Camera cheat sheet

Learn how to take your photography to the next level with a guide to the basics.

Want to take better pictures? Read on to understand the three things crucial to successful photography.

Aperture, ISO and shutter speed are central to taking a properly exposed photo - one that is neither overly bright nor overly dark. 

We'll explain them in plain English - going behind the jargon to show how they can make you a better photographer.



In a nutshell: How much light the camera lens lets in when taking a photo - can be used to blur and focus parts of an image

Aperture is basically a hole within a lens. The size of it dictates how much light reaches your camera's sensor. Light travels through it into the body of the camera, much like the way light passes into our eyes.

Aperture is measured in f-stops.

Small f-stop
creates a larger hole, allowing more light to reach the sensor.

Great for: create shallow depth of field, control how much of a photo is in focus to blur the background for a punchier portrait of your subject

Large f-stop creates a smaller hole, allowing a smaller amount of light to reach the sensor.

Great for: deep depth of field. If you have a picture of some friends or family or wildlife in a beautiful setting, the people, animals and background landscape will all be in focus


What is depth of field? The area of the image that appears sharp


Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed1

(Image source: Canon)

In a nutshell: The length of time the camera exposes the digital sensor to light - fast shutter speed is perfect for capturing fast-moving images

To understand shutter speed, think of the shutter as a curtain that remains closed until you take a photograph.

Shutter speed is sometimes referred to as exposure time. In layman's terms, it represents the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor before it returns to the closed position.

A fast shutter speed produces sharp images of moving objects, essentially freezing the action for you.

To capture a sharp image of a footballer kicking a ball, a shutter speed of around 1/1000 is required. That means the shutter is only open for 1/1000 of a second.

A slow shutter speed can produce blurred images, but may be useful in low light situations, or as an artistic technique in capturing light trails or the night sky.



(Image source: Canon)

In a nutshell: a measurement of how sensitive the camera is to light - higher ISO setting gives better results when taking photos in dimly lit rooms 

ISO is all about how sensitive your camera is to light. It's typically measured in numbers. A higher number means more sensitivity to available light, while a lower number means less sensitivity.

ISO stands for the International Standards Organisation, and used to be how they rated film. The higher the ISO, the better the film performed in low light.

A higher ISO will give you a better performance in low-light conditions - it's not a replacement for a flash though. The ISO setting is controlled by your camera's image sensor. It's responsible for gathering light and turning it into an image, so it's pretty important.

Higher sensitivity can distort the picture with unwanted 'grain' or 'noise'. But don't worry. Every camera has a Base ISO - the lowest ISO number of the sensor that can produce the highest image quality, without adding noise to the picture.

What is noise? Tiny dots that appear across images of a large mass of one colour  - a football pitch or ocean, for example




(Image source: Nikon)

In a nutshell: The amount of light that reaches the digital sensor, affecting the photo's brightness - a well-exposed picture is neither too dark nor too light 

To take a great picture you need the right level of exposure. Light meter at '0' is the perfect exposure. Anything lower than this will be underexposed, leaving you with a dark photo, while anything higher than this will be overexposed, leaving you with a bright photo.  

Aperture, shutter speed and ISO - known as the three kings of photography - work together to control an image's exposure. Adjusting just one of them will change the way your photo looks.

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