Let’s delve into a few basic, but important, photography terms you may or may not be familiar with:
Aperture controls how much light is entering the lens. Shooting “wide open” or (f/1.4-f/2.8) will allow the most light to come in and keep less in focus. A lower aperture is ideal for an artsy portrait, creating bokeh, or distinguishing an object from the background. Shooting “closed” or (f/11+) will allow less light into the lens and keep more in focus. A higher aperture is ideal for photographing large groups, landscapes, or anything that you want to have the most depth of field.
My camera settings: f/ 1.6, 1/250th of a second, ISO 200
I chose to shoot this image at a lower aperture so I could focus on my daughter’s gorgeous lashes. (Seriously, they are to die for!) I really wanted them prominent and the rest of her to beautifully fall out of focus.
Shutter speed controls how long you let the light enter the lens. A faster shutter speed (1/250th, 1/500th etc.) is ideal for capturing a moving person/object, scenes in bright sunlight, or if you have particularly unsteady hands! Shooting with a slow shutter speed (1/60th , 1/30th, etc) is ideal for unfavorable lighting conditions (dark), for creating deliberate motion blur and with the help of a tripod or flash.
My camera settings: f/1.6, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 100
I typically like to shoot wide open because I really enjoy the beautiful bokeh created when doing so. But I did have to bump my shutter speed all the way up to 1/1250th not only because she was moving, but because of the bright sun and I wanted to retain as much detail in the highlights as possible.
ISO controls the amount of light your camera sensor picks up, or is sensitive to. The higher the ISO the more grain you can expect in your image. As a general rule of thumb, I try to keep my ISO as low as possible, only bumping it up if I need to keep my camera on a high aperture and fast shutter speed. Although with every new DSLR that hits the market, this function improves. I personally shoot with a Canon 5D MarkIII and I can get away with an ISO of 1600 before any noticeable grain appears. And that’s only when zoomed in or enlarging beyond a 16×24”! It is pretty amazing what digital cameras are capable of these days.
My camera settings: f/2.0, 1/250th of a second, ISO 250
Again, I like to shoot wide open and she was walking, so if I wanted the image to be in focus I had to bump up to a quicker shutter speed. There wasn’t as much natural light available in this situation, so I had to compensate by also bumping up my ISO.
WB (white balance) controls the overall color of your image. Believe it or not but different light sources give off different temperatures. For instance, a fluorescent light will give off a bluish tint, while tungsten light gives off a yellowish tint. This can create some yucky color casts if you are not setting your WB accordingly, especially with indoor lighting.
My camera settings: f/2.8, 1/100th of second, ISO 160
Here I took the risk of shooting at a slower shutter speed, sometimes that happens, but I got lucky that she held still for a split second! I left my WB on “auto” and while that may bother some professional studio photographers, sometimes when you are on the go, you can only adjust so much. And I tend to believe my camera does a fairly good job balancing color in natural light, whether it is sunny or overcast.
If your camera is set to P, Av (where you control aperture), or Tv (where you control shutter speed) it is allowing the in-camera meter to dictate certain settings and sometimes it can be totally off! Learning how to photograph in manual will not only allow you to be in complete control, it will also give you better results. The settings I mentioned and used are not necessarily the only correct ways to expose, but are more of guidelines to get well lit images.
I suggest playing around with all of these functions. You may end up with some really creative/unique shots!