Excerpt for A Practical Guide to Photography by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

First published in Great Britain 2016.

Edition 1

Copyright © 2015 Ian Middleton.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from the copyright owners.

All photos by Ian Middleton, unless otherwise indicated.

Photography © Ian Middleton


Illustrations by

Rebecca Svetina

David Selwood

Published by Schmetterling Productions

ISBN 10: 0-9540779-5-4

ISBN 13: 978-0-9540779-5-2

Email: sales@schmetterlingproductions.co.uk

Website: www.schmetterlingproductions.co.uk

Authorised distribution only

While this book is free of charge, distribution of the book is only allowed with permission. If you would like to make this book available for download on your website, please contact me for permission and details on: ian@ianmiddletonphotography.com


If you would like to advertise in this book, then please contact me for rates and details on:



Introduction to light & direction of light

How the camera sees and captures images

Lenses and how they work

Focusing (auto and manual)

The exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, ISO)

White balance

Measuring the light

Exposure compensation

Image file formats – RAW, TIFF & JPEG



In the chill of the night, way back in the 80s, I was standing in the square outside my house with my brother’s tripod and SLR, and a hastily scribbled set of times, shutter speeds and apertures taken down from the Sky at Night television program the evening before. Patrick Moore had been interviewing a photographer who gave out these settings for budding photographers to capture the event, so in a fit of spontaneity I had grabbed my brother’s camera and tripod and decided to have a go.

The lunar eclipse was just beginning. I had already loaded my roll of 36-film and as the first shadow was cast across the moon, I began shooting. This was my first attempt at doing some serious photography. Until this point I had always taken snapshots using a trusty old compact.

As the dawn light crept in I got closer to the end of my film. Or so I thought! Once the indicator reached 36, I was surprised to find the camera wind on to one more exposure after another until pleasure at the thought of getting a few extra pictures turned to suspicion as the reel never seemed to end. Eventually I had to pack up and head, bleary-eyed through lack of sleep, to work.

After work that day I took the film along to the photography shop and told the guy what had happened. He put the film inside a sealed box and looked through a camera. All exposures were blank. It seemed that I had neglected to load the film properly. So my sleepless night was in vain!

After that instance I decided that I wasn’t cut out for photography and a decade passed before I picked up another SLR.

What inspired me to take photography seriously again was a four-month journey around Mexico in 1997. This voyage of discovery filled my eyes with enchanting scenes and for the first time I began to see the beauty of nature and the world into which I was born. Upon my return I couldn’t help feeling that my little compact camera hadn’t truly captured that magic, so I decided to invest in my first SLR and have another go

Somewhat fortuitously, someone had left an old book on photography for beginners on the canteen table where I was working at the time. I spent the next few weeks with my head buried inside this book and it was here that I learned all about the basic principles of photography; including how to load film correctly. I found this essential to understanding how the camera works. It’s these basic principles that have been the foundation for my work and have helped me to develop my skills and work over the years.

I certainly had lots of practice loading film as I went through reels and reels learning and practicing my craft. This time I didn’t let my mistakes faze me and instead learned from them. I transferred to digital in 2005, which certainly lowers the cost of making mistakes and allows you the flexibility to experiment and learn.

Today, with high tech digital cameras, most people may feel more comfortable switching to auto and mistakenly believing that the camera can do it all for them. Well, that’s true if all you want is a basic good shot. The camera cannot read your mind. All it can do is read a scene and give you an average shot based on what it captures. So in order to take control and get the shots that you want, you have to go beyond the auto settings.

And so, in this book, I have put together a lot of this information so that you can learn first-hand the essential knowledge that you will need as a photographer. I have tried to put make it as simple, and practical as possible. I hope that you find it as useful as I did while learning it.

Part 1: Introduction to light & direction of light


From the Greek word which literally means:

“Drawing with light”

Light travels in straight lines and without it we cannot see.

Most objects do not give off their own light, so what we see is the light that is reflected off the subject into our eyes, and this in turn determines how the object or scene appears to us.

When light is low we don’t see things so clearly. When there is zero light we see absolutely nothing, even if objects are right there in front of our eyes. So, in the same way that our eyes need light to see, the camera needs light to capture a picture.

Light is everything when it comes to photography, and it not only determines what we see, but also how we see it. All of us are aware that the world around us appears differently depending on the day, the weather, and time of day or year.

So, just as the light determines how we see things, it also dictates, to some degree, how our photo will look. Therefore, not only do we have to consider how much light is available, but also:

The quality of the light

The colour of the light

The direction of the light

The source of the light

How the light is falling upon our subject and what effect it has

Light can come from a variety of sources:

Natural light from the sun (best)

Artificial light (bulbs etc.)

Camera flash


There are various types of light:

Direct light (hard light from a small source) (sun, flash, street lights, candles) This produces high contrast images with lots of shadows and definition, along with bright, vivid colours

Diffused light (soft light from a large source) (cloudy day, big windows, large studio softboxes) This gives soft, low contrast images with little or no shadow, along with softer more subtle colours

Indirect light (Reflected light) (water, bounced flash, large surfaces). Softens and diffuses light. Can also help to fill in unwanted shadows.

Search for the light

It’s all about the light and not about photoshop... While many believe that photoshop is some kind of magic tool for photographers, it isn’t. The light is our magic tool. It determines from the very start how our image will look. You could never turn the image on the left into the image on the right using software and make it look natural.

On the left image cloud has thrown the tree and foreground into shade, so both are devoid of colour and texture. However, light is still falling on the mountains and the two people in the lower right corner. The patch of white brightly lit cloud behind has also helped make the people stand out.

On the right photo, the cloud cleared and sunlight fell on the foreground and tree, bringing out the colour and texture of the tree.

The different type of light here has created two entirely different scenes. On the next pages we will see just how the different types of light affect our scene.

Direct light effects

Direct light comes from one direction and therefore produces bright and dark sides to the subject it illuminates. The result, as you can see by the illustration, is a high contrast scene with hard light, hard shadows and hard edges with lots of definition.

The picture of the snowboarder was taken on a bright, clear sunny day, so here direct light from the sun was illuminating the subject. Notice how bright the colours are, and how much detail, definition and sharpness there is on the subject. As the subject was in the air with nothing but the sky behind, then shadows were avoided. This was also taken in winter, when the air was clear and free of moisture. So take note of light quality. It’s not enough that it’s sunny. While the sun may be out, there could still be a lot of haze and moisture in the air, which affects the clarity of a scene. This is especially true in the summer months when it’s hot. Time of year and the time of day are also important. When the sun is higher in the sky, around midday or during the summer months, then the light is harsh and hazy. Because this was taken on a mountaintop ski resort in winter, the air was crystal clear which has also resulted in a crystal clear image. During winter the sun is lower in the sky so the light is less harsh. And finally, snow is reflective, so the underside of the boarder and snowboard is also lit. So not only does this image have direct light, but also reflected light.

Unwanted shadow

When photographing in direct light, shadows can be a major problem. So you must look carefully when photographing under these conditions.

As you can see on the photo of the woman holding her child, the woman has cast a shadow over the child. You can also use a fill in flash to help reduce these shadows, but the best way is to avoid it completely.

On the next photo of the child you can see that the flash has also cast a shadow behind the child and the Winnie the Pooh bear.

The shadow has also been enhanced by the bright white background. So take care when using flash. Try to position your subject away from walls or other background surfaces.

Tip: On camera flash produces fewer shadows when shooting your subject straight on with the camera horizontal. To minimise shadows consider using an on flash diffuser.

Wanted shadow

Not all shadows are unwanted. When used correctly they can enhance, give shape, texture, depth and contrast to an image. A classic example of this is the moon. Study the following two photos:

When the moon is full, the light is shining directly upon it from the front. In this state there is zero shadow, so the moon looks very flat and two dimensional

When the moon is not full, the light is shining from the side. Notice how we can now see some of the craters near to the shadow area and also the moon looks more three dimensional

Direction of light

As you have just seen, when the subject is lit from the front it appears flat and 2 dimensional, whereas side lighting has produced shadows which has given the subject a more rounded 3 dimensional look. When working with any form of direct light, the angle that the light is coming from is also very important and can determine just how your subject appears. The following illustration helps to give you an idea of the effects the different angles create.

Direct light for landscapes

Much the same can be said for landscapes. We want some direct light to give shape, texture and colour to our landscape photos.

In the following photo of Lake Bled in Slovenia, shot at sunrise, the sun coming up from the side has cast soft, warm light over the scene, but the shadows have also added shape, form and contrast to the land.

Creating shape, texture and colour

In this photo of a lavender field in Hampshire, the sun was at a 45 degree angle behind me and off to the left. As you can see the side lighting has created shadows between the rows, which helps to give shape and dimension to them. This was shot in the evening, so the sun was low in the sky; hence the colour temperature was lower. Also the sun was behind me. So this has all helped to add warmth and depth to the colour.

Creating shape, texture and colour

In this photo, taken on the same evening just a short while after, I moved to the opposite side of the field and positioned the sun at a 45 degree in front of me and off to the right. So I was partially shooting into the light. Notice again how the side lighting has created shape and texture to the rows. But here the purple colour is softer and lighter. A classic example of how the angle of light and how you choose to expose your photo can affect how your colours look. More about exposure later.

Creative use of direct light and shadow:

Direct light and shadow can be used for creative effect. In the backlit image of the sun behind the tree, the sunlight, carefully positioned behind the tree to reduce its intensity somewhat, has produced a dramatic image with lots of shadow and contrast.

A classic example of direct backlight. Because the mountains are lit from behind and no direct light is falling on the front of them, the difference in brightness is extreme. Because of the high contrast, you need to expose for the highlights (bright parts) and then the mountains become silhouetted.

Diffused light effects

Diffused light comes from a large source rather than a single small source.

Technically, light is diffused when it passes through a transparent object such as a large white sheet, or a window. The result is that the light is scattered and spread and the diffuser become the light source rather than the original light source.

Therefore, the larger the diffuser, the softer the light. The figure here shows how the light is repeatedly scattered through increasingly larger surfaces.

The biggest example of this is the sky on an overcast day. Go outside on a sunny day and look at the sky. You’ll be blinded by a single hard beam of light from the sun. But go out on an overcast day and you’ll see that there is no single hard beam of light, but the whole sky is evenly lit.

Now look around and you’ll see there is little or no shadow. This is because the light is scattered, as you can see in the diagram to the left, and lighting the land evenly, rather than directly.

Diffused light on landscapes

As you can see by the photo, the light of a thick overcast day produces a scene with low contrast and less vibrant colours. Notice the almost complete absence of shadow here.

Diffused light is perfect for people

The picture of the boy here was shot on a lightly overcast day

Diffused light is often the best light when photographing people portraits. As we learned earlier, hard direct light gives lots of definition and therefore also shows up the flaws and lines in our faces. Diffused light eliminates the problem of shadows, and also gives softer, smoother and more flattering results. Also under these conditions you don’t have to worry about unwanted shadow.

Use the window as a diffuser

The following photo was shot using a large window as a diffuser. By getting them to stand directly in front and facing the window, I’ve got lovely soft light over both their faces.

Using a tree

On a sunny day the best way to photograph people is to put them in the shade. In the following photo below a tree has provided bright shade to eliminate any shadows or harsh light.

Be careful of the background though. If it’s too bright the difference could be too big for the camera to handle, and the background will be overexposed.

Diffused light for landscapes

The backlight in the following photo has been used to cast a long shadow from the tree trunk, leading our eyes into the image and giving it depth. Additionally, the early morning mist has diffused the light, so unlike the previous backlit images that were high in contrast, this image has lighter shadows, more subtle colours and an overall softer look to it.

Misty mornings: are also great for diffusing light and give us scenes like in the next photo.

Overcast days for black and white photos

In many cases overcast days are not really desirable for landscapes. A bland white or grey sky is not particularly photogenic. However, they are not a total washout. On these days you can often look for good black and white images. The key is to look for contrasting colours and light that will convert to light and dark tones in black and white.

The following image doesn’t look terribly exciting in colour.

But looks a bit better in black and white.

Mixed direct light and diffused light for landscapes

Like many things in life, to get the best results you sometimes have to mix things a bit. So on cloudy days don’t sit at home cleaning your camera, because you might be missing some of the best moments. When the cloud is scattered or moving fast due to passing storms or high winds, it can produce a great mix of direct and diffused light; resulting in dramatic lighting effects. In this photo of the Ljubljana Moors in Slovenia, breaks in the cloud caused rays of light to burst through and illuminate different parts of the land at different levels of brightness. Direct light has nicely illuminated the lone tree, grass and vivid yellow of the dandelions. Notice how the trees in the background are more softly lit with diffused light and the area behind the lone tree is in shadow, thus making the lone tree stand out more in the scene. On days such as this always watch the weather and try to anticipate where and when the breaks will occur. It was raining when I spotted this scene, but I saw that it was a passing shower, so I set up my camera on the tripod, and under an umbrella, used the opportunity to setup my composition and focus on the tree. Then I waited there as passing drivers gaped at the madman getting wet while holding the umbrella over his camera. But when the shower passed and clouds broke, I got this shot.

Shooting into the light for creative effect.

Many will tell you to not to shoot into the light. Well, in most cases this is true. But shooting into the light, when done correctly, can produce some very creative effects. But what’s important here is that the light is diffused somehow. The less diffused the light, the harder the shadows will be. When the sun is setting its strength is diminished somewhat. But add some light cloud, and its strength is diminished even more. The stronger the light, the higher the contrast and the harder the shadows will be.

As you can see here the strong light has turned the hayrack and forest into a completely blacked out silhouette. It’s important here to ensure that your foreground objects can produce a nice, clear shape. A messy foreground produces a messy looking silhouette. Your silhouette must have a clearly defined shape; otherwise it’s just a big black mess.

In this photo of Lake Bled in Slovenia, the sun was rising and was already quite high when it reached the church spire. Without the cloud the sun would have been much brighter and this shot virtually impossible. However, the cloud diffused the sun and therefore I was able to capture this image. The cloud has diffused the light falling across the mountains, and without it the mountains would have been a completely black silhouette.

This photo of the Supermoon rising over the church was also made possible by the passing cloud, which diffused the intensity of the moonlight. It was also shot at dusk, so there was still some ambient light in the sky from the setting sun.