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What is shutter spreed, iso and aperture?


ISO the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. It is typically measured in
numbers, a lower number representing lower sensitivity to available light, while higher
numbers mean more sensitivity. More sensitivity comes at the cost though, as the ISO
increases, so does the grain/noise in the images. Examples of ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800,


Shutter Speed the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the
camera sensor. Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they
are under a second. Slow shutter speeds allow more light into the camera sensor and are
used for low-light and night photography, while fast shutter speeds help to freeze motion.
Examples of shutter speeds: 1/15 (1/15th of a second), 1/30, 1/60, 1/125.


Aperture a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. The
larger the hole, the more light passes to the camera sensor. Aperture also controls
the depth of field, which is the portion of a scene that appears to be sharp. If the aperture
is very small, the depth of field is large, while if the aperture is large, the depth of field is
small. In photography, aperture is typically expressed in f numbers (also known as focal
ratio, since the f-number is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of
the lens). Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0.

How do the Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO work together to

create an exposure?
To have a good understanding about exposure and how shutter speed, aperture and ISO affect
it, we need to understand what happens within the camera when a picture is taken.

As you point your camera at a subject and press the shutter button, the subject gets into your
camera lens in a form of light. If your subject is well-lit, there is plenty of light that travels into the
lens, whereas if you are taking a picture in a dim environment, there is not much light that travels
into the lens. When the light enters the lens, it passes through various optical elements made of
glass, then goes through the lens Aperture (a hole inside the lens that can be changed from
small to large). Once the light goes past the lens aperture, it then hits the shutter curtain, which is
like a window that is closed at all times, but opens when needed. The shutter then opens in a
matter of milliseconds, letting the light hit the camera sensor for a specified amount of time. This

specified amount of time is called Shutter Speed and it can be extremely short (up to 1/8000th
of a second) or long (up to 30 seconds). The sensor then gathers the light, based on a predefined sensitivity, also known as ISO. Then the shutter closes and the light is completely
blocked from reaching the camera sensor.

To get the image properly exposed, so that it is not too bright or too dark, Shutter Speed,
Aperture and ISO need to play together. When lots of light enters the lens (lets say it is broad
daylight with plenty of sunlight), what happens when the lens aperture/hole is very small? Lots of
light gets blocked. This means that the camera sensor would need more time to collect the light.
What needs to happen for the sensor to collect the right amount of light? Thats right, the shutter
needs to stay open longer. So, with a very small lens aperture, we would need more time, i.e.
longer shutter speed for the sensor to gather enough light to produce a properly exposed image.

Now what would happen if the lens aperture/hole was very big? Obviously, a lot more light would
hit the sensor, so we would need a much shorter shutter speed for the image to get properly
exposed. If the shutter speed is too low, the sensor would get a lot more light than it needs and
the light would start burning or overexposing the image, just like magnifying glass starts
burning paper on a sunny day. The overexposed area of the image will look very bright or pure
white. In contrast, if the shutter speed is way too high, then the sensor is not able to gather
enough light and the image would appear underexposed or too dark.

Lets do a real-life example. Grab your camera and set your camera mode to Aperture Priority.
Set your lens aperture on your camera to the lowest possible number the lens will allow, such as

f/1.4 if you have a fast lens or f/3.5 on slower lenses. Set your ISO to 200 and make sure that
Auto ISO is turned off. Now point your camera at an object that is NOT a light source (for
example a picture on the wall) then half-press the shutter button to acquire correct focus and let
the camera determine the optimal exposure settings. Do not move your camera and keep
pointing at the same subject! If you look inside the camera viewfinder now or on the back LCD,
you should see several numbers. One of the numbers will show your aperture, which should be
the same number as what you set your aperture to, then it should show your shutter speed,
which should be a number such as 125 (means 1/125th of a second) and 200, which is your
sensor ISO.
Write down these numbers on a piece of paper and then take a picture. When the picture comes
up on the rear LCD of your camera, it should be properly exposed. It might be very blurry, but it
should be properly exposed, which means not too bright or too dark. Lets say the settings you
wrote down are 3.5 (aperture), 125 (shutter speed) and 200 (ISO). Now change your camera
mode to Manual Mode. Manually set your aperture to the same number as you wrote down,
which should be the lowest number your camera lens will allow (in our example it is 3.5). Then
set your shutter speed to the number you wrote down (in our example it is 125) and keep your
ISO the same 200. Make sure your lighting conditions in the room stay the same. Point at the
same subject and take another picture. Your results should look very similar to the picture you
took earlier, except this time, you are manually setting your camera shutter speed, instead of
letting your camera make the guess. Now, lets block the amount of light that is passing through
the lens by increasing the aperture and see what happens. Increase your aperture to a larger
number such as 8.0 and keep the rest of the settings the same. Point at the same subject and
take another picture. What happened? Your image is too dark or underexposed now! Why did
this happen? Because you blocked a portion of the light that hits the sensor and did not change
the shutter speed. Because of this, the camera sensor did not have enough time to gather the
light and therefore the image is underexposed. Had you decreased the shutter speed to a
smaller number, this would not have happened. Understand the relationship?
Now change your aperture back to what it was before (smallest number), but this time, decrease
your shutter speed to a much smaller number. In my example, I will set my shutter speed to 4
(quarter of a second) from 125. Take another picture. Now your image should be overexposed
and some parts of the image should appear too bright. What happened this time? You let your
lens pass through all the light it can gather without blocking it, then you let your sensor gather
more light then it needs by decreasing the shutter speed. This is a very basic explanation of how
aperture and shutter speed play together.

So, when does ISO come into play and what does it do? So far, we kept the ISO at the same
number (200) and didnt change it. Remember, ISO means sensor sensitivity. Lower numbers
mean lower sensitivity, while higher numbers mean higher sensitivity. If you were to change your
ISO from 200 to 400, you would be making the sensor twice more sensitive to light. In the above
example, at aperture of f/3.5, shutter speed of 1/125th of a second and ISO 200, if you were to
increase the ISO to 400, you would need twice less time to properly expose the image. This
means that you could set your shutter speed to 1/250th of a second and your image would still
come out properly exposed. Try it set your aperture to the same number you wrote down
earlier, multiply your shutter speed by two and set it to that number, then change your ISO to
400. It should look the same as the first image you took earlier. If you were to increase the ISO to
800, you would need to again double your last shutter speed from 1/250 to 1/500.
As you can see, increasing ISO from 200 to 800 will allow you to shoot at higher shutter speeds
and in this example increase it from 1/125th of a second to 1/500th of a second, which is plenty
of speed to freeze motion. However, increasing ISO comes at a cost the higher the ISO, the
more noise or grain it will add to the picture.
Basically, this is how the Three Kings work together to create an exposure. I highly recommend
practicing with your camera more to see the effects of changing aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

What camera mode should I be using?

As I pointed out in my Understanding Digital Camera Modes article, I recommend using
Aperture Priority mode for beginners (although any other mode works equally well, as long as
you know what you are doing). In this mode, you set your lens aperture, while the camera
automatically guesses what the right shutter speed should be. This way, you can control
the depth of field in your images by changing the aperture (depth of field also depends on other
factors such as camera to subject distance and focal length). There is absolutely nothing wrong
with using Auto or Program modes, especially considering the fact that most modern DSLRs
give the photographer pretty good control by allowing to override the shutter speed and aperture
in those modes. But most people get lazy and end up using the Auto/Program modes without
understanding what happens inside the camera, so I highly recommend to learn how to shoot in
all camera modes.

What ISO should I set my camera to?

If your camera is equipped with an Auto ISO feature (known as ISO Sensitivity Auto Control
on Nikon bodies), you should enable it, so that the camera automatically guesses what the right
ISO should be in different lighting conditions. Auto ISO is worry-free and it works great for most
lighting conditions! Set your Minimum ISO/ISO Sensitivity to 100 on Canon cameras and 200
on latest Nikon cameras, then set your Maximum ISO/Maximum Sensitivity to 800 or 1600
(depending on how much noise you consider acceptable). Set the Minimum Shutter Speed to
1/100th of a second if you have a short lens below 100mm and to a higher number if you have a
long lens. Basically, the camera will watch your shutter speed and if it drops below the Minimum
Shutter Speed, it will automatically increase the ISO to a higher number, to try to keep the
shutter speed above this setting. The general rule is to set your shutter speed to the largest focal
length of your lens. For example, if you have a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens, set your
minimum shutter speed to 1/300th of a second. Why? Because as the focal length of the lens
increases, so do the chances of having a camera shake that will render your images blurry. But
this rule doesnt always work, because there are other factors that all play a role in whether you
will introduce camera shake or not. Having shaky hands and improperly holding the camera
might cause extra camera shake, while having a lens with Vibration Reduction (also known as
Image Stabilization) might actually help to decrease camera shake. Either way, play with the
Minimum Shutter Speed option and try changing numbers and see what works for you.

If you do not have an Auto ISO option in your camera, then start out with the lowest ISO and
see what shutter speeds you are getting. Keep on increasing the ISO until you get to an
acceptable shutter speed.

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The ISO speed determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light. Similar
toshutter speed, it also correlates 1:1 with how much the exposure increases or
decreases. However, unlike aperture and shutter speed, a lower ISO speed is almost
always desirable, since higher ISO speeds dramatically increase image noise.

DSLR Cameras are fitted with image sensors. Immediately in front of the image sensor is a shutter
that blocks the light. The shutter is normally closed, preventing light from reaching the image
sensor. When the shutter-release button is pressed, the mirror is raised and the shutter opens,
allowing light to fall on the image sensor. Changing the shutter speed changes the length of time
the shutter is open.
The lens has an aperture or opening consisting of a diaphragm composed of overlapping blades.
Changing the aperture value (f-number) changes the size of this opening, in turn changing the

amount of light it allows through. The higher the f-number (e.g. f/16), the smaller the size of the
opening; the lower the f-number (e.g. f/2.8), the larger the size of the opening.
The camera controls the amount of light that falls on the image sensor by adjusting the length of
time the shutter is open and the size of the aperture.

Shutter unit

Aperture construction