Basic intro to camera settings

I first started in photography after walking the hills of Northumberland and not being able to capture what I was seeing with my eyes and representing it well with a camera.  Similarly, as my eldest came along he was a focus of my attention but the camera wasn’t doing him any justice of how I wanted to show him.  Needless to say, I understand the reason behind the questions I now get asked by people in similar situations.  There is an awful lot to take in and different camera settings can make a huge difference to the outcome of your shot.

So, I decided to throw this blog post together to hopefully shed some light on small steps to understand when taking photographs of your children, partner, dog or goldfish.


The aperture (or F stop) is the opening in your camera that allows light on to the sensor.  You controller the amount of light in part by opening and closing the aperture.  It opens as you fire your shot, but how much it opens depends on this setting. This image shows some typical F Stops or aperture sizes.  As you can see the larger the number, the smaller the opening.




As well as letting in a given amount of light, the aperture also controls the depth of field (DoF).  DoF governs how much of the image is in focus.  The wider the aperture or smaller the F/Stop the shallower the focus or DoF.  I’ve given two examples below to hopefully explain this (picture worth a thousand words and all that).


Jacob-2-3 Jacob-1-3

In the top image, I took the photo with a narrow aperture.  This was restricting the amount of light in and so making it a dark image.  However, while its darker, the detail can be seen in the back ground and all of the subject is in focus.

The bottom image I opened up the aperture and this let more light in, brightening the image.  But also the DoF reduces blurring out the background and also you can see that pats of the arm isnt as well focused.

This is a good technique for drawing attention to the main subject but if that subject is a person it is generally good to make sure the eyes are in focus.


Shutter Speed

The next way to control how much light reaches your sensor (you will come to see that its all about controlling light) is with the shutter speed.  Or how fast that opening opens and closes.  It stands to reason that the faster your shutter, the easier it is to freeze in view what you are looking at though less light gets in.  The longer the shutter is open, the more light gets in and the camera will capture more of what you are looking at for longer.

So what effect will this have on an image?


With this shot I lengthened the shutter speed.  Be aware that in the camera the speed is often displayed as fractions of a second.  So 1/100 is a 100th of a second and 1/50 is a 50th and so slower.  If you see 2″ that would be two full seconds and so much longer.  Because I let the shutter stay open a fair length of time, the child moved and so likely did my hands!  This leads to image blur or shake and isnt really wanted!

A rule of thumb generally is not to have the shutter speed slower than the length of the lens.  So if its 50mm, dont drop below 1/50 for hand held.

This is different though if you are doing landscape and want the effect of flowing water rather than it being frozen in time.  But for this you would use a tripod to hold the camera perfectly still.  But thats for another day.

So generally, for images of children, keep a shutter speed over the length of the lens to capture things still.  Remember though that a faster shutter is less light.

Combining the two though means a wide aperture (more light, blurred background) and a fast shutter (less light and to prevent movement in the image) is a very good setting for photography of people (without getting too creative)



This is then the two combined.  Handsome chap eh!



Then as a final touch, personally I prefer to make the images black & white as think it captures the person so much better.

As a final basic “tip”, have a look at composition or the “rule of thirds” so you’re not making the person central, but rather off to one side (a third) looking in to the rest of the image, see last two images as examples.

Hope this helped!

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