Written by Louise Wright
So, you’ve decided to give photography a go and have invested in an awesome new camera. Now there’s only one problem – you’re not too sure what aperture, ISO and shutter speed mean! Well, that’s what the CameraPro team is here for. Let’s get to it.
Camera Exposure Settings Explained for Beginners
The key thing to understand with photography is that it’s all about LIGHT. And using the exposure settings on your camera will control how your camera sees and processes the light that comes in via the lens. Makes sense, right?
Now, the three key elements of exposure are ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. Using these three settings will control how your photographs look, and knowing how to control them will help you get the most out of your camera and create interesting and beautiful images.
So, what do ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture actually mean?
What is ISO on a camera?
Essentially, ISO controls how sensitive your camera’s sensor will be to the light coming in via the lens.
The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain in the image (also called ‘noise’).
ISO can range from 50 – 102400, however not all cameras will have a range this large. If you’re wanting to do a lot of low light photography, then ISO range and capability is something you should consider when buying your camera.
What ISO should I use?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to keep your ISO as low as possible (generally ISO 100) whenever possible. This is because the lower the ISO, the less grain will be visible in the image.
Of course you should always bump it up when required - a grainy photo is always better than an out of focus photo!
Below are examples of when to use a low or high ISO:
Low ISO – eg. ISO 100
This is generally used for:
- Bright or sunny conditions (when a large amount of light will be coming in to the sensor)
- Long exposures such as landscapes (when light will be coming in to the sensor for a long time)
High ISO – eg. 3200
Generally used in darker situations when not as much light is available, to get faster shutter speeds, such as:
- Very early in the morning
- Night time
- Shady or overcast conditions
- When needing a very fast shutter speed, for wildlife or sports photography
What is shutter speed on a camera?
Simply put, shutter speed is how quickly the camera will open and close its shutter.
Shutter speed range generally goes from 30 seconds to 1/8000th of a second or sometimes even faster! As with ISO, not all cameras will have this exact shutter speed range, and if you’re planning on using a lot of fast shutter speeds, shutter speed range is worth considering when buying a camera.
It’s also worth noting that the shutter speed is limited to the style of camera – for example DSLR cameras can have up to 1/8000th second shutter speed because of the mechanical shutter. Other cameras such as mirrorless cameras can have incredibly fast shutter speeds such as 1/32000th second with the electronic shutter.
What shutter speed should I use?
Generally use a fast shutter speed for freezing moving subjects and a slow (or long) shutter speed for situations where you want to blur movement for long exposures.
Slow Shutter Speed - eg. 1/10th second, or 1” (one whole second)
- Blurring movement
- Creating a smooth water effect on moving water – such as at the beach, waterfalls and lakes
- Long exposures – such as nightscapes
Fast Shutter Speed – eg. shutter speed 1/1000th second
- Freezing movement
- Animals on the move
- Birds in flight
- Motor sports
- Fast action sports