Getting started with aperture, ISO, and shutter speed: The basics

The basics of Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed

I bought my very first dslr camera 10 years ago. It was a Nikon D50. I had a basic understanding of what each setting was used for, but I still took most of my pictures in the auto mode. I was afraid I would miss a great shot because I had the wrong settings. My beautiful camera was being used as a point and shoot most of the time. Does this sound familiar?

As I became more familiar with the camera I learned about the three pillars that work together to create beautiful images. These three elements control the light that is passed through the lens in order to create the image you want. They are aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Photography is an art. Of course there is much more to it than just these three things, but with a basic understanding of each, you will be well on your way to creating stunning photographs. So let’s look at each one.

Aperture

simply stated, aperture is the size of the opening allowing light to pass through your lens. I have often heard this compared to the pupil in your eye. The larger the opening the more light passes through. In photography, aperture is measured in f-stops. If you look at your lens, you will see something like f/3.5-f/5.6. Or you may have a fixed lens like a 50 mm 1:1.8 (f/1.8) The larger the f number, the smaller the aperture. The smaller the f number, the larger the aperture. For example f/1.2 will have a much wider opening or larger aperture than f/8. This can get confusing, just remember it is the opposite of what you would naturally think. Aperture is used to control the depth of field in your photograph.

Look at the two images below

In this first image, the stunning background was equally as important as the portrait. I used aperture f/16 to capture the amazing view.

The basics of Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed

This next image was taken with aperture f/2.8. You’ll notice my focus is directly on my subject while the background is blurred.

The basics of Aperture, ISO, shutter speed

Depending on the type of image you are hoping to capture, aperture can make a dramatic impact.

ISO

There is a sensor inside your dslr camera. Basically this is the “film” of a digital camera. ISO determines how sensitive this sensor is to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive, and the higher the number, the more sensitive. Much less confusing than aperture, right? Your cameras ISO settings will likely start at 100 or 200 and can continue on very high. Most photographers will agree that using the lowest number possible is always best because the higher the number, the more noise or grain that is added to your image. Sometimes a low ISO is not possible. For instance, if you are shooting inside a dimly lit room, or at an indoor event where a flash is not aloud, you would want to increase your ISO.

Shutter Speed

The last of these three pillars is shutter speed. Just as the name sounds, the shutter speed is how quickly or slowly the shutter opens and closes. You can do amazing things to photographs by adjusting the shutter speed. For instance, if you want to get a clear crisp image of a moving subject or object, you set your shutter speed to open and close very quickly. If you want to blur the motion you would set it to stay open longer.

Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed work together to capture amazing photographs.

The best way to familiarize yourself with each setting is to go out and practice. You will notice when you change the shutter to open and close faster, you may need to increase your ISO or lower your aperture in order to gain enough light for your image. The same I say true for the others. When you change one, you may need to change the others to capture the photo you want.

Now that you have a good idea what aperture, ISO, and shutter speed are, get your camera out and practice taking pictures in manual mode!