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Aperture, shutter speed and ISO #photos

Image courtesy  of Nikon

This week we get a little more technical by looking at the aperture, shutter speed  and ISO settings of the camera. Understanding these setting will help you take sharper pictures that are more in focus and help you cope with different light.

Aperture, shutter speed and ISO

Before I go onto the holy trinity of photography; aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I think it’s important to set the white balance before you start on these settings. Basically, white balance is for different kinds of light. Fluorescent light has more UV (ultra violet) for example. White balance is fairly easy to understand. On my Nikon I have a cloudy setting (that I use a lot!), sunny, shade,  fluorescent, incandescent, flash, auto  and PRE.  PRE is pre programmed when you focus on a white sheet of paper, to judge the light. I rarely use that, if at all.

You can set your ISO (sensor sensitivity)  before you start your photo shoot for many situations. The lowest is 100 and if you set if at 200 your sensor is twice as sensitive to light and so on. On my Nikon I can effectively go up to 12,800. If it’s poor light you can use a higher ISO, but the disadvantage is it picks up stray light, often light the human eye can’t see. This shows as ‘noise’; white dots or coloured blotches. Try setting your ISO at 100 or leave it on auto to begin with. The lowest f stop on the lens I’m using now (18-105mm) is f/3.5.

Aperture Priority

Now you can try aperture priority, so you’re in control of the aperture. If you have white balance and ISO on auto, you don’t have to worry about them. I think white balance is quite easy for landscapes, so you might want to set that on shade, cloudy or sunny to get a better picture. Now you can set the aperture. To take a photo of something close like a portrait of someone, you can set the aperture wide (a lower F stop). Imagine the shutter as a door to your camera, the stop goes behind the door  and so a small f stop gives a wide aperture. The highest f stop  on my Nikon is  f/22 and gives me a really narrow aperture. The stops on my Nikon go up in 1/3 of a stop at each setting. If you have a bridge camera, you might find the wide aperture is even wider, but the narrow f stop is not so narrow. My Fujifilm S5600 goes up to f/8. The way you set the aperture varies with different cameras. My Nikon is easy, there is a thumb wheel I turn to set the aperture and I just press <i> for all the shooting settings.

wide aperture

Try taking some pictures setting the aperture yourself. Try a picture of a person or an object using a wide aperture. I could use f/3.5 which is the widest my lens goes to. Try different wide apertures and see the result. The image might be too light, because the wide aperture lets in lots of light. You might need lots of light for that shot though, experiment until you get it right. You should find your subject is in sharp focus, but the background behind the subject is out of focus (blurred).

Narrow aperture

A narrow aperture is more suitable for landscapes and will bring into focus the view behind your subject. Try a landscape at f/8 and see the result. On a sunny day with my Nikon I would choose an ISO of 100, f/16 and the camera would select a shutter speed of around 1/100 of a second. If the picture is too light at f/16 I can go to a narrower aperture and let in less light. On a cloudy day and we get a lot of them in the UK, I might use f/8 for a landscape.

narrow aperture

I needed quite a fast speed for this shot because the tram was moving. I set the aperture at f/5.6 and the ISO high at 3200. It’s not a great picture. I can’t see any noise, you usually see that on the black sky. I would have got a better picture at twilight, when there is still a little light. My aperture would have been narrower.

This shot was in poor light, but it’s much better. Understanding your camera and how to set apertures enables you to cope with poor light and different situations. It still takes a lot of practice, until you understand the settings. Both these pictures have been edited and I find editing is essential in winter to make images acceptable. Photographers don’t just take pictures, we create pictures. The picture might be aesthetically pleasing or it might be a scary graveyard picture, we try to make them interesting enough to provoke some feeling in the person viewing them. The response might be nostalgic, interested, scared or whatever, but we aim at some response.

One final tip is to have your AF assist illuminator turned on (if you have one) AF is auto focus and that illuminator helps the camera focus, it also helps it assess the light. Cameras have built in light meters to help match camera settings to the light. The camera can assess light better than our eyes, because the pupils in our eyes dilate as the light gets brighter. Some photographers use a separate light meter to check how much light is actually on the subject, such as the brides wedding dress which often reflects a lot of light.

Remember you can subscribe to this blog using the thingy in the sidebar and have updates by email. You can also follow me on Twitter or ask questions using the comments box. I’ll finish with some more pictures!

2 Responses

  1. Hi Mike, You’re absolutely right, you don’t take photos, you create them. Your photos definitely evoke moods, no matter what your subject is!

    I’m really surprised the tram was moving when you took those pictures. You did a great job of making it seem stationary (no blurring) but the photo itself suggests movement by the angle. Well done.

    February 2, 2015 at 18:15

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    I might try that shot with a wide aperture. I think I can get the tram even sharper, but with the background in soft focus. I tried it on a car today and it seemed to work! I think I’ll be picking my house guest up from there again tomorrow!

    February 3, 2015 at 00:19

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