I got a camera, NOW WHAT?!

Maybe you got a nice camera for Christmas or you have had a camera for a while and just never figured out how to use it without being in (dare I say it?) automatic mode? Whatever your circumstance, I wanted to give everyone out there some tools and tips on how to get the best images out of your camera, whether it is a professional DSLR or just an point and shoot, this post is for you! This is a topic I will talk about again in another post since there is so much to cover.

Today I am going to go over the relationship between ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. Controlling these three settings let you be in control of your camera and not the other way around. Knowing how all of these things work together can also prevent your camera from having to flash, which is ideal!


Let's start with ISO, now many point and shoot cameras may not have the option to play with this setting, I am not well versed on these types of cameras so I don't know if yours does or doesn't. To find out if your camera has an adjustable ISO, google "(your camera's model) user manual" and it should tell you everything you need to know about settings. So, what is ISO? ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light, I'll explain what I mean. When you have a higher ISO, your camera can take in more light. When you have a lower ISO (say 100) your camera is taking in less light. The reason you want to stay closer to 100 is because a lower ISO gives you a better quality image and less "noise" or grain. For those of you who grew up with film, this number was displayed on the film itself and you were not able to adjust it. Here is an example of high vs low ISO, the photo on the left is taken at 100 ISO and the right at 3200 ISO, you can see the noise on the right.

I got this image at a FANTASTIC site for new photographers, they have TONS of helpful articles and tips!! CLICK HERE TO VIEW THEIR POST

I got this image at a FANTASTIC site for new photographers, they have TONS of helpful articles and tips!! CLICK HERE TO VIEW THEIR POST

ISO can be set before you take any pictures and as long as you are not in AUTO, you don't have to worry about it changing. When you are in AUTO your camera decides what is best, and it is better when you are in control of your camera's settings.

The Second adjustment you can make to your camera is Aperture. Basically, aperture is how big or small your opening in your lens is when the shot is taken. A large aperture is letting in more light and a small aperture is letting in less. The confusing part is that the smaller your aperture number, the wider your lens is. Think of this setting as the iris in your eye, when it is dark, your iris is very large because it trying to get more light and vice versa when it is bright outside. Aperture is one of three factors that control how much of your picture is in focus. Click Here for a great video and explanation of this topic. If you are looking to have those images with the blurry background, a small number aperture is what you need to try. How big of an aperture you can use is determined by your lens' capabilities. Here is an image of where you can find out where your lens tells you how wide  it can open.

After your lens' size (aka ##mm) you will see this ratio, and the number after the colon is the widest your lens opens. So in the case of my 70-200mm lens it is 2.8

After your lens' size (aka ##mm) you will see this ratio, and the number after the colon is the widest your lens opens. So in the case of my 70-200mm lens it is 2.8

Check out this image of my friend's hands, this was taken with a 50mm Macro lens at 2.8 aperture I believe, you can see how shallow the focus is.

Because of the lower light, you can also see the graininess from the higher ISO

Because of the lower light, you can also see the graininess from the higher ISO

When you want more of your image to be in focus, you can increase your aperture number. This is something to consider when your subject is moving and or you are taking a landscape photo and you want to get all the detail.

Here I bumped my aperture up to 10. I would have made it larger, but since it was already dark, I didn't want my lens opening to be too small and make it even darker.
Here I bumped my aperture up to 10. I would have made it larger, but since it was already dark, I didn't want my lens opening to be too small and make it even darker.

Finally, Shutter Speed, this is (in my opinion) the easiest to understand. This number tells you how long your shutter (imagine a little flap that opens and closes and lets light in) is open for a photograph. Some cameras show you the fraction (in seconds) ex. 1/250 and others will display only the bottom part of the fraction ex. 250 (this is true on my canon)

If you are taking an action shot, you want a fast shutter speed (close to 1/1000 of a second) depending on how much light you have and how fast the subject/s are moving. If you are just trying to figure out how to get a well lit image, I would suggest you FIRST watch this video on metering and metering modes.

When you focus on your subject, this is when the meter will tell you whether you are under or over exposed (the negative numbers mean your picture is too dark, while your positive numbers mean it is too bright, zero being ideal. I tend to like my images a little over exposed because I love a lot of light in my images, but it really is a personal preference.

Bonus Tip: If you are trying to get a silhouette and it is not dark enough, all you need to do is  under expose your image (make your shutter speed faster) and even in daylight, you can create a more silhouetted image. Click on the image below to read an article the better explains this trick!

So let me recap:

Here are two great websites for beginners:

    There are three ways to control how much light is in your image:

    • How fast or slow your shutter speed is
    • How big or small your aperture is
    • What your ISO is set to

    I know this is a lot of info so if you have questions or comments please leave a message below or send me a message through my Contact link on my website! Hope this was helpful!