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Your Camera Settings and What They Mean

A Note from Mama on a Green Mission: I want to thank my guest contributor, Audrey from Audrey Oliphant Photography! I “met” Audrey online about 3.5 years ago when we were in the same due date club. We were due in July 2010 but Audrey’s miracle twin girls arrived in April of 2010. I’ve shed tears for her and her girls, both sad and happy, and I am beyond elated that Audrey has agreed to be part of this event by sharing her expertise! As a person who’s recently gotten a DSLR camera, I can honestly say how confusing the settings can be. Sometimes you just need someone to give you the details on what means what! In comes Audrey…

This first segment is going to talk about how changing settings on your camera can change your photos drastically! Here are some tips to help you! All of these tips are for shooting with NO flash and only available light! The next installment will go a little more in depth about putting the flash away and using natural light!

Camera Settings

Shutter Speed is how long the camera stays open to expose itself to the image.
These setting are usually fractions of a second, the lower the number the slower the shutter will open, which may result in blurry photos. I never try to go below 1/200 if I don’t have to.

Aperture (fstop) is how wide the lens’ iris opens. The wider it opens the more light gets in.
This is kind of tricky, the LOWER the aperture (i.e.: 1.8) the MORE light you are letting in. The HIGHER the aperture the LESS light you are letting in.

Aperture determines your depth of field. Have you ever seen a photo where the background is blurry looking and the person pops out? That is using the aperture to create that effect. I will dicuss this more in the second installment! Here is an example:

Camera Settings

You can see how the couple stands out and the background has a beautiful bokeh (blur) to it!

ISO or ASA is how sensitive your film or digital camera is to light.
You always want your ISO as low as possible (200-400 range) The higher the ISO the more grain or digital noise you may get.

How do these three settings work together?

I have heard from more than one amazing photographer that photography is painting with light. It is all about the light, by learning how the settings above effect your photos can help you take better pictures!

Most people these days are buying DSLR cameras and shooting on AUTO or use the presets all the time. Honestly, except for the cool accessories and lenses, it isn’t much different from your average high megapixel camera. So experiment and try new things with your camera!
Sometimes the camera does a great job, but other times you are sitting there thinking “What is this camera doing?!” It is measuring how much available light there is, in or at the place you are shooting and adjusting your settings accordingly. It doesn’t always hit the mark.

Next time you break out your camera, try using Aperture Priority mode (check your manual to find out exactly what that is on your dial, most dSLRs and some high end point and shoot cameras have this mode). This will give you control over your aperture, and the camera will adjust the other settings for you. It is a great way to see how aperture effects your photos. Check what the camera is doing to other settings as well, it should tell you all the info on the photo you are taking (shutter speed and ISO).

Next try shutter speed priority. This will let you adjust the shutter speed slower or faster depending on what you are shooting. Things that stand still can be as low as 1/160 (and lower) depending on how steady your hand is, and it can go all way up to 1/3600 or higher, on most entry level dSLRs. When I am indoors (not using flash) I try to keep my shutter around 160-250 depending on what light I am working with.

Shutter Speed Settings

This picture shows a shutter speed that was too low for the action going on in the photo. In this case I wouldn’t adjust anything, I would just wait for her to set her hand down, but if you are shooting action and you notice some blur bump up your shutter speed to compensate for that. If you are shooting in shutter speed priority mode you camera would change the other settings for that slight increase in speed.
There is no ISO mode, but I will tell you to always keep your ISO as low as possible. If you are indoors with no flash you would probably be okay going as high as 800 (depending on the camera) but expect a fair amount of grain. I just shot a baptism where I had my ISO up to 4000, yes 4000. My camera is built to handle an ISO that high with little to medium grain depending on the available lighf, so I felt okay shooting that high. But some entry lever dSLR cameras can handle a higher ISO quite well, depending on the lighting, lens and settings!

3200 ISO picture with an entry level dSLR: (photo submitted)

Dance Camera Settings

Settings: Shutter speed: 1/250, Aperture: 5, ISO 3200

The shutter speed was set at a great speed, the lens they were using had an image stabilizer setting, they had great bright light, and they were able to rock this picture! And the grain isn’t too bad, except in the blacks, if you aren’t looking too close!

Manual mode… EEK Manual mode really isn’t THAT scary. I would encourage practice sometime when it doesn’t matter. Your kids’ first recital is not the place, but maybe one day when they are playing in the yard, change settings around! Don’t be concerned if something comes out blurry, dark, light or just plain weird, use the definitions above to help you decide what settings are best for where you are. Here is an example of a picture taken in full manual mode and what a few small setting changes can do!

Camera Settings DSLR

Settings: Shutter Speed 1/200, Aperture 3.2, ISO 200

Camera Settings Updated

Settings: Shutter Speed 1/160, Aperture 2.8, ISO 320

The changes are very slight and yet you can see a HUGE difference! Most kit lenses (a lens that comes with the camera) will not have an aperture setting lower than 3.5, if that is the case with your camera; work with the other settings to get the results you want. Your kit lens will work totally fine if you can learn to adjust the settings accordingly.

Indoors: Low aperture, low shutter (depending on the situation) and adjust ISO accordingly

Outdoors: Medium to high aperture, medium to high shutter and low ISO Ditch the flash!

In the next segment I am going to give tips and tricks on taking better pictures of your kids and how to ditch the flash! EVEN INDOORS! Thanks for tuning in!

About the Author: Audrey Oliphant is a central Iowa based photographer focusing on newborns, families, seniors and weddings. She has always loved photography, and in 2011 she realized her dream of doing it professionally. Inspired by her own children, Audrey offers affordable images for every milestone in your life. She specializes in natural lighting and her photography is fresh, whimsical and captures the emotion of the moment. Audrey goes above and beyond to make sure that you are comfortable, safe and enjoying the experience. Her images focus on how your child looked at that stage and how you felt at that moment in time. Audrey is a friend to her clients, and loves getting to know each family’s personality and style. She incorporates this into her images. She goes beyond traditional boundaries to create images that will inspire memories that will last a lifetime.

Visit Audrey’s Website and be sure to like Audrey Oliphant Photography on Facebook!

**Thank you Audrey for guest posting!**

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  1. Kelly Jo Zach says:

    Thank you for the awesome information. I love to take pictures, but truly do not understand my camera. Thank you!!!

  2. Sabrina Radke says:

    I’m so new to all this and am loving how you broke this down in easy to understand info for me 🙂

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