Camera Basics you need to know

Things you need to know in order to start shooting in manual

Photo of me by Annabelle Hartwich

Let’s say you’ve got your first camera, been shooting around in automatic mode and really enjoying it! But, now you want to explore, get more creative, have more control over your camera and start getting specific photos that you have in your head, saw on Instagram or maybe saved to your Pinterest board.

In order to do this, you need to start shooting in manual. Shooting in manual lets you have complete control over the camera so that you are able to calibrate the settings to get the shot that you want. In particular, you have control over four big things: ISO, Shutter speed, Aperture and White Balance.

ISO

ISO stands for International Organization for Standarization. However, to be completely honest, nobody cares what it stands for, and frankly most people don’t know. I just did a quick google search.

ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light, and it ranges from 100–25,600. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera is to light, which means the photo will get brighter. However, the higher the ISO, the more grain is introduced in the photo, so there is a give and take. Additionally, ISO also depends on the model of camera that you have. With higher end cameras, you are able to achieve a higher ISO with less grain, so thats something to keep in mind. While one camera may be able to shoot with 1000 ISO and have next to no grain, others cannot do the same.

Personally, when shooting indoors, I try and keep the ISO around 800. This allows for whatever natural light is present to shine through and have a well-exposed photo. When I am shooting outdoors, during the day, my ISO is around 100 since sunlight is pretty strong. I am someone that doesn’t really like grain in their images, but I know plenty of photographer do, so it really depends on your style and what you are aiming for.

Shutter Speed

Shutters speed is how fast the photo is being taken. A photo is captured from the time that the shutter opens and the shutter closes. Usually, photos are captured in a fraction of a second. By having manual control over the camera, you are able to choose how fast you want the picture to be captured. The slower the shutter speed (for example, one second), the more light is let into the camera, however, this leaves the possibility for motion blur. However, the faster the shutter speed (for example 1/200th of a second), the less light is let into the camera, but the sharper the image, and it’ll be less likely to find any motion blur in the image.

So, if you are doing sports photography for example, then it makes sense to have a faster shutter speed so that you are able to capture the action, without the blur. But, if you are doing long-exposure photography, then your shutter speed will most likely be around 10 seconds.

Aperture

Aperture is the one thing that depends on the lens and its capability. Aperture is how wide open the lens is and is measured by f-stops. So, the lower the f-stop (such as f/1.8) means that the camera is wide open and a higher f-stop (such as f/16), means that the lens is more closed. When the lens is wide-open, more light is allowed in, and the background is more out of focus (also known as bokeh). And when the aperture is closed, the less light is allowed in, but there is more in focus. Now, aperture really depends on the lens. Sometimes, a lens will have the capability of going down to f/1.8, sometimes the lowest it can go down to is f/3.5, so its something to keep in mind when looking at buying a new lens.

So, for a lot of portrait and fashion photography (which is what I focus on in particular), I shoot at a low aperture (f/1.8). This is so that I can have the subject as the main focus, and everything fade away. However, lets say I am shooting a group of people. I still want all of the people to be the main subject, and still have a nice blurry background, so this is where I might increase the aperture to f/2.5 to ensure that everyone is in focus. Since a camera focuses at a certain length of distance, someone who is slighty ahead, or slighty behind another person could end up being out of focus if the f-stop is too low. Let’s say I am doing a landscape photo, and I want everything in focus, from the foreground all the way to the background, and want to keep all the detail, then I would shoot at a higher f-stop (such as f/10).

White Balance

White balance is the overall temperature of the photo and this is measured in Kelvin. It usually ranges from 4000K (the cooler side) up to 7000K (the warmer side). When a photo is cooler, you are getting more of a blue tone to it, and when a photo is warmer, its more orange.

When I shoot, I usually have my camera set to Auto White Balance, and I would say that this is the one thing that doesn’t require a lot of focus on perfection. Since I shoot in RAW, when I bring my photo into Adobe Lightroom for editing, I have complete control of white balance afterwards, without any compromise. If I find that a photo is too cool for my liking, its a very easy adjustment to make it warmer. However, if you are someone who does not edit their photos, or who shoots Jpeg, then I would pay more attention to White Balance and calibrate it while you are shooting.

For example, if I am doing a winter themed photoshoot, I would like to have my photos on the cooler side in order to create the cold, frosty, cozy winter feel. However, lets say I am shooting with a sunset as the background and main light, then I would have a warmer tone to the image, bringing an orange tone to the image and making sure the sunset is transferred into the image.

ISO, shutter speed, aperture and white balance all have a huge impact on how a photo is created. And when you are on a photoshoot, changing your settings, you realize how much you have to move around and consider what you are changing with the image. If you increase the ISO, the image becomes brighter, but if it is too bright, you have to compensate somewhere else, so you close the aperture, but you want that nice bokeh, and so on and so forth. Its a lot at first admittedly, but practice makes perfect. Once you start playing around with the settings, practicing and develop a deeper understanding, changing the settings to get the image you want almost becomes a no brainer. For me, it takes about 5–10 minutes at the beginning of a shoot to calibrate my settings, do a couple of test shots to get the image that I want and from there, its smooth sailing where I am shooting, shooting and shooting, only needing to make fine adjustments along the way. Cameras and photography can be complex, but understanding how these work is the first step to have complete creative control over your photography.

If you would like to see some of my work as a photographer, feel free to check out my Instagram and website! And if you have any questions about cameras or photography, send me a message on Instagram! I love connecting and helping other creatives as much as I can.

A young University student very curious about many things and here to share his thinking. Interested in Photography, Technology and sharing stories.

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