Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

This article explains the three most basic camera settings you can control when taking a picture. These are:

  • Shutter Speed
  • Aperture
  • ISO

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed measures how long the camera sensor is exposed to light. In other words, this is how long your camera spends taking a picture.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

Shutter speed effects exposure and motion blur. Exposure refers to the amount of light hitting your camera sensor, while motion blur refers to the streaking that can occur when objects in your scene are moving quickly.

A fast shutter speed, such as 1/1000th of a second, can freeze a moving subject, but it also reduces exposure because the sensor is only exposed to light for a short period of time. This means your subject will be sharper, but your image will be darker.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

A low shutter speed, such as 30 seconds, will be used to introduce motion into a picture, but it increases exposure because the sensor is exposed to light for a longer period of time. This means a moving subject will not be as sharp, but your image will be brighter.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

Aperture

Aperture measures the amount of light passing through a set of blades inside the lens. Simply put, these blades can be controlled by the photographer to let more or less light through.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

Aperture effects exposure and depth of field, and it is measured using a number referred to as the f-stop.

Depth of field refers to the distance between the closest and furthest objects in your photo that are considered sharp and in-focus.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

A small aperture, such as f/14, will decrease exposure and create a deep depth of field where the subject and background are equally visible.

A large aperture, such as f/2.8, will increase exposure while also creating a shallow depth of field where the subject is isolated from the background.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

The visual quality of these out of focus backgrounds are often referred to as bokeh.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

ISO

ISO measures the sensitivity of the camera sensor to the light passed through the lens.

ISO effects exposure and image noise. Image noise refers to the random grain that can be seen in some images. A high ISO, such as ISO 6400, will increase exposure, but also increase image noise.

A low ISO, such as ISO 200, will decrease exposure while also decreasing image noise.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

Unlike shutter speed and aperture, ISO is a digital adjustment. There are no mechanical components involved.

For this reason, as digital sensor technology is constantly improving, higher ISOs are producing better and better results.

We have sensors like those in the Sony A7S II that can actually see in the dark without introducing additional noise into the image.

The art of photography essentially involves balancing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to create an image that is both artistically and technically proficient.

Photography: What do all those basic camera settings mean?

The most popular approach is to connect them in a triangle, which shows how they primarily influence exposure but also have secondary effects on motion blur, depth of field, and image noise.

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