How do cameras work?
No matter the brand or price tag, cameras all work in roughly the same way. Understanding the simple mechanics of how cameras work will help you get the best possible results out of yours.
But before you head out to start taking photos, you need to understand the six essential elements involved in recording an image.
Understanding these requirements, regardless of whether you’re shooting on a DSLR, compact camera or iPhone, will make your photography so much better. These requirements are:
- Light: Light is an essential part of any image, and it comes in many different types. How we use this light is important.
- Subject: The subject of an image is the person, object or scene being photographed. The composition of an image should leave the viewer in no doubt about the subject.
- Optics: This refers to lenses, which are used to focus the light and capture an image.
- Aperture: Aperture controls the amount of light that reaches the recording medium in your camera. It also controls the depth of field (the range of sharpness range either side of the point of focus).
- Time: Time relates to the shutter speed and how long the recording medium is exposed to light.
- Medium: The recording medium is what records the image. This used to be film, but is now usually a CMOS or CCD chip.
Once you understand these concepts and how they relate to one another, you can better start to understand how cameras work.
Let's look at these six key elements of photography in more detail.
LightThe central element of photography, light is what we use to create our images.
To create a photograph, we can use two different types of light: natural and artificial. Natural light is sunlight, moonlight, or starlight, either direct or reflected. Artificial light is light from any other source, including lightbulbs, studio lights, or even candles.
SubjectThe thing being photographed.
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The subject is the thing we’re photographing. It can be anything from a person to a product, a landscape to a llama!
OpticsLenses allow us to focus light and capture an image.
Camera lenses (or optics) focus light onto the recording medium. They control focal length, angle of view, and magnification, and help describe the image based on their particular characteristics.
ApertureControls the amount of light entering the camera, as well as the depth of field.
Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens through which light passes before reaching the recording medium in your camera (sensor or film).
TimeShutter speed determines how long it takes to capture an image.
MediumThe recording medium records the image.
When light passes through the lens and reaches the recording medium, it records a photographic image.
Historically, this medium was film. Today, most images are recorded onto digital sensors (though some photographers still like to use film). These sensors are mainly either CCD (charge-coupled device) or CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor).
The three most common sensor sizes are full-frame, crop (or APS-C) and medium format. Watch the video above to find out more.
Whatever camera you’re using, understanding these six elements is essential to capturing photos you can be proud of.
As this free course continues, we’ll be looking at each element in much greater detail.
Before you move on to the next chapter, be sure to watch the video above to optimize your understanding.
You can also download ‘An Introduction to Photography’, a FREE 90-page eBook, by clicking on the eBook icon below.
WATCH NEXT: Class 2: Exposure in Photography
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