Digital Photography for Dummies

by . August 29th, 2012

Graphic designers employ different raw materials for their artworks. These can be in the form of simple doodles, textures, patterns and of course photos; all of which can be sourced from different parts of the Internet. Still, majority of graphic artists choose to use photos as the base for their creations, primarily because the complexity of photographs in terms of details and construction gives designers a huge room for flexing their creative muscles.

However, even with a constant supply of new images uploaded each day to the World Wide Web, finding that unique and original photo for your design project can sometimes be very difficult and oftentimes can be quite expensive.

A simple solution is to just create your own photos. Not only will you be able to make a design from scratch, but having photography as a skill can also help a designer improve his portfolio and resume. But let’s face it, not everyone can be a pro in taking pictures overnight, right? Fortunately, we here at You The Designer have compiled a list of a few basic photography terms that will certainly jump start your interest in photography.




Before you can take those stunning pictures for your design projects, we must first learn the process of how a camera captures an image. Basically, there are 3 important components needed for a photograph to be created – light, lens and a sensor. Here’s a short YouTube video that summarizes the process.

In a nutshell, photos are made when light enters the camera through the lens, while the image sensors electronically record the image in terms of pixels (imagine a mosaic tile artwork like the image below. The image is made out of tiles with each tile representing a pixel).

Pixels are like the tile pieces in this mosaic tile artwork (Source)


The amount of pixels (or megapixels) in an area determines the resolution of the image. So the more pixels you can fit in an area, the more detailed the image gets.

A high-res image means there are more pixels available in the area of the image (Source)

There’s also this thing called the aspect ratio. The aspect ratio refers to the shape or format of the image produced by the camera. This is calculated by dividing the width of the image by its height. (In English) This determines if your image would be square, rectangle, a tall quadrilateral or what not.




Photo effects are generally achieved by manipulating some factors such as the amount of light that enter the lens or adjusting the sensitivity of the sensor to light. Here are some basic terms you need to know first.

Aperture – this is the adjustable opening (f-stop) of a lens that determines how much light enters the camera. Different cameras have different aperture which are denoted numerically: f1/4, f/5.6, f/22, etc. Cameras with lower aperture allow more light to enter the lens and are best for portraits while those with higher apertures allow for greater depth of field and are best for landscapes.


Samples of Aperture Settings (Source)

In English: It’s the size of the hole in which light enters your camera.



ISO (International Standards Organization) – is a numerical rating that indicates an image sensor’s sensitivity to light. This is particularly useful when shooting in low light conditions. However, increasing a camera’s ISO setting can lead to “graininess” of an image.

How ISO Settings can affect your images (Source)

In English: It’s the setting that determines your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light.


Saturation – it is the depth of the colors within an image. High levels of color are described as heavily saturated while those with lower levels of saturation are usually described as images having a muted color palette.

Color Saturation variations can make an image look pale or vibrant (Source)

In English: It’s the amount of color in an image. The more color you have, the more saturated is the image.


Depth of Field – it is the measure of how much of the background and foreground area before and beyond your subject is in focus. Depth of field can be controlled by increasing or decreasing the aperture size of the lens.

An image with a narrow depth of field (Source)

In English: It is the distance of how near/far is your camera from the subject without losing focus on your subject.


Depth of Focus – this is the measurement of the area in focus within an image. It is measured from the closest point of focus to the furthest point of focus and are usually interchanged with depth of field.

Sample of an image with a low depth of focus (Source)

In English: It is the area in your image that is in focus.


Optical zoom – this is the act of magnifying your subject by moving the lens further or nearer the image sensor. Unlike Digital zoom, optical zoom is a lossless way of capturing an image, which means all the details in your photo are not lost whenever you zoom in on an object.

Here’s a candid commercial ad about the power of optical zoom (Source)

In English: You use your camera much like a telescope to magnify images from a distance.


Digital zoom – this is a type of zoom function that takes the central portion of a digital image and crops into it to achieve the effect of a zoom. There is no enhancement done on the image in this type of zoom but rather, the image is just displayed at a lower resolution, thereby giving an effect of a zoom.

Here’s a sample of how digital zoom works (Source)

In English: You take a portion of your image and stretch it to make it look bigger.


Noise – the appearance of color artifacts within a digital image. Noise usually appears on images captured at high ISO settings or when there is heat buildup in the sensors from continuous shooting especially in hot environments.

Here’s a sample of an image with lots of noise (Source)

In English: If you’re looking at an image that looks like it was drawn on or with sand, that’s noise.

Shutter  – This is the mechanism in the camera that controls the duration of time the light reaches the sensor. Shutter speed on the other hand is the length of time the shutter remains open when the shutter release is activated.



Now that we’ve all been acquainted with the most common photography terms, we’ll now look at some basic photo effects we can use with our images.

Blooming – This is the appearance of bright or colored halo around brighter areas of an image. Blooming is caused by excess light entering the camera and therefore can be done by controlling the aperture.

Sample of photo blooming (Source)

In English: This is the process of giving your image that ghostly feel.

Bokeh – this refers to the out-of-focus areas in a photograph with limited depth of field. Good bokeh usually has a more natural appearance and is commonly defined by smoother, round-shaped highlights that blend smoothly into darker shadow areas.

Bokeh Sample (Source)

In English: The amount of Blur in your image.

Vignetting – darkening of the edges of an image due to the inability of the lens to distribute light evenly to the corners of the frame. Although it’s more of an electrical anomaly in the picture, the effect is considered a creative tool in directing the focus back to the center of the frame.

Sample of Vignetting (Source)




If you think that all these terms are a little bit of an information overload, worry no more because camera manufacturers nowadays have incorporated various mechanisms in their devices to help novice photographers. Here are some of them.

Anti-Shake (Image Stabilization) – also known as vibration reduction, this feature reduces the movement of the camera when taking a picture. This acts as a leveler for your camera and minimizes the incidence of blur in your images.

Auto White Balance (AWB) – this is a function of a camera that automatically adjusts the white balance of the scene to a neutral setting regardless of the color characteristics of the ambient light source. This feature corrects the color of the images which may be disrupted due to bad lighting conditions.

Auto Focus – this is the ability of a camera to keep the lens in focus during the exposure. It is most useful for novice photographers as well as users who use point and shoot cameras.

Camera Focus Points (Source)


Noise Reduction – this is a special feature in cameras nowadays that minimizes the appearance of noise in an image. In general, the process of removing noise in an image usually happens within the camera’s image processor and is done automatically after taking pictures.

And that’s about it. I hope that this post was helpful for aspiring photographers out there in directing you to the right path when it comes to taking pictures. If you think we missed some important terms in this article or you want to clarify some items, please feel free to contact us by leaving a comment below. You can also leave a message on our Facebook, Twitter and Google+ profiles for more information or clarification. Lastly, you can also subscribe to our RSS feeds for more design related news, features and updates straight from our inspiration factories. Till next time!