Understanding ISO Aperture & Shutter speed: a beginners guide

Beginners guide to shutter, aperture, shutter

If you have any experience in photography you will know that the three main factors which control an image are ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed. Without an understanding how all of these work and how to apply them you will struggle to get nice picture in manual mode – the real way a camera should be used. More than just knowing how to apply them you should also have an understanding that all three will help you in different lighting situations and of course to get the stylistic result you want. This is what makes a photographers images truly professional. This tutorial is for beginners and will give you the knowledge of what each of these 3 elements are and how you can change the way your picture looks.


The basic meaning of ISO is sensitivity; the sensitivity of the CMOS sensor on your camera. Most modern Digital cameras have an ISO range between 100 and 12000; a low IS0 (100) will give LESS sensitivity and a high ISO (12000) will give HIGH sensitivity in your camera sensor. This is significant in low light conditions for example because you want the camera sensor to be sensitive and pick up more light. There is a draw back to using high ISO though – it creates “grain”. See this example below of how a higher ISO changes the amount of grain in an image.

A picture using low ISO:



A picture using HIGH ISO

high iso

In many ways this can be something you are looking for to make a stylistic effect. I would however advice you to only use a mid range ISO of no more than 800 because it is better to add grain in photo editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop. This will give you much more control over your image because once you have grain it is much harder to remove it if you decide you do not like the way it looks. ( for night shots you will need a flash most likely.)

Shutter speed

When you take a photo and hear the “click” this is the shutter operating on your camera. When you take a photograph it opens the shutter to expose the sensor thus allowing light to hit it. The longer the shutter stays open the more light will hit the sensor giving you a brighter image – the speed of the shutter is one of the fundamental parts of the internal operation of a camera so manufactures pay a lot of attention to making sure you have many different settings. The standard array of shutter speed’s will looking something like this:

  • 30 seconds
  • 25 seconds
  • 20 seconds
  • 15 seconds
  • 13 seconds
  • 10 seconds
  • 5 seconds
  • 4 seconds
  • 3.3 seconds
  • 2.5 seconds
  • 2 seconds
  • 1.6 seconds
  • 1.3 seconds
  • 1 second
  • 8
  • 6
  • 5
  • 4
  • 3
  • 1/4 second
  • 1/5 second
  • 1/6 second
  • 1/8 second
  • 1/10 second
  • 1/13 second
  • 1/15 second
  • 1/20 second
  • 1/25 second
  • 1/30 second
  • 1/40 second
  • 1/50 second
  • 1/60 second
  • 1/80 second
  • 1/100 second
  • 1/125 second
  • 1/160 second
  • 1/200 second

And so on a so forth… As you can see it goes from exposing the shutter for a very long time to a very short amount of time. Unless you are using a tripod i would not recommend going below 1/60 of a second because it will start to create a lot of blur in your images.  You also need to consider how quickly objects are moving in the frame to find the right shutter speed.  I am going to be creating a whole tutorial on shutter speeds and creativity very soon because there is a whole bunch of things you can do with it to create artistic effects. follow me on Google plus or twitter to see this tutorial when i put it live.


The simple answer to aperture is it is the adjustable hole in the lens of your camera. This is a different way in which you can control the amount of light hitting the sensor of your camera – in photography terminology you need to understand the size of the Aperture is called the “F stop”. generally in lenses the f stop will go from F2.0 to F22. The F2.0 would be called a large f stop because this has created a large hole for light to come in and a small aperture (F22) will let very little light in.

Other than the amount of light the aperture lets in there is one other significant thing it changes: the depth of field. The Depth of friend is essentially how much of your picture can be in in focus so a low depth of field will only show a few objects at a certain range and a large depth of field show almost anything.

Its easier to see the effect VIA images so here it a comparison:

small depth of field LARGE F STOP:



Large depth of field SMALL F STOP:

high depth of field

So there you have it a basic understanding of The three main elements of controlling a camera. This tutorial dos not cover exactly how you would combine all three in different situations so i am going to be make one which has different scenario very soon which i am sure will help you.

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Photographer and writer for jhphotographer.co.uk

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