The Big Three Basics

Recently we’ve explained some basic equipment terms so today I thought I’d continue with the beginner’s guides and introduce a few basic technical terms, starting with the Big Three:

Shutter Speed. Put in 4-year-old language this is the amount of time the shutter on your camera stays open. It is therefore the length of time the image sensor (in a digital camera) or film (in an old skool camera) is exposed to light.

Photographs are, generally, captured very quickly and so shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second. The larger the number underneath the 1 (the denominator) the faster the shutter speed.

Moving from one shutter speed to the next halves or doubles the amount of light getting in. Slow shutter speeds can be used to introduce some blurring into a photo (e.g. a blurred background) or used with a tripod to get good night time photos.

Aperture. Again, in 4-year-old language, this is the size of the opening in the lens when you take a photograph. The larger the opening the more light that gets through the lens and “hits” the image sensor or film. Aperture is measured in f-stops .

Moving one f-stop up to the next halves the amount of light getting to the lens (this is confusing as moving up f-stops gives you a larger f number, e.g. f/2.8 to f/4, but the larger numbers correspond to a smaller aperture so therefore less light gets in at higher f-stop numbers). Moving the opposite way halves the amount of light getting through.

Amateur photographers often come across aperture first in relation to depth of field. Higher f-stops create larger depth of field.

ISO. If you’re an old skool film photographer you have to buy your film with different ISO ratings on it, ranging from 100 to 1600 (many digital cameras offer 3200 as well). The rating refers to the sensitivity of the film to light. Lower ISOs produce higher quality (less noisy) images so as a general rule it’s best to use the lowest ISO you can get away with. High ISOs can be used for indoor shots without a flash or to deliberately introduce noise into a photo.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. The best advice for beginners is simple; take some time to play around with the different ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings on your camera. Don’t be afraid of messing up just try them out and see what happens. Get comfortable with which buttons you need to press & wheels you need to twirl to change them. Aperture, ISO, & shutter speed all work together so you need to be aware that when you change one you’ll need to change the others too. Now, go play & learn!


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