Any Questions? // Vol. 2 – Understanding Manual Camera Settings!!


April 9, 2013


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Any Questions? // Vol. 2 – Understanding Manual Camera Settings!!

For Miranda B!

ISO, shutter speed and aperture….the three main components of a well exposed photograph!  They may seem difficult to understand, but with a little practice, patience and instruction… can be mastered!

I know when you are just starting out, learning to shoot in manual can be daunting and seem a little impossible…I mean, putting your camera on auto seems so easy, but it sure doesn’t allow you to fully photograph your subjects the way you want!  Trust me….shooting manual is the way to go.  It doesn’t even compare to using auto or any other mode.  It is worth the practice and is definitely worth the time!  Manual mode can help your images look their best….even if your camera isn’t a pro series.  When you find the “sweet spot” with your settings….you will never go back!

Here is a little cheat sheet that I created in hopes to help get you through these next paragraphs!

understanding iso-aperture-shutterspeed-5


Ok…here we go!  Let’s start with ISO!

ISO: the camera’s level of sensitivity to light

The ISO is the first setting that I set on my camera when shooting.  The available light tells you where it needs to be set at.  On my Canon 5d Mark II, the ISO range is 100-6400…..but your camera may be different.  I like to stay as low as possible to keep the amount of grain down in my images.  If it were a gorgeous sunny day (which it is not right now in Michigan…bummer..), I would set my ISO nice and low…prob around 100ish.  Because the available light is so bright, the camera doesn’t have to be as sensitive….thus doesn’t need to take as much light in to properly expose the photograph.  Now, if I were actually taking a photo today, outside in this overcast blah-ness, I would probably set my ISO around 640ish…depending on how I feel after a few test shots.  Being inside is a whole other story…..again, depending on the available light, the ISO would most likely be much higher because the low light situation would require the camera’s sensitivity to be greater and compensate for it.  (sorry for the run on sentence there…)

Here is an example of grain….see the enlarged copy on the right?  It looks out of focus with lots of little dots…that is what grain (aka noise) looks like.  It’s not great to have it in your photos, but it’s inevitable if you are shooting in darker situations…  Some people like grain in their photos….more of an artistic approach, but for portrait and wedding photography, I like the clean, timeless look!

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Aperture (also referred to as the f/stop):  the size of the lens opening, allowing more or less light in

The f/stop is the second setting that I select what taking photos.  I love to shoot wide (which means that the f/stop is a low # and the lens is wide open), so my f/stop is almost always at or near 2.0.  Some lenses don’t allow you to shoot below 2.8, etc….but I like to always shoot almost as wide as my lens will go!  Shooting wide creates that blurry background that everyone loves!  It allows you to shoot almost anywhere because the background won’t matter when it’s all blurry!  Some exceptions for me shooting so wide are:  landscapes, large groups of people, shots of outdoor ceremonies, etc……situations where you want everything in focus.

Some examples of aperture settings:

understanding iso-aperture-shutterspeed-1

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Do you notice how you can see the animals more clearly in each photo?  That’s because the f/stop (aperture) is going up!

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Here is an image of Brett & Kendra that shows why I love that blurry background…so pretty!

understanding iso-aperture-shutterspeed-6

Shutter Speed:  the amount of time the camera lets in light

The shutter speed is also a very important element to a well exposed photograph!  When shooting freehand, I try and shoot no slower than 1/80.  If I’m in a pinch, I’ll lean against something to stabilize a little more so I can drop that speed down, but for the most part, that is a good rule of thumb to follow.  You may want to decide your desired shutter speed before the f/stop depending on what you are photographing.  In most cases for me, I am shooting slow moving subjects, so that’s why I go to my aperture first.  If you are shooting a sporting event or fast moving children, then you may want to shoot for speed.  To do this, you would set your shutter speed at a very fast setting….maybe something like 1/500ish.  The higher the shutter speed, the faster you can shoot….the faster you can shoot, the more the subject will be frozen in the frame.

Here is an example of this:

Sorry…not sure of the settings on this one…

understanding iso-aperture-shutterspeed-7

Just remember:

Correct ISO + Correct f/stop + Correct shutter speed = Correctly Exposed Photos!!

Want some homework?!  Go test out your manual settings!  Take some photos of objects trying out some of the things that I talked about today.  Push yourself and send some images my way!  I would love to feature them on the blog in the next edition of “Any Questions?”!!

Do you have any questions for me?  Need me to explain something in more detail?  Please email me at or leave a comment below!  I would love to feature your comment in the series!

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