Basic Photo Tips: Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed, and White Balance


I have become increasingly interested in photography lately. I'm constantly trying to figure out how to make my photos better and how to better understand my DSLR camera. 

Today, I want to walk you guys through the basics: aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and white balance. Understanding how and when to use these camera settings will make you a much better photographer. 

To start out, let's talk camera settings. The ones most photographers use are: 

  • Manual (you have to set aperture, shutter speed, and ISO)
  • Aperture priority (you set aperture and ISO, camera automatically sets shutter speed for optimal exposure)
  • Shutter speed priority (you set the shutter speed and ISO, camera automatically sets aperture for optimal exposure)

I always make sure my stock flash is turned off. I kinda wish I could just take that thing off of my camera entirely because I really dislike the way photos taken with flash turn out. 



Take a moment and open your eyes really wide. Make note of how much light comes in. Now, squint your eyes like you're standing outside on a really sunny day. Notice how the light changes. At a very basic level, this is how aperture works on a camera. 

The aperture is the iris of the camera, that can be adjusted to control how much light reaches the sensor. Aperture size is denoted by what are called "f-stops". The smaller the number, the wider the aperture, and the shallower the depth of field. 

Note: shallow depth of field means that the background is blurred.

My camera is usually set on aperture priority. I like this setting because I don't usually care about shutter speed, and I like being able to play around with the depth of field. Inside my apartment, my Aperture is normally set to f/5.6 which is my camera/lens' widest possible aperture. 


ISO determines the camera's sensitivity to light. A lower ISO number will make your camera less sensitive to light (darker photos). A higher ISO will make your camera more sensitive to light (lighter photos). The lower the number, the more light is required to get good exposure.

One thing to note about ISO is that higher ISO numbers often make photos grainy, like a pointillism painting.

I take most of my photos indoors, so I need a bit more light in my photos than I would if I were outdoors. For this reason, my camera is usually set at 800 ISO. I try not to go above that because the photos start to get grainy. If I take my shoot outside, I'll turn it down a bit so that the photos aren't too bright/overexposed.

Shutter Speed

When you take a photo, do you hear the clicking noise? That's your shutter. If you have it on a fast shutter speed, you'll hear the shutter move really quickly; if it's on a slow speed, it will... you know... move slowly. The shutter speed adjusts the length of time your shutter is open.

I rarely set my camera on shutter speed priority. The main times that I have used shutter speed priority are when I'm taking an action shot where I want to capture something in movement (fast shutter speed) or when I've taken funsie sparkler shots, where I want to draw my name out in light (slow shutter speed). When you use a fast shutter speed, you can crisply capture motion, but not as much light will come in (so your photos may come out dark). When you use a slow shutter speed, a ton of light will come in, but if you're not using a tripod things will probably look really blurry.

It's best to take fast shutter images when you have a really good light source. You can also crank up your ISO a bit to let in more light, and that will help to compensate for the lack of exposure time. 

White Balance


Setting your white balance will tell your camera what white is. Most DSLR cameras have built in settings such as Outdoors, Cloudy, Tungsten lights, Flourescent lights, etc. This will tell your camera what kind of light to expect, so that it can then redefine the color white. If your camera isn't set with the right white balance, your photos can look beige, yellow, or blueish in tint. And we don't want that -- we want it to look natural! So you can use the built in settings, or you can use Custom -- where you can point at something white and tell your camera -- This. This think I'm pointing at. That's white. Interpret light accordingly.