Introduction

Have you ever looked at some of the awesome photos posted on sites like Instagram or Flickr and wondered how you could shoot like that? If so, this post is for you. I’m going to break down the three keys to shooting awesome photos. The best part is that you can use these keys with anything from your smartphone camera all the way up to a DSLR.

Ready for the three keys? You sure? Okay, let’s get started.

The three keys are:

  1. ISO
  2. Aperture
  3. Shutter speed

Now, let’s break these down and see how you can use them to compose great shots.

ISO

This is simply the camera’s sensitivity to light. Think of it like sunglasses. If you’ve ever walked outside on a really sunny day (we have a lot of those in Phoenix) then you know that it can be uncomfortably bright. What do you do? You put on a pair of sunglasses to bring the brightness and glare down. This is essentially what the ISO setting on a camera does. ISO is usually expressed as a whole-number value such as 200.

Lower ISO settings will reduce the camera’s sensitivity to light (sunglasses on) which usually results in a darker image. Higher ISO settings will increase the camera’s sensitivity to light (sunglasses off) which usually results in a brighter image.

The basic rule of thumb is to keep the ISO setting as low as possible for each photo since high ISO settings also introduce a lot of noise or graininess to the image.

Aperture

This is simply the measure of how wide open the iris is on the camera. Think of it like your eye. Let’s reverse our example from before. If you’ve ever walked inside a dimly lit room after being outside on a sunny day, you know that everything looks really dark for a few seconds. In the meantime, the iris in your eye is opening wider to let more light in. Eventually you can see pretty well in the room because of this. Aperture is usually expressed as the letter “f” followed by a decimal number such as f1.5.

Lower aperture values open the iris wider (dark room) which usually results in a brighter image. Higher aperture values close the iris narrower (sunny day) which usually results in a darker image.

Low aperture values can also be used to get the bokeh effect in portraits so that the person is in focus but the background is blurry.

Shutter Speed

This is simply how fast the shutter opens and closes on the camera. Think of it like blinking. You can blink really fast, really slow or anywhere in between. In a camera, this controls how long the sensor is exposed to light. Shutter speed is usually expressed as a fraction of a second such as 1/2400.

Lower shutter speeds will expose the sensor to more light (blinking slowly) which usually results in a brighter image. Higher shutter speeds will expose the sensor to less light (blinking fast) which usually results in a darker image.

High shutter speeds can also be used to freeze action in a photo so that fast moving objects appear sharp instead of blurry.

Conclusion

ISO, aperture and shutter speed are the three pillars that photography is built on. Understanding what they do and how they interact with each other is essential to getting awesome photos.

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