Learning how to determine what aperture and shutter speed/ISO to use...

Weaving Wax

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Aug 23, 2006
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I'm in a beginners photo class and am having a hard time knowing what shutter speed and aperture to use as well as ISO. I mean, I know about the relationship between the three, but I don't know what to choose for different situations.

In day light do you want a smaller aperture and a slower shutter speed for correct exposure and a wider aperture and faster shutter speed for low light situations or is it the opposite? I'm just having a hard time figuring out what to use. Any help, pointers?

I did search and found this chart I'll print up....


You choose your aperture for what kind of depth of field you want, then adjust all other settings to get the shutter speed you may need.

Often your available light may dictate what depth of field you can get, to get the shot.
everything is subjective. shutter, iso, and aperture depends on your creative image idea
If you are not trying to do creative stuff like DOF and motion blur :

If I have a lot of light then I will try to set my aperture at f8 or as close as possible, as this is where my lens is at it's sharpest. I also try to consider when the longer the focal length, then the faster I want the shutter speed to be to try and reduce shake. I always try to use the lowest ISO setting possible.

In low light and you have a tripod, then you have more flexibility with all three and by playing around, will let you get a feel as to what works for you. If no tripod, then it is best to increase the aperture size or increase the ISO to give you flexibility with the shutter speed to reduce unwanted shake/blur.
I have suggested this a lot and will suggest it again. [ame=http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-Photographs-Digital-Updated/dp/0817463003]Amazon.com: Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition) (9780817463007): Bryan Peterson: Books[/ame]

It is a good book on the subject that will give you the tools to look at a situation and make the adjustments to get the photograph you want.
My simplest answer.

1. set your ISO according to you available light- set this as low as you think appropriate. I see 400 as being neutral; thats what I gauge everything off of. More light available? 200 or 100. Less light? 800, 1600, errr 3200. Perfect lighting? 400. ISO generally won't change, it is sort of set it and forget it.

2. Now you have a choice. Are you looking for a shallow DOF for portraiture? Deep DOF for landscape? Set your f/stop accordingly. If stop motion is key, example sporting events, then you will want to set your shutter speed 1st. Usually starting at 1/400 for average speed action. Set either of these first depending on your desired photo.

3. Now adjust the other setting, if you set for a shallow DOF @ f/2.8, adjust your shutter speed for a proper exposure. If you set your shutter for stop motion @ 1/400 or faster, adjust your f/stop for proper exposure.

4. If you need to rob a stop from your ISO, now is the time to do it.

Something that wasn't mentioned is that it all come together using your light meter. Yes, you need to have an idea about the look you want your photo to have but the general idea is to have it all equal a center (in Nikon it's a "0" - not sure what it is in different cameras) when the light meter is reading (this is also not true 100% of the time either).

As was mentioned above:

In bright light you can use almost any ISO but you need to know that higher ISOs have more noise. You can compensate the higher ISO by smaller aperture (more depth of field) and/or faster shutter speed. The question to ask yourself is do you need all that ISO.

You can select a shutter speed of 1/4000 but do you need (or want) all that speed? Faster shutter speeds let in less light, you need to compensate with higher ISO and larger aperture. The question is what action are you trying to capture?

And the last thing to think about is how sharp you want everything around your subject. More area being sharp equals smaller aperture. This needs to be compensated by ISO and shutter speed. Too slow a shutter speed will possibly equal motion blur, a tripod will take that away for the photographer but what about the subject.

I agree read a book to better understand but I also want to suggest to take pictures! In this age of digital cameras (and I am assuming you are using a digital camera) it costs nothing to experiment and you see your results immediately ... no waiting for the photos to be developed. Look inside your viewfinder, locate the light meter, get it to be centered, "0" or whatever and snap that picture. If you don't like it - erase it and take another one. In the days of film, I would buy a 36 roll of film and take 3 or 4 shots of the same thing to get the look I wanted, get it developed and hope to get 1 or 2 good photos out of it. I would also venture to say to read a book and try what they are writing about, consider it homework.
I shoot everything wide open.

Shot of the cat, boom f/1.4
Portrait down on the beach, pow f/1.4
Group shot of the fam, bam f/1.4 (if they are blurry, they werent lined up like I told them)


What I do...

Decide on how much depth I want in my photo and then set my Aperture accordingly.
Then I adjust my shutter speed to give me as fast of an actuation as possible. If it drops to slow, I use a bump in ISO to bring it up.

For stop or blur motion, I put shutter speed as my priority, then select the aperture that will give me the ideal DOF for the subject, then I adjust ISO in there to balance it out if needed.

Isolation Apertures
Who Cares Apertures
Storytelling Apertures
I just read. In a actual book I might add. Full of photos and none of them naked woman. :confused:

I just read that you should set your ISO as low as possible. "with out causing or getting camera shake/noise" and then adjust your aperture and shutter speed from there.

Just read it and havnt tried it yet. Im in the beginning process of learning to shoot on manual. Ill have more to share with newbies like myself tomorrow. But at the moment Im very busy drinking beer and pregaming for the start off the NHL playoffs. GO WINGS!!!!
I'm in a beginners photo class and am having a hard time knowing what shutter speed and aperture to use as well as ISO. I mean, I know about the relationship between the three, but I don't know what to choose for different situations.

I'm taking a beginners class as well. I have found Bryan Peterson's book incredibly helpful (it's the most recommended book I've noticed on here). I've been selecting chapters and trying to imitate the pictures using his guidelines as well as having fun trying out various setting combinations.
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I agree on the Peterson book. The exposure series in my sig may help some too, but the book will do much better and covers much more.

Dominant- the opening to your post was great! made me laugh :)

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