Camera Basics

We know you probably can't wait to start shooting. That's why we compiled the absolute essentials to get you out there and making pictures! Here we go.

Every camera has three parameters that influence the image. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Not every camera will give you full control of all three, so before you continue, make sure yours does.

Each of the parameters influences the brightness of your image but also come with a second effect.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed determines the time during which light can pass through the camera onto the sensor.

Most cameras will let you set the duration from a few milliseconds up to several seconds or even minutes. A shutter speed of e.g. 1/60 will allow light into the camera for one-sixtieth of a second. The longer the shutter stays open, the brighter the image will be.

Additionally, the shutter will also determine the sharpness of your image. If you set the shutter speed to one-second, your images will turn out blurry. That's because the camera will capture everything happening during that one-second and merge it into one final frame. Within one-second, a runner might cross through your entire frame, leaving the camera to capture them as a smudge across the image.

slow shutter speed
Slow Shutter Speed

If you are using a shutter speed slower than 1/50, shaky hands might already cause the image to be blurry.

With a shutter speed of 1/500th, no considerable movement can take place during the capture process and your image will turn out crisp and clear.

The shutter speed you will need to get a blur-free image depends on the motion of the subject you are trying to capture. A rather static portrait shot might turn out fine with a shutter speed of 1/40 whereas you might need a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster to capture a soccer match.

fast shutter speed
Fast Shutter Speed

Aperture

The aperture determines the size of the opening through which light can pass onto the sensor.

Aperture is measured in f-stops. Usually, values will range from f/1.8 (wide open) to f/22 (narrow). The wider the opening, the more light reaches the sensor and the brighter the image will turn out.

Additionally, the aperture controls the depth of your focus. A wide aperture like f/2 blurs everything before and behind your subject. Think of your image as layers: A foreground and a background-layer. If you set your aperture to f/2 and focus on your subject in the foreground, the background will be blurred. If you focus on the background, the foreground will be blurred. Stepping closer toward your subject will narrow the focus area even more.

wide aperture
Wide Aperture

If you want both the foreground and the background to be in focus, use a narrow aperture like f/16. This way you can focus on multiple depth-layers at once. Additionally, if you focus on a subject farther away from the camera, the focus-area will also get wider.

Some lenses, mainly those built into phones, come with a fixed aperture. If you are shooting with a phone, take a look at this table where we summarised the apertures of popular phones.

narrow aperture
Narrow Aperture

ISO

The ISO setting determines the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. The higher you set the value, the brighter the image will be.

The caveat with a high ISO setting is that it doesn’t change the physical amount of light reaching the sensor. Your camera will just try harder to interpret the information it already gets.

high iso
High ISO

This results in stronger image noise the higher you set the value. The amount of noise depends on the camera you are using. While some cameras allow you to push the ISO beyond 1600 with little problems, others might produce awful image-noise at the same number. Especially when you are shooting with phones you will want to keep the ISO as low as possible.

A general rule of thumb is to use ISO to adjust your brightness in balance with shutter speed and aperture while keeping it as low as possible.

low iso
Low ISO