The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Photography

 Getting a fancy DSLR camera is not the problem, anyone can do that, but do you know how to use it? This has been the problem for so many: a camera not living up to its potential because they don’t know how to use it or have the expertise to properly operate it. Well, the good news is, that won’t be much of a problem again as we have here the ultimate photography cheat sheet, comprising of all cheat sheet that will make your photo world class! Cheat Sheets are little-laminated cards sold in camera stores that distill the thick instruction books of specific camera models onto one small durable card. They are quick reference guides and store easily into your camera kit, or in a pocket of your photographer’s vest.  This is one can be bookmarked or saved for reference!

The F-Stop cheat sheet

The term “f-stop” is frequently used in different ways, In the more specific instance, an f-stop refers to a particular aperture setting, or “f-number”. You might hear someone ask a photographer, “What f-stop are you using?”, and the answer would be a simple f-number, like “I’m at f/8”.

More commonly though, and more importantly for this article, an f-stop is a unit of measurement for exposure: a change of 1 f-stop = a doubling or halving of the amount of light getting to the sensor, or in the case of ISO, the sensitivity of the sensor to light. When used in this general sense, the term is usually shortened to “stop” rather than “f-stop”.

Free f-stop chart: master your aperture

One thing we consistently hear from people is confusion about aperture and just what exactly those numbers mean. Understanding aperture can take some time for a beginning photographer, but hopefully, we can speed this process up for you! Below is a handy f-stop chart put together by our friends at N-Photo magazine which you can drag and drop on to your desktop.


Reading a histogram: photography cheat sheet

Most photographers know that you can check the exposure of the shots you’ve taken simply by reviewing them on your camera’s LCD screen. But looking at the picture alone can be misleading. Knowing how to read your camera’s histogram is the most important thing you can do to ensure a good exposure.

Your camera gives you the option to show the range of brightness in your image as a graph, which plots the light levels from jet black, on the left, to pure white, on the right.

A ‘perfect’ histogram rises gently from the left, rises in the middle and drops on the right, indicating a full range of tones but no loss of detail in shadows or highlights.


Backlight and sunlight cheat sheet.

A backlight is the best shot in manual mode. (In fact, it is one of the best reasons to learn to use it.)

Use spot metering or take your meter readings with only the face in your frame. The backlight will easily trick your camera’s light meter and cause an underexposed photo.

Haze and sun flare can easily happen with backlight. They are the result of light streaming directly into your lens.

Encourage haze and sun flare by including the sun in your frame or placing the sun directly behind your subject.

Avoid haze and sun flare by keeping the sun out of your frame and placing it slightly to the left or right of your subject instead of directly behind them.

Mid-day sunlight is also best shot on manual mode. (Anytime you are shooting shadows and highlights, manual should be your first choice!)

Position yourself so that your subject is looking into their own shadow (you can use some of the tips for backlight here) to keep nice, even lighting on the face and avoid “ raccoon eyes” from the overhead sun.

Having your subject look away from the camera can also be a great way to minimize the distraction of the mid-day sun.

Avoid bright blown-out highlights and deep shadows on the face. Not only are they distracting, but they are hard to post-process.

Your camera’s Auto white balance system notices these changes and constantly adjusts itself to produce the right results, but sometimes it gets it wrong. Some situations are harder than others to judge, be it because of what’s in the scene itself or the type of lighting present, or both. Some artificial lights, particularly fluorescent sources, are very different it usually starts by setting my ISO to 100 (or as low as the camera allows, often it’s 200) & my aperture to about f22 or smaller, then depending on the light condition I shoot 3 images – at about 5 sec, 10 sec & 20 sec. This usually gives you a good starting point to work from, often you’re looking at shooting closer to 20 seconds or even longer, again depending on the lightning, or lack thereof. But you will be surprised how much light there is that you might not even have noticed. Sometimes in very low light conditions, you will need to use the bulb setting on the camera. This allows you to keep the shutter open longer than the camera allows with its preset settings – usually about 30 seconds.

While in Bulb Mode – If you connect a shutter release cable you can keep the shutter open until releasing the cable. If you are using a remote control, press once to open the shutter & again to close. Just remember that the longer the exposure time is, the more digital noise you’re likely to get, especially in the darker areas of your picture.

Something to look out for – sometimes shooting with a tripod attracts attention from the police. Check with your local authorities about rules & regulations for shooting with a tripod. A way to get around this is to not shoot in the city. Seaside shots work well too, specially just at sunset while there is still a small amount of light. Capturing water moving back & forth over the rocks with an exposure of about 10 seconds, can give very interesting results. Also, experiment with different white balance settings – sometimes this can give you some interesting results.

If you’re willing to sacrifice space for quality, then shoot in RAW. The quality is far beyond that of JPG, but this is a whole

Practice – And lastly, the best advice I can give is to experiment & practice thoroughly!!! Get to know your equipment & even read the manual. Don’t be afraid to ask questions & don’t be afraid to take bad pictures. Without bad pictures, how could you possibly recognize your best ones? nature to others and there are many different varieties within these categories. Many Auto white balance systems struggle to get things right here, and this can lead to strange color casts.

Low light photography cheat sheet

It’s pretty much the same as any other discipline of photography – light being captured on a sensor & the same rules apply. The basics of photography are still very important – let’s start with that. The larger the aperture (e.g. f1.8) the faster your shutter speed will be. The higher the ISO the more sensitive to light the sensor becomes & visa verse. This brings us right to the essence of low light photography, longer exposure times, so a tripod is (mostly) essential.

Put your camera in Aperture priority mode: This will ensure that you control all available options.

Crank up the ISO: This may result in an image with additional noise, but it can be fixed with some post processing (shoot in RAW if available)

Slow down shutter speed: The longer your shutter is open the more light that will get in

Use an off-camera flash: Try to direct light so that it doesn’t hit your subject straight on, try deflecting the light to soften it

Use your cameras exposure compensation capability: The scale on many of today’s DSLRs allow -3 to +3 stops in 1/3 stop increments. Dial the exposure compensation to the positive side to purposefully overexpose the photograph

Action photography cheat sheet

These tips can be used to ensure you get the best out of moving objects, no matter what they are. This enhances the ability to keep up with the fast-moving subjects. In most predictable actions find the best corner and prefocus on a spot the subject passes over. Switch focus to MF to lock the setting and concentrate on planning and composition. Make sure to be bold with framing- here the crop adds to the fun. Find a low shooting position that will help the viewer feel closer to the action

In such situations, setting your camera to a preset such as Fluorescent can help. Here, you’re telling the camera exactly what it’s dealing with so that it doesn’t need to judge the scene for itself and risk getting it wrong.

Your camera will also have presets for natural light, such as Daylight or Cloudy. Although an accurate Auto setting might mean you may not feel you need to use these, if you’re shooting for a prolonged period in one environment, setting the camera to one of these options can be a good idea as it will help to keep things consistent from shot to shot.

In action photography these can also help:

Flash: a bit of flash used in slow sync mode will add definition and sharpness to an action shot that has been taken using a slow shutter speed. The photo effects of the virtual image are obvious as the background is frozen by the flash while the rest of the picture is blurred due to ambient light exposure.

Shutter speed: the key to successful photography is selecting the right shutter speed. To freeze fast action, you need a fast shutter speed and to add a blur, you need a relatively slow one. So, use shutter priority mode as it puts you fully in control of this selection. The shutter speed necessary to freeze the moment will depend on four factors:

  1. How much light is available
  2. How fast the subject is moving
  3. How fast your lens is (the wider the aperture the faster the shutter speed)
  4. The ISO itself (the high ISO gives faster speed)

Autofocus: when you are shooting moving subjects, use your camera’s continuous autofocus setting. This will track the action and is particularly good for erratically moving objects. To reduce the chance of the lens hunting (rocking in and out of focus as it tries to lock in), focus manually roughly at the distance the action will place.

Drive mode: Although you should time your shot for the peak of the action, a frame a fraction of a second may lead to a better shot. To ensure you get it, set your camera to its continuous burst mode rather than the single shot mode. Fire in short bursts so that the buffer doesn’t take long to clear and its ready to fire.

Panning: By selecting a slow shutter speed and panning your camera, you can get a sharp object and blurred backdrop that gives a real sense of motion. Face the direction you want to take the shot and twist your waist to track the subject perfectly. Keep panning after you’ve pressed the shutter if the movement is predictable, prefocus on the spot the subject will pass.

In action, photography make sure these equipments are always with you. Do not go without them as they enhance the quality (and quantity) of shots you achieve.

Extra memory: You will need more memory especially when you are firing off multiple shots

Battery grip: For more power, if you are shooting in SLR’s continuous mode.

Image stabilization: Whether its lens o camera based set stabilization to panning mode if possible.

Monopod: Great for supporting long lenses using panning techniques

Flashgun: A powerful add-on flash is key to creative slow synced action shots.

Water photography cheat sheet: blur/freeze

Blurring or freezing of water motion, just like in action photography, involves a set a carefully laid out steps which should be followed judiciously to get a premium quality shot. The first important step is to increase the exposure times.

To freeze motion, let it be established that the exposure for the foreground and the suggested shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the  water movement, (that is at least  1/250 sec for waterfalls or seas to increase the speed) increase the aperture, (smaller f/number) or increase the ISO; or both, until the suggested shutter speed is fast enough. If the speed becomes too high, ensure that your tripod is placed firmly on solid ground and the mirror lock is set, take a shot using a remote shutter release or dSLR’s self-timer.

To blur motion, ensure that the exposure for the foreground will make the shutter speed slow enough to blur the motion of the water (that is 1 sec for waterfalls and 5 secs for choppy seas). If you have an ND filter, make sure your shot is composed (this can be tricky as they are so dark) and then attach the ND it makes your work easier. But if you don’t, if possible decrease the ISO to 50and aperture to f/22 or f/29 and then decrease the shutter speed (that is, take a longer exposure).