Learning all the ins and outs of photography is a
never ending challenge. For some, the technical
side of photography seems more difficult to
understand. Others feel they are challenged by
the creative side of understanding composition
and light. When learning any new skill, the
understanding of fundamentals is always most
important. The complexity of settings, along with
endless creative options is what makes
photography so challenging. That’s where these
six sayings come in. These simple phrases will
bring you back to the basics, helping you to
create quality images quickly, allowing for more
time to experiment creatively.
1. ISO: Set it first – change it last
Set it and forget it until you have to remember.
Many people get confused by the purpose of ISO,
and how to use it when controlling light. Unlike
the other two big settings (aperture and shutter
speed) when used properly, ISO gives your
photograph the ability to be more sensitive to the
available light. When you are setting your ISO,
remember to choose a setting based on the
amount of available light you happen to have in
your scene. Don’t set it because the shot you
took before was too dark and you want to
brighten the exposure.
ISO 2500, f/1.8 at 1/125th of a second
Every time you enter a scene, before you take a
shot, ask yourself, what kind of light is there?
Here are some starting ISO settings, adjust as
necessary for your scene:
Bright sunny day: ISO 100-200
Shade/clouds: ISO 400-800
Indoors: ISO 800-1600
Little/no light: ISO 1600 and up
Don’t forget the negative side of ISO. Most
camera models go above 1600 ISO now.
However, if you choose 1600, or higher, you will
most probably see noise (digital grain) in your
image. There are many post-production
techniques to remove noise, but it’s always best
to capture your best shot in the camera.
Consider this when choosing a higher ISO in
dimly lit areas.
2. Set an intention
Both shutter speed and aperture measure and
control how much light the camera takes in. But
they each also have a creative aspect that must
be considered when choosing your settings.
Knowing their distinct qualities, and creating an
intention when you shoot, are two extremely
important fundamentals of photography.
ISO 200, f/4.0 at 1/5000th
Ask yourself, “What is my purpose?” Why are you
taking that photo? Be clear on what you want to
capture. Give yourself a moment to set an
intention or two, then keep it in mind the whole
time. Once you have figured out your main
purpose, you can use that to choose which
setting you will set first. As aperture affects the
depth of field and shutter speed affects
movement , which aspect is more important for
creating the image you want?
Let’s take a look at two more awesome phrases
to easily remember the different purposes of
aperture and shutter speed.
3. Shutter speed: fast freezes – slow shows
Shutter speed is all about capturing (or not
capturing) motion. When you want to show
movement in the photograph, use a slower
shutter speed. If a subject is moving and you
want to freeze that movement, use a higher
(faster) shutter speed. The faster the subject is
moving, the higher your shutter speed must be to
freeze them/it.
Quick Tip: Do not hand hold and shoot below
1/60th of a second. You are a vibrating creature,
you are always moving. At about 1/60th of a
second, the camera might capture the movement
(called camera shake) you create just by
pressing the shutter button.
Image #1 (left): ISO 1000, f9.0, 1/20th
Image #2 (right): ISO 1000, f/4.0, 1/125th
Here are some starting points to freeze moving
subjects. Start here and adjust as necessary:
Moving cars: 1/4000th of a second or faster
People running : 1/1000th or faster
Kids playing: 1/500th or above
Person sitting still: 1/100th or faster
Still object: 1/60th or faster
Night scene: (tripod) 1/60th or slower
4. Aperture: High number = more in focus. Low
number = less in focus
This setting is all about depth of field, the
distance between the front and back of a focal
plane. The focal plane is determined by the spot
where you tell your camera to focus. The higher
the f-number, the larger the distance of that
plane. This means, more depth of the scene is
within the focal plane, thus it is in sharper focus.
The opposite is also true. The lower the f-
number, the smaller the distance between the
front and the back of the focal plane and less is
in focus.
If you want everything in the photo to be fully in
focus you will need to choose a higher f-number.
If you want to create a shallow depth of field
bringing only one part into focus, you will use a
smaller f-number.
Image #1 (left): ISO 160, f/11.0, 1/400th
Image #2 (right): ISO 160, f/1.8, 1/4000th
Here are some aperture starting points, same as
before, adjust as necessary:
Close-ups or detail shots: f/2.8 or lower
Portraits: (one person) f/1.8 – f/5.6
Groups: (2 or more) f/5.6 – f/8.0
Local scene: (less distance) f/8.0 – f/11
Landscape: (more distance) f/11 – f/22
5. Frame your finder
Witness your scene through your viewfinder, as
you allow your eye to examine every inch of
what you can see through the lens. Look from
top left, across and down to the right. What is in
each corner? Notice the edges of the frame.
When examining everything you see, slightly
move your camera around as you prepare for
finding the best version (framing) of this shot.
This will give you a greater sense of what you
do, or do not want to be in the shot. You will
notice if you have cut something off, or added
something into the shot you do not want.
When you make a habit of always re-framing
your viewfinder as you are shooting, you will gain
a greater sense of awareness, allowing for more
shots from other vantage points you hadn’t
considered before. Even more importantly, as you
practice this, every shot you take will be closer
to what you want to capture in the first shot you
See what is in every inch of your frame before
snapping the shutter!
6. Count your clicks
Once you have your desired exposure based on
the purpose of what you are capturing, you can
choose to change your purpose (capture a
different effect) by going up or down the range
of either aperture or shutter Speed. To make
sure you keep a proper exposure like you had
before (assuming you are shooting in Manual
Mode), just count your clicks. If you click six
times in one direction on shutter speed (because
now you want to show motion), you will need to
click six times in the other direction for aperture
to keep a proper exposure.
For example: When photographing a birthday
party, you may go from focusing on close-ups
and details, to kids running around, to capturing
a sunset. In this case, the first intention is
creating a shallow depth of field to capture a
non-moving object. Set your aperture to a low f-
number. Using your meter, now set your shutter
speed for correct exposure and snap away. ISO
will already be set because that’s the first trick
to remember.
Now it is time to capture the kids running
around. You will switch focus from aperture to
shutter Speed. To make sure you freeze their
movement (no one likes a photo of a blurry kid),
you will change your shutter speed to 1/1000th
of second.
But wait! Before you start moving the dial,
remember to count how many clicks you are
going. If you clicked down four times to get to
1/1000th of a second, then you will click UP four
times using your aperture dial. Now your
exposure will be the same, but you quickly
changed your settings to creatively capture
something entirely different. Note: if you are
using Aperture or Shutter Priority modes the
camera will do this adjustment for you
There you have it
The best thing you can do now is turn these
tricks into habits by jotting down these simple
phrases and stuffing them in your camera bag.
Next time you are ready to shoot, read over them
once or twice before you begin. As you practice
using these tricks in order to become more
accurate and efficient behind the lens you will
create more stunning eye-catching photographs
of any subject you choose to capture.
Do you have any other cool phrases that you say
to yourself when you are shooting? If you know
any other great tricks that are easy to remember
and simple to understand, let us know in the
comments section below. Together, it will be fun
to build a compilation of great photograph