The Basics Of Your Camera – What Do All Those Settings Mean?

Last year I wrote a post all about the basics of RAW photography (have a read here) and I went through what RAW images are and how to edit them. Bloggers and amateur photographers are always looking to create the best pictures that they can and so many of us invest in posh and expensive cameras – but do we really know what all the different shooting options mean? It can be a little overwhelming when you first try out your new camera, so I thought I’d do a simple guide to all the weird settings on your camera (hopefully in a way that anyone at any level would understand… I hope). I’ll be going over Aperture, F/Stops, Shutter Speed, ISO, Program mode and Manual mode.

If you get a bit confused, don’t worry, there’s a bit of a synopsis of everything I mention at the end of the post with the main points you need to remember!


APERTURE & F/STOPS

It all begins with aperture. Aperture is about how much light is coming into your camera when you take a photo (if you look at the lens when you take a photo, it gets bigger and smaller if you increase or decrease the aperture). It’s expressed as a number, which is described by an f/stop. Aperture and f/stops control how much light is coming in, as well as the depth of field. The depth of field is all about what’s in focus (so, how deep the focus goes). The ‘f’ in f/stop stands for focus or focal.

One thing you need to realise about f/stops and aperture is that a HIGH f/stop means a SMALLER aperture, and a LOW f/stop means a HIGHER aperture. Hopefully by looking at some snazzy examples it’ll make more sense.

EXAMPLE 1 – MORE BLURRY BACKGROUND

High aperture = lens opens up = more light gets into the lens = low f/stop = less of the photo is in focus = blurry background.

The photo below has a high aperture and a low f/stop. The low f/stop means it has a low depth of field – this isolates the background from the foreground and creates the blur. Think of it as the lower the f/stop, the less of the photo that will be in focus.

In this photo the f/stop is f/2.8. If I took it using f/36 for example, you’d probably be able to see the background fully in focus, along with my face.

EXAMPLE 2 – LESS BLUR

Low aperture = lens closes up more = less light gets into the lens = high f/stop = more of the photo is in focus (including the background!).

The photo below has a low aperture and a higher f/stop. The higher f/stop means it has a higher depth of field, so it appears closer together and therefore the background is more in focus (as well as the foreground, don’t you worry).

In this photo the f/stop is f/5.6. Comparing it to the previous photo, you can the see higher the f/stop, the less blurry the background is.

Compare the numbers below!

If you shoot in ‘A’ mode (meaning Aperture Priority, sometimes also shown as Av on a camera) – that means you’re controlling how high or low the aperture is. Try it on your camera, change the aperture number and see how photo backgrounds change with the change of number when you take a snap!

The diagram below may help get your head around the whole aperture/fstop thing – it shows that the smaller the lens aperture (the circles are like the lens), the higher the f/stop number. Taken from Wikipedia.


SHUTTER SPEED

Moving on to the less complicated stuff. Shutter speed pretty much is what it sounds like, and that’s the speed at which the photo takes. If you think about it, the slower the shutter speed the more shaky and blurry (bad blurry) the photo is, so a higher shutter speed is always best. The complicated thing is that Aperture and Shutter Speed work together on a camera, so you have to try and make them at a figure which blurs your background nicely (with the aperture and f/stop) but that keeps the photo clear and still (with the shutter speed) if you want that blur effect. Basically if you change the aperture, the shutter speed will also change. The general rule is that the higher the aperture, the lower the shutter speed, and vice versa.

On your camera you can use the S or Sv mode which will enable you to change the shutter speed, but as I mentioned before, the aperture will change along with it. Working in Shutter Speed mode is great if you’re taking quick photos that you really want to be taking in focus, but you won’t necessarily get that cool blurry background. However, want the blurry background but it’ll only let you have a slow shutter speed? Use a tripod!


ISO

ISO is a bit complicated, and you don’t need to know what it stands for (I don’t know), but it’s all about light sensitivity. Aperture and Shutter Speed are based around how much light is coming into the camera, and ISO is about the sensitivity to that light. The average numbers range from 100-1600 and basically, the lower the ISO, the more light needed for a certain exposure. So, if you want a brighter photo (or if it’s dull outside), you increase the ISO.

Every time you up the ISO, you’re basically doubling the sensitivity. If you take 2 photos, one at ISO 200 and then one at ISO 400, your second photo will be taken in half the time (so shutter speed will be higher) which is good if you want your image to be taken really quickly, such as if you’re taking a photo of something which is moving like a bird.

The only issue with having higher ISO values is that the higher you go, the more grainy your image will get – I’d say anything above 600 could potentially get a little noisy. I use the lowest (ISO 100) for all of my photos, but if it’s a bit dull out (and well, throughout Winter) I’ll go up to 200 or 400. ISO works with Aperture and Shutter Speed with all of this light business too, so if you alter your ISO, your A and SS will change. My advice would be to keep your ISO on 100 or 200 and only change if your image is too dark.


PROGRAM MODE

If you’re in A mode, you’re able to adjust the aperture (the SS stays the same). If you’re in S mode, you’re able to adjust the shutter speed (the aperture stays the same). Ok? Well the P option is called the Program mode, and that programs the shutter speed and aperture for you, in a way that should create a great photo. It’s a little bit like Automatic mode, except you can increase and decrease the aperture and shutter speed (you can’t change them individually, but it’ll do them both together in a sort of combination). Program mode is pretty good, but I often find it never gets it perfect and I have to do my own little adjustments to the settings.


MANUAL MODE

Manual mode is… well, you can do ALL of the settings manually. Unlike Program mode, you can change every single setting – the aperture, the ISO and the shutter speed. I BLOODY LOVE MANUAL MODE (although I only use it on up close shots because nobody got time for all that when a gal needs outfit shots) (also my dad does this for me). Anyway, manual mode is great for getting the best out of your photos, but sometimes it’s not always possible to get the photo you’re after. However, it’s so much easier to get the kinda brightness/exposures that you actually want instead of having a ‘guessed’ automatic version. To be honest, program mode pretty much does a similar thing but it kinda helps you out, so if you’re a bit freaked by shooting in manual, try program mode first.


That was a lot of writing, wasn’t it? Here are my top points!

  • For a blurry background – shoot in A mode and have a low f/stop.
  • For all of your photo to be in focus – shoot in A mode and have a high f/stop
  • For a light, bright photo – increase the ISO
  • For a sharp photo – shoot in S mode and have high enough shutter speed (over 40), or use a tripod
  • For beginners – shooting in A mode is where most people shoot images, and Program mode is a great starting point

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions! Come and check back every now and again and I will have answered them. Hope some of you find this post useful!

R x

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31 Comments

  1. 14th January 2017 / 9:47 am

    Robyn I learnt so much from this! What a fab post! Xxx

    • 19th January 2017 / 3:01 pm

      Thanks Hol! Glad you found it useful babe!

      R xoxo

  2. 14th January 2017 / 9:47 am

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I just switched camera and these tips are saving my life x

    Jessica — NinetyCo 

    • 19th January 2017 / 3:00 pm

      Thanks Jessica! Hope you found it really helpful! 🙂

      R xoxo

  3. 14th January 2017 / 10:41 am

    Robyn I can’t thank you enough for this post. I bought a camera in the summer hoping that at some point I’d learn how to use it properly and understand all of the settings and features. Well, that never happened. I’ve just never had the time! And, honestly, it’s kinda overwhelming for a complete beginner. I’m going to use this post and, fingers crossed, I’ll be able to take better pictures and understand my camera.

    Sophie
    http://www.sophiesnotebook.com

    • 19th January 2017 / 3:00 pm

      Ah thanks so much, Sophie! Haha! I was the same when I got mine a few years ago – it’s so overwhelming but I just took one little thing at a time (like, one of the points in this post for example) and then just build your knowledge over time!

      R xoxo

  4. 14th January 2017 / 11:31 am

    Such a useful post, Robyn! I’ve learn the basics of using a manual mode with my camera last year and honestly, it has made all the difference. I love the challenge of it! x

    http://www.ashrealasitgets.blogspot.com

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:59 pm

      Thanks Ash! I agree, it is challenging and kinda complicated but once you know a little bit it becomes so fun to experiment with!

      R xoxo

  5. 14th January 2017 / 12:23 pm

    This is so helpful! I’m such a camera dummie haha and find it all so confusing. But this explained it really well and I think it’s going to be helpful xx

    Lauren | itslaurenvictoria.blogspot.co.uk

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:58 pm

      Thanks Lauren! It is mega confusing when you think about it all at once but when you take one bit at a time (for example, learning how to do the blurry background) then it starts to all make sense over time!

      R xoxo

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:57 pm

      So glad it made sense! Some websites have it all written in such a complicated way so I thought I’d try and explain it as a user and not a ‘professional’. Thanks!

      R xoxo

  6. 14th January 2017 / 5:05 pm

    Oooh I really want to start experimenting with having more/less blurry backgrounds. I’ve saved this so that when it’s a bit lighter I can fiddle around with the f/ stuff on my camera. Thank you!

    Steph – http://www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:57 pm

      Yeah I have to say it’s a lot easier when it’s a bit lighter because you can do more with your settings – hope you find it useful later down the line!

      R xoxo

  7. 14th January 2017 / 8:04 pm

    DSLR’s can be so tricky to learn, I wish I’d seen a post like this when I first got mine! Thank god my dad has had ine for years and could teach me how to use one. Lovely helpful post! x

    Gemma Louise

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:56 pm

      Can’t they?! I had no idea how to work mine a couple of years ago – I had my dad to teach me too along with videos and articles etc! Glad you liked it!

      R xoxo

  8. 14th January 2017 / 11:43 pm

    You explained this so well and I loved your sort-of menu at the end for what to shoot in for different effects!

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:55 pm

      Thanks! Sometimes it’s so confusing with all the numbers and complicated words so I try and think about what settings I’d need to do a certain thing, saves trying to faff on with settings haha!

      R xoxo

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:55 pm

      Thank you, Areli! Glad you found it helpful.

      R xoxo

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:54 pm

      Thanks so much! Hope it comes in handy Jess!

      R xoxo

  9. Jenny
    16th January 2017 / 11:41 am

    This has been ridiculously helpful! I am taking a lot of photos for my work so it is good to finally have more of an idea than simply “automatic” on the camera! Thank you!

    Jenny | http://www.jacandtthebox.co.uk X

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:52 pm

      Thanks Jenny! Have a play around with it and have fun, glad you got something from the post!

      R xoxo

    • 19th January 2017 / 2:49 pm

      Thanks Naomi! I really hope you found it useful! 🙂

      R xoxo

    • 3rd February 2017 / 2:46 pm

      Thanks Gweni, glad ya found it useful!

      R xoxo

  10. 11th April 2017 / 1:26 pm

    So useful! I still struggle with the manual settings on my camera lol. You make it seem so simple to understand though so will defo need to give this a try with some new photos. Thanks for the tips!

    Amanda / http://ldnrose.com/

    • 11th April 2017 / 4:31 pm

      It’s one of those things you understand as you use it more, but hopefully the post helps! Glad you found it useful!

      R xoxo

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