Your ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed Guide

Let’s discuss the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed. This is where a lot of people get confused about photography. And if you are like me... my brain shuts off with big words I don’t know and I just think I’ll never get it and my camera will have to be on auto forever. But actually if you read it and then play with the settings (and do the assignments I have for you) it will make sense and then you’ll wonder why they were so confusing. But it might take a while. For me... a good six months but I’m stubborn like that – you guys can do better 😉.

Choose your ISO based on the available light

Here is a little example of ISO hopefully explaining it a little to anyone who is having trouble. The top photo was taking at 8:30am in our house and the bottom photo was taken at 11am. He was in the same spot in our house but because of lighting change from outside and the sun I had to change my ISO. So all the other settings were the same but I needed less ISO (less light) as the sun was higher and shining in our house more at that time. 10am-3pm is my time I would schedule shoots in people's homes so that is my ideal time of light depending on where their windows are located etc.

Here is a little example of ISO hopefully explaining it a little to anyone who is having trouble. The top photo was taking at 8:30am in our house and the bottom photo was taken at 11am. He was in the same spot in our house but because of lighting change from outside and the sun I had to change my ISO. So all the other settings were the same but I needed less ISO (less light) as the sun was higher and shining in our house more at that time. 10am-3pm is my time I would schedule shoots in people's homes so that is my ideal time of light depending on where their windows are located etc.

ISO is a rating that measures the sensitivity of the camera to light, so the less light there is the more sensitive your camera needs to be.

Use a lower ISO setting when you have bright lightbecause you don’t need to allow as much time to let light into the camera. A low ISO setting is great for outside on a bright sunny day or inside with you flash.

Use a higher ISO setting in low light situations so that you allow more time to let light into the camera. Low light usually happens early in the morning, early evening, night, and when you’re indoors.

Hello Charlie ISO Quick Guide

  • ISO of 100 is a good choice for a bright sunny day or for indoor shots with added lighting (flash).

  • ISO of 400 is a good choice for overcast days, early mornings and early evenings.

  • ISO of 400+ is a good choice for night shoots or dimly lit interiors (not a lot of natural light).

Remember, the higher your ISO the grainer your image will be. We prefer portraits (photos of people/kids) to have minimal grain and so unless we are shooting at night or it’s a studio session, we always try to shoot using 100 or 400 ISO.

The graininess of your image is a personal preference and is part of what makes your style your own. If you love the look of a grainy image, do it!

Aperture

Aperture: Decide how you want your shot to look

The next decision is how you want your background to look. Do you want a blurry background or a sharp background?

The aperture determines the look of the shot so you simply choose the aperture setting to match!

  • F2.8 (blurry background) and a very fast shutter speed (1/640th sec)

  • F32 (sharp background) very, very slow shutter speed (1/5th sec)

How blurry the background is will also depend on how close you are to the subject and how long your lens is. A 200mm lens is going to give you a blurrier background than a 50mm lens because it magnifies the blur more.

Hello Charlie Aperture Quick Guide

SUPER IMPORTANT: When you are composing your photo, it’s important to always focus on the eyes.

When you are photographing one person, you can shoot as wide open as you like because it’s easy to focus on their eyes. The term wide open refers to shooting with a lower aperture setting, creating a shorter depth of field and a blurrier background. As soon as you introduce more people into the frame (the chances of 3 kids being lined up in your frame is slim), you need to carefully consider your aperture and depth of field, because if they’re not on exactly the same focal plane someone will be out of focus.

The two older kids are obviously jumping and bouncing so to freeze them I needed my shutter at 1/420 when I took this and my ISO was at 1600 to compensate for the less light coming in through my shutter speed. Remember I was indoors so my ISO was around 1000 to begin with.

The two older kids are obviously jumping and bouncing so to freeze them I needed my shutter at 1/420 when I took this and my ISO was at 1600 to compensate for the less light coming in through my shutter speed. Remember I was indoors so my ISO was around 1000 to begin with.

Select Your Shutter Speed

And finally, you select your shutter speed based on what your camera’s light meter tells you.

To select the right shutter speed simply adjust the speed until your light meter pointer hits the middle zero.

What the heck does this mean? See something similar to this on your camera? Adjust the dial until it rests in the center.

Ok and now my disclaimer on the light meter. This is how it looks on the back of your camera or you should have one as well in your viewfinder when you are looking through your camera. Here are two photographers...Me, I don't use it. It frustrates me and I know now what my settings need to be so I completely ignore it to be honest. My sister on the other hand uses it religiously so I will post in her words how she uses hers:   "I use the light meter as a quick reference when I'm actually looking through the viewfinder. Typically before I'm going to take a picture, I set my aperture and ISO where I think I want them and then set my shutterspeed somewhere around 1/125. When I'm looking through the viewfinder (and the light meter shows in there) I can see if it's below zero, my photo will turn out a little dark. If it's above zero it will be a little light/bright. I tend to shoot just over the zero b/c I know that's how I like my pictures to look. So basically once you have the aperture and ISO set, the little dial up by your shutter button (at least on Canon cameras) lets you adjust this light meter. What it is really doing is adjusting your shutterspeed. So if you get it to 0 but then you find your shutter is going really slow, you'll want to get back into your settings and adjust either your aperture or ISO to allow more light. Like Emily I typically know what aperture I want to use, so I tend at this point to bump up the ISO. I do find when I'm using my flash I ignore the light meter. I think the biggest frustration with it was not knowing which way to turn my dial to get it to move up or down (towards 0) so it slowed me down cranking that back and forth sometimes but once you get used to it, it can be helpful."

Ok and now my disclaimer on the light meter. This is how it looks on the back of your camera or you should have one as well in your viewfinder when you are looking through your camera. Here are two photographers...Me, I don't use it. It frustrates me and I know now what my settings need to be so I completely ignore it to be honest. My sister on the other hand uses it religiously so I will post in her words how she uses hers:

"I use the light meter as a quick reference when I'm actually looking through the viewfinder. Typically before I'm going to take a picture, I set my aperture and ISO where I think I want them and then set my shutterspeed somewhere around 1/125. When I'm looking through the viewfinder (and the light meter shows in there) I can see if it's below zero, my photo will turn out a little dark. If it's above zero it will be a little light/bright. I tend to shoot just over the zero b/c I know that's how I like my pictures to look. So basically once you have the aperture and ISO set, the little dial up by your shutter button (at least on Canon cameras) lets you adjust this light meter. What it is really doing is adjusting your shutterspeed. So if you get it to 0 but then you find your shutter is going really slow, you'll want to get back into your settings and adjust either your aperture or ISO to allow more light. Like Emily I typically know what aperture I want to use, so I tend at this point to bump up the ISO. I do find when I'm using my flash I ignore the light meter. I think the biggest frustration with it was not knowing which way to turn my dial to get it to move up or down (towards 0) so it slowed me down cranking that back and forth sometimes but once you get used to it, it can be helpful."

shutter speed

Hello Charlie Shutter Speed Quick Guide

Shutter speed goes from 1 second generally to 1/2000 of a second. So think of the numbers that way. 1 is a long time (slow and open for longer so movement becomes a blur) and 1/2000 is a short amount of time (very fast).

Slower shutter speed allows more light, more movement

Faster shutter speed, less light, freezes motion. For kids I  don’t usually have it slower than 1/125 without a tripod or you are going to get “blur city” as I call it. If they are running, dancing, jumping, etc...it needs to be even faster than that. This is also where it gets tough with phone photography. If you can change your settings manually on your phone – this would be the one to learn so you can freeze motion with those crazy kiddos!

Emily ButterworthComment