So you fancy yourself an adventurer, a real modern-day master of the outdoors. Now you’ve gone and gotten yourself a real camera to capture all those epic moments. But before you think it’s all point-and-shoot, think again—you’re gonna need some basic knowledge to get the most out of that camera.

STEP 1: All cameras work on the principle of light, and the three main elements that control that light are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. ISO controls the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light, shutter speed determines the length of time that light is allowed to hit the sensor, and the aperture affects the amount of light that’s let in. Mastering the balance between the three will allow you to unlock night shots, action shots, depth of field, and more.

STEP 2: Frame your your photo correctly. It’s normal to want to zoom in tight to focus on a single subject, but you need to step back to capture the whole scene. Consider the foundations of a simple story—something (the subject) does something to something else (the object). A good photo tells a story, and the landscape is often an important part. Determining whether the climber is conquering the mountain or vice versa is an important decision in composing your photo’s story.

You should also consider what’s known as the “rule of thirds.” Visualize your image with a tic-tac-toe grid overlaid on it. See the crosshairs near each of the four corners? You want your focus subject to sit in one of them.

STEP 3: Shoot in RAW format. RAW gives you lots of room to edit. A JPEG is a compressed file, which limits your ability to tweak the image. A RAW file, however, records all the information. This gives you more information to work with and provides a higher-quality print.

STEP 4: Use your shutter. When capturing high-speed action, it’s important to have the correct shutter speed. A fast shutter speed will “freeze” action, while a slower speed will add motion blur. Find one subject in the image to focus on and track it as it moves—viewers like to focus on something recognizable. But don’t forget that shutter adjustments will also require adjustments to the ISO and aperture.

STEP 5: Know when to break the rules. It’s helpful to learn the rules as guidelines, but art is subjective—if you think something looks great centered in the frame, go for it.
STEP 6: Know when to put the camera down. It’s easy to get wrapped up in capturing the perfect shot. Just don’t forget to enjoy the moment.

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