Learn Photography: Traditional SLR Basics

The first step in how to learn photography is an understanding of traditional SLR (or single-lens reflex) camera basics. A single-lens reflex camera is a widely used and common style of film camera. While digital cameras continues to grow in popularity, photography's roots are in film and SLRs provide an experience of creativity and learning which cannot be replaced. There are many manufactures of SLR, however the two most consistent and popular brands have been Nikon and Canon. No matter the brand, a basic understanding or mastery of the following SLR features will prove useful in any form of photography. 

Using the Correct Film

35mm film is the light sensitive material which an SLR utilizes to capture a photograph. It is imperative that the correct kind of film is used to capture the image in the desired way. Film can come in either color or black and white is rated by its sensitivity to light by an ISO rating. 400 is the happy medium, anything below should be reserved for bright light situations and anything higher for low light. Once finished shooting, the quality of the pictures will be effected by the quality of the development process. While corner stores offer a quick turnaround, a professional photography establishment will be able to offer much higher quality for film and prints. 


The f/stop is the ratio of the diameter of the lens opening to the focal length of the lens. The width of the lens opening is what allows light to penetrate through the camera and onto the film. The wider the aperture, the more light that was let in and the lower the f/stop number. This is what determines the degree of clarity of the picture. A high f/stop-small aperture-will let in less light and will result in more of the picture being in focus. Although the f/stop will vary greatly depending on the lighting conditions, it can be said the medium f/stop will be f/8. The more current SLRs will have settings which can adjust the f/stop automatically for each picture. To learn the basics of photography, and to take better pictures, it is not recommended to rely on automatic settings. 

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is a measurement of how quickly the shutter of the lens opens and closes while taking a picture. It is such a quick process that the number is a fraction of a second. The shutter speed of 125 is actually 1/125th of a second. It is important to keep an eye on this number, for if it falls below 60-and not on a tripod-the picture could become blurry. The shutter speed is often a compromise between the lighting conditions and the desired f/stop.


Contemporary SLRs often come equipped with lenses that have very good automatic focusing. Whether or not to use that feature depends greatly on the situation. If things are happening quickly and there is a lot of movement, automatic focusing will be a great help. If taking a picture of something still however, manual focusing will offer a level of creative control otherwise not available.

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