How does a camera work?
Image of a DSLR camera. But how does a camera work?

How does a camera work?

This is Part 2 of Learn Photography Faster Than Ever. If you have not read Part 1 use this link to go there.

If you want to create perfect images, you need to learn how does a camera work. At its core Photography is about capturing light. That light goes into your camera through a lens which has an aperture inside. By widening or narrowing this opening, you can control how much light goes inside the camera.

Here you can see how a DSLR works. Do not worry, it is less complicated than it looks.

The light passes through a shutter now, which opens when you press the shutter release button. From there, the light hits the camera sensor, where it is digitally captured and saved as a photo.

All types of cameras work quite similar, whether you have a DSLR or a smartphone.

What does that mean for you as a photographer?

As you know, I am a strong advocate for keeping things simple. It is not necessary to dive deep into technical details or into the long history of photography like many other photography blogs do. 

All you need to know is that you can control the light in three ways. 

  • Use the aperture to set the amount of light. The further you open this hole, the more light goes into the camera.
  • The shutter lets you set how long the light is allowed to hit the photo sensor. The faster you set the shutter speed, the more you can freeze the movement of objects.
  • If you do not have enough light because you want to shoot after sunset or freeze a moving object in a dark room, the third option is to increase the sensitivity of the camera sensor. You can use the ISO setting for that. Always adjust this setting last, because the higher you set the ISO value, the more noisy the image becomes.

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Learn to know your camera

Today’s digital cameras have become increasingly sophisticated and complex. The average digital camera today literally has many tens of buttons, switches, dials and menu options. The big question is which of all these options do you really need to know and understand? Especially if you try to learn photography faster than ever before.

To answer this question, let me tell you a story about a good friend of mine. He works as a pilot for Thai Airways and one day I had the rare opportunity to look over his shoulder. In the co-pilot seat of a Boeing 747-400, surrounded by hundreds of switches, dials and buttons, I asked him “How do you know what all these switches, buttons and dials mean?”

“It is really quite simple”, he replied. “In an airplane there are six instruments that are essential and they are the ones sitting directly in front of you on the flying panel. Altimeter, air speed, vertical speed, artificial horizon, turn-and-slip indicator, and the compass. Of the others you only really need to refer to them when they begin flashing. When they flash, there is a manual in the back of the cockpit, so you look it up and follow any instructions the manual gives you.”

This little story about my friend sums up perfectly how you should use a modern digital camera. Of the many buttons, switches and dials, there are a few that are essential to capturing an image.

  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO
  • Metering modes
  • Focus
  • File type
  • White balance

The rest are nice to have and, if shooting in JPEG mode, can be utilized in place of postcapture processing. However, for the most part, and particularly when shooting in RAW mode, most can be ignored except in extraordinary circumstances.

Focusing on the essentials and mastering the few settings is the fastest way to learn photography and to know how to use your camera.

Your next step is to learn how to use exposure in photography. By understanding how to expose an image properly, you will be able to create better photos. 


Markus Hermannsdorfer

Markus Hermannsdorfer is a professional travel photographer, working as a photographer for the hotel and tourism industry since 2013.

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