I had a little canon powershot and no idea what the settings did. I always shot it in auto. But in front of me was this gorgeous girl. Every shot I took was garbage. Not a single one captured her as I saw her. Auto settings weren’t doing it. I had no control over how shallow or deep the focus was. The shots were slightly blurred and yellow. Other times they turned out more grainy than an old flip phone camera.

I wanted to capture that shallow portrait shot. The one where everything in the background is a creamy blur. We call it bokeh. 

I didn’t know the basics. I searched for a magic setting that I could set, leave and never touch again. Sadly that doesn’t always work. You have to be able to adjust. You have to know how to shoot manually.

It must have been love. That girl sat there patiently and posed while I tried out every setting on that little camera. If you don’t have someone hooked on hormones and your good looks you can always practice with an object. That might be advice for more than one aspect in life.


This is the little f numbers in your settings. F stops. These guys are fractions so bear with me. The higher the number (f/2) the more open the lens is. The lower the number (f/16) the more closed the lens is.

With aperture I focus on one part. Depth of field. This is how shallow or deep your focus is. It completely sets the tone of the final image. Wide open at f/2 I will have a very shallow field focus. Usually only part of a single subject will be in focus. The eyes of a face for example. Closed down to f/16 I will have a very deep field of focus. Everything in sight should be in focus.

There is a second part to aperture as well. Exposure. A wide open lens at f/2 lets in a lot more light. While a closed lens at f/16, lets in almost none.

I rarely worry about the second part. The two other settings we cover will allow me to get the exposure I want while maintaining the depth of field I want.

Shutter Speed

It’s shown as the fraction of a second. 1/100. It’s how long the camera lets in light for your image.

So at a slow shutter speed, the camera will let in a lot more light and provide a brighter image. Sometimes this will lead to overexposure where the image is burnt up white.

With faster shutter speed, the camera lets in less light. This could lead to underexposure where the image is dark or even black.

You have to adjust your shutter speed until you see the level of exposure you want for your final image. This is about the only one I fidget with when I’m out shooting.

I recommend keeping your shutter speed up by at least double your lens length. So on a 50mm lens I wouldn’t want to go below 1/100. This is to avoid motion blur.

Shutter speed is versatile but sometimes it hits limits. This is where the third part of exposure comes in.


This is the setting that determines how sensitive to light the camera’s sensor is. 

ISO 100 is fairly standard and won’t have any negative affects. ISO 2,000 is really cranking up the light sensitivity. Bright image but it’s going to affect how much noise or grain you see. The higher the ISO, the worse it gets.

Now I’m not saying high ISO is bad. In fact most modern cameras can go very high with minimal noise. I’m just saying there is a risk. Depending on the camera you carry, this may not ever be an issue.

I tend to hang out around 200 ISO most days. 800 on a dark day and maybe 1600 if it’s night or I’m inside. It’s something to play with and eventually it becomes second nature. I go straight to one of those three depending on the environment and rarely make changes.

Too long didn’t read

Aperture: The little f numbers (f/2).  Change this to affect how much of the scene is in focus. Think eye squint.

Shutter speed: How fast you shoot. Keep it above lens length to avoid blurry shots. Play with this the most.

ISO: How sensitive your camera is to light. Just set this to auto for now.

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