Becky, I don’t mind at all, it would actually be an honor. Remember that all tutorials here at Tutorial9 have a print-friendly version if you intend to print them out.
    Let me know if there’s anything special you want me to cover next, or if you or the students have any questions. By the time the course start we should have quite a large number of photography articles. Thanks for your kind words, it’s always appreciated.

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    Becky (1 Point) May 20, 2008 at 12:28 am

    This tutorial is excellent. Hope you don’t mind if I assign it to my students this fall! I’m going to be teaching a basic photography course and this is clear, to the point, and has great illustrations. Thanks.

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    Matt (1 Point) May 16, 2008 at 9:33 am

    great post. Almost photo 101 in one post. Keep up the great work!

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    ShafeeQ, I’m glad to hear that you learned something and that you’re now interested in the world of photography.
    Read through the rest of the photography tutorials (new content will come regularly) and head over to our forums if you want some personal advice or support etc.

    @James, Dave, nissa and ShafeeQ; Thanks for kind words, it’s always great to hear!

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    ShafeeQ (1 Point) May 5, 2008 at 9:44 am

    I am an Art Student, but I am not interested on photography, because i don’t know, whats happening inside the camera, my friends keeps saying, “increase shutter Spd, lower the ISO,” I asked them can you explain me, what language you talking; they cant explain well, they trying, but they couldn’t; Any way, Now I Understood whole anatomy of the camera, and how its work.

    Now im really interested to buy my SLR. I am confident i will be do a great Job.

    Thank you very much for Fredrik Silverglimth and

    “I hope you will guide a huge community those who are panic to expose their own ability”

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  89. Add point Subtract point

    This is a really awesome tutorial Fredrik. It’s very evident you spent a lot of time preparing and laying this out! Great work, and keep’em coming!

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  90. Add point Subtract point
    iii James iii (1 Point) May 1, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Been awaiting this one a while…

    So much info! Great tutorial!

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