Your Road Map to Mastering Your Camera

This post contains affiliate links- Living Our Adventures is a participant in the Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases linking to and affiliated links.

When you are first learning photography it can all be very overwhelming.  All the terms and buttons, it is kinda like learning a foreign language. Well at least for me it was.  I know I would spend hours searching for tips and would end my search session frustrated and just not sure where to go next. What I really wanted was a road map that told me what to master and in what order. Well, I have created that for you- A Road Map to Mastering Your Camera!!  Follow these 15 steps and you will be learning manual mode in no time and your pictures will thank you for it. 

Step 1- Learn the Exposure Triangle

Exposure is such a HUGE concept in photography, and is why you need to start your photography journey here. The concept of the exposure triangle is how Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO work together to create a correct exposure.

To Learn more- What is Exposure?

Step 2- Memorize Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO

Next, you need to have a more in-depth knowledge of the three exposure elements; Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Learn and memorize what each element does with regards to letting light into the camera sensor and what your final image will look like. This would be a great time to step out of your comfort zone and switch your camera to Shutter Priority Mode or Aperture Priority Mode. 

To Learn More- Aperture Priority Mode

Step 3- Learn About Metering

Balancing Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO can be challenging but you don’t have to do it alone.  Your camera has a light meter that will help you achieve the correct exposure.  For this step learn everything you can about Metering. 


Step 4- Switch that Camera to Manual Mode

The best way to learn it is to just do it!!  Shooting in manual mode is when you control ALL three elements of the exposure triangle. You get to decide which aperture, shutter speed, and ISO you use for a shot. Learning manual mode is a MUST for creating pictures that you will love. You’re going to choose your settings based on two different factors- how much light there is in the scene you’re photographing and how you want the scene to look. 

Step 5- Shooting Over and Under

Our light meter is a great start for making sure our images are balanced but with more practice you will learn that you prefer images that are either a little darker or a little brighter than what your camera’s light sensor will read.  This is shooting over or under.  It takes time to learn what you prefer but read about shooting over and under, experiment to see what you prefer. 

Step 6- Learn the Histogram and highlight warning to check your Exposure

Exposure is huge when it comes to learning photography and we aren’t always sure we are getting it right.  Lucky for us our cameras have Histograms and highlight warnings to let us know if we are close to have a proper exposed picture.  Reading your histogram will help you adjust your setting to get a better exposed picture and highlight warnings will let you know if there is any part of your picture that is blown out. 

To Learn More- Reading the Histogram

Step 7- Light, Light & more Light

Light is everything in photography, without it we can’t make a photograph. But not all light is created equal, the right light can make or break your image. Start by using indoor light because you are able to control the light more indoor than you can outside. 

Once you have mastered indoor light move outside, but keep it simple at first by using open shade. Then cloudy days, full sun, and golden hour light. You will also want to consider how to light your subjects from different ways such as from the front, the side, and behind. 

To Learn More- Find the Light

Step 8- Using “tools” to help you control light (reflectors)

Light can be tricky but there are ways that you can manipulate light to make it work for your scene.  Many elements in nature work as reflectors making things look brighter. You can also buy reflectors that can help you brighten your images. Just remember the more things that you buy the more you will have to lug around with you when you are shooting.  I suggest learning about natural reflectors and looking for them when you are out shooting. 

Step 9- Notice the Different Color of Light (White Balance)

Have you ever noticed how the color of light in your living room is different than the color of light in your kitchen? Light has color and we need to have an understanding of that in order to control the colorcast in our pictures.

Learn everything you can about White Balance and how to set White Balance in your camera.  The more that you get right in camera the less editing you will have to do after. 

Embrace Light

Step 10- Get Creative (silhouettes, shadows, and reflections)

Photography is an art and being creative is part of that.  Experiment a little with different techniques. Learn how to create silhouettes, use shadows and reflections.  The options are endless!! Have fun and see what you can create. 

Step 11- Switch to shooting in RAW

Now not every picture we take is going to be perfect. Sometimes the moment comes and goes so quickly that we don’t have time to get our settings right or don’t have time for a retake that is where RAW comes into play. Research what it means to save your images as RAW files.  You will need a secondary program like Lightroom to view RAW files so be prepared to learn a new program when you switch to RAW. 

Step 12- Focus Focus Focus

The whole reason you picked up your camera was to take a picture of something.  That should be the focus of your image, but of course, it isn’t that simple there are different focusing modes and different ways to achieve focus. Learn about them and find the one that works best for you.

Step 13- Composition

Composition is another way for you to be creative with your photography.  Learn different techniques that will draw your viewer’s eyes into your photo. Start with learning the rule of thirds and move on from there. 

rule of thirds-directional

Step 14- Practice

Give yourself grace. Nothing great comes without practice. You can read everything that is out there about photography and how to create a great picture but if you don’t practice your images will still just be ok.  Fill up the memory card!! Take 5-6 photos of the same thing! Experiment! That is the only way you are going to get better. A great way to practice every day is to start a photography project. 

Learn More- Starting a Photography Project

Step 15- Print Your Images!!!

I can’t tell you how important it is to print your images.  Not only for you to see them but for your family to see them as well.  Celebrate the progress you have made.  Find ways to give your pictures as gifts either in frames or photo books. I love to create photo books for my kids that document all of our adventures. I create one book per kiddo at the end of every year using Blurb but I use Chatbooks to print mini books throughout the year.

To Learn More- Preserving Memories

Learning photography is a journey and not something that you are going to master overnight. It takes time, practice, and patience.  Use this FREE road map to document what you have learned and what you need to learn next in your Journey to Mastering Your Camera.  Remember to share your pictures on social media, #capture_your_adventures, so that we can celebrate your progress along the way.

Your Photography Road Map Banner

What is Exposure?

Exposure sounds like this great big term in photography that you just have to understand in order to get amazing photos but really all exposure means is an image!

Exposure really isn’t hard to understand in terms of photography the Exposure Triangle on the other hand can be a little difficult to master. 

The exposure triangle is the foundation of understanding photography. Every camera (even your camera phone) utilizes three elements – Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO – and balances them to create an “exposure” aka image. 

When you shoot in auto mode your camera makes the decisions for you to balance the three elements of the exposure triangle based on the scene you are photographing and the available light. 

When learning how to shoot in manual mode  you use – Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO – to get your light meter to be at O, aka proper exposure.

What is a light meter?

To find your light meter look through your viewfinder.  It should be that little line graph at the bottom that looks a little like this: – 2 . . . 1 . . . 0 . . .1 . . .2 + (there should be a little flashing vertical line or “ticker” underneath the graph, this is what you are adjusting) **Please make sure you check on your light meter which side the + and – signs are on. My example is for Canons. Nikons look like this + 2 . . . 1 . . . 0 . . . 1 . . . 2 – **

Light meter to create proper exposure

Using aperture, shutter speed and ISO there are many different ways to achieve proper exposure. And because the settings are different each photo taken will have a slightly different look or style.  The degree of lightness will be the same, but there might be more or less background blur, motion blur, or noise, depending on the settings you used.

When shooting in manual mode, you will set exposure by taking your first photo, assessing its exposure & adjusting your settings from there. Starting with the meter at 0 is where we generally shoot at the beginning of our lives on manual.

Your Goal when taking a Picture is to get your Light Meter to Read 0.

And with enough practice, you’ll realize that you end up adjusting exposure one way or the other more often than not. For me I like to shoot “one stop over” making my pictures a little brighter. This is a personal preference that you will develop over time. 

exposure example 2
exposure example 3
exposure example 1

Note that I kept aperture and shutter speed consistent for each photo above. I used ISO to change the exposure by different degrees above and below 0 on the meter. This only works because I was in good light – I hadn’t reached my maximum ISO yet. If I had already been shooting at my maximum ISO, I would have needed to adjust exposure using either Aperture or Shutter Speed.

To See How Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO work to create an Exposure Check out My Exposure Cheat Sheets!

Exposure Triangle & Metering
Exposure Triangle Explained

That’s it! Of course, you will want to expand your knowledge and learn everything you can to help you take great photos. Check out Understanding Aperture, Understanding Shutter Speed or Understanding ISO to learn how to adjust each of these settings to create a perfect exposure. Enjoy your camera and get out there and practice!

You can check out what gear I use daily by visiting My Equipment Page.

Join my mailing list to gain access to my Capture Your Adventure Resource Library with tons of downloadable PDF’s to help you with your photography journey.

Reading the Histogram

Read the Histogram and Come Home with Great Pictures!!

I have to admit that when my husband who was also learning photography asked me about the histogram I had no idea how to answer.  I had heard of the histogram but never truly understood what it was. So naturally I went searching for the answers.  

What I found was that a good understanding of how the histogram works and reading the histogram will help you achieve the best exposure for a picture.  So…

What Is A Histogram?

In a nutshell a histogram is a visual graph that shows how much of each tonal value (color) from dark to bright that are present in a picture.  You can use it to tell if the picture is properly exposed. A properly exposed image will have tonal values from both shadows and highlights on the histogram. When taking a picture and reading the histogram you also want to make sure that the tonal values captured don’t stack up against either the left or right side of the histogram. 

Why Use The Histogram?

If you rely on the LCD image preview on the back of your DSLR, you might fall into a couple of pitfalls. The preview on the LCD might fool you into thinking you have got the right exposure if it is set too dark or too bright.

Reading the Histogram-LCD Screen

Also in low light conditions, even an underexposed image can seem bright, because of the backlit LCD screen emits light.

In the end, a histogram is more reliable as it doesn’t vary according to the viewing condition.

How To Display The Histogram On Your Camera?

To enable a histogram on a Nikon DSLR, go to the menu and select Playback menu. Then choose Playback display options. Now scroll down to the Overview option and activate it by pressing the right side of the multi-selector button. Then press OK. You can also choose to activate the RGB histogram, which will show you a more complex and detailed histogram.

Choose the playback display options in the playback menu.

Chose the Overview option to activate the histogram display. RBG histogram will give you a more complex histogram.

After you have captured a photo and can see it on the back of your camera’s LCD monitor, just press up or down on the multi-selector button until you come to the overview display.

Canon users can press the info button during image review/playback to bring up the histogram.

How Do You Read The Histogram?

When you look at a histogram the first time, it looks confusing. 

The histogram shows you how many pixels of each tone, from dark to bright, you have in your image. It is just like a light meter, except that it analyzes or reads brightness values in the image you have just taken, and not before you take it as a light meter does.

The horizontal axis (left-right) is about the tone. And the vertical axis (height) shows how many pixels are found at each particular brightness level. You can think of the histogram as a lot of bar graphs all compressed with no space between each bar.

When you are looking at a Histogram you should mostly focus on the horizontal axis. It is far more important what is happening from left to right than how high the graph is.

What Is The Ideal Histogram?

There is really no ideal histogram, as every image and scene is different. However, we can use the histogram to see if the exposure is good or if it has issues, which could be corrected.

Generally, you should try to expose your image, so the histogram doesn’t crawl up the edges of the histogram.

A slight amount of pixels touching the edges is OK, especially if you shoot in RAW since the histogram in your DSLR is based on the jpg-preview version that the camera uses to show you how the image looks like. And as you probably know RAW files contain more data, which makes it likely that you can recover the details, if the histogram touches the edges slightly.

However, if you have spikes up either side of the edges, the exposure will suffer, and it can be difficult to get a decent image out of it.

Histogram Examples-Reading the Histogram

Get your FREE copy of the Histogram Cheat Sheet by clicking here.

Histogram Cheat Sheet

In Summary

A quick look at the histogram will reveal if parts of your image are over- or underexposed.

If it is underexposed, your image will lack details in the highlights. In this case, the histogram will display a heavy concentration at the left side with spikes leaning right at the edge at the left side of the histogram.

How can you fix this? You can do this by opening the aperture a bit (using a lower f-number), using a slower shutter speed, or by increasing the ISO.

If the histogram, on the other hand, tells you that the image is overexposed, you can fix it by doing the opposite. Use a faster shutter speed, close down the aperture (use a higher f-number), or decrease the ISO setting.

It does take time before you will master the histogram. Gradually over time, you will become more skilled in using the histogram.

Make it a habit to look at the histogram, and correct the exposure when you find that it doesn’t match the tones in the scene you try to capture.

That’s it! Of course, you will want to expand your knowledge and learn everything you can to help you take great photos. Check out Finding the Light to learn how light affects your pictures. Enjoy your camera and get out there and practice!

You can check out what gear I use daily by visiting My Equipment Page.

Join my mailing list to gain access to my Capture Your Adventure Resource Library with tons of downloadable PDF’s to help you with your photography journey.

How to Use the Rule of Thirds

What is the Rule of Thirds?

If you have ever read anything about composing a picture you have probably heard of the rule of thirds. But what is it? The Rule of Thirds is a basic, yet essential and powerful guideline that helps photographers compose an image.  The rule of thirds helps the photographer decide where to place their subject(s) or key elements to create a well balanced and interesting photo.

Continue reading “How to Use the Rule of Thirds”