Photos with Camera Settings

I get a lot of requests from those just starting out in photography to share photos with camera settings so that's what I'm going to do today!

Whilst I really think it can be really helpful for beginners to see photos alongside the settings used so they can get an idea of what works when, please bear in mind you can't just plug in the same numbers and expect the same results. There are a lot of variables like the amount of light, distance from subject, number of subjects and what you are trying to achieve that will determine what settings you use and why they will be different in each case.  It's one of the things in photography that no-one can tell you exactly how to do as each circumstance for every photo is different - you simply need to learn it.

However what you can do is look at these photos (and others) and understand what setting was the most important.  That way, you can start to see what the photographer needed to set first - once you know what the most important setting is, you can use this to create photos that are similar. All you need to do is know which setting to put in first, then all you have to do is adjust the other settings to achieve the correct exposure for that particular scene.

It will usually either be Aperture or Shutter Speed that is the most important setting, so let's have a look at some examples.

When is Aperture the most important setting? 
Aperture controls depth of field in your photos, in other words, how much or how little of the scene you are trying to capture will be in focus. If you are aiming for a portrait shot with your subject in sharp focus, and  a nice, creamy blurred background, then Aperture is the most important setting. Similarly, at the other end of the scale, if you are shooting a scene where you want every single thing in the frame to be in sharp focus, say a landscape shot, again you need to choose your aperture setting first.   I would say that most of the time you will probably want to choose your aperture first as it is probably the single biggest creative factor in most photos.

The hardest part is knowing which aperture works best for any given scene. (Using a DOF calculator can help you with this)  Whilst I can't give you any specific numbers, here are a couple of ideas....

For Portraits (or where you want some creative bokeh) - somewhere between F1.4 and F5.6 depending on how much you want to blur out the background, how close you are to your subject and what lens you are using.

For Landscapes (or scenes when you want pretty much everything in focus) Between F11 and F22 is probably where you want to be. Again the exact number will depend on the actual scene and how far apart the various elements are.

Macro Photography - with a true macro lens you want to use quite a high setting as the DOF is so shallow. I recommend starting at around F14.

Everyday Shots - Try keeping your aperture between F5.6 and F8 - it's enough to keep most things in focus.  In most situations, this is where your camera is likely to put your aperture in Auto.

You can read more about Aperture here  with some more photos taken at various aperture settings for examples.

Now, onto some example photos with camera settings:

F2.2 / 1/100 / ISO1600 

In this photo I wanted light bokeh - those little circles of light that you see in the background. This meant that aperture was my most important setting. I had one of the glasses and the bottle on the same focal plane, and was not bothered about getting the glass behind being in focus - you can see it is already blurring. If I was, I would have used a higher F number.   It was taken indoors, so my ISO is quite high - but I could have reduced this by lowering my shutter speed - effectively letting in more light to the camera.  For a shot like this when the subject is still and not going anywhere, you can handhold most cameras and lenses at around 1/80 (or at least one over the focal length) Alternatively, you can use a tripod, and really lower the shutter speed to get that ISO down.

F2.0 / 1/800 / 1/200 

In this photo I could have gone one of two ways - I could have increased my aperture to around F8 or F11 and got the background into focus as well, or done as I did here, use a low aperture number to blur everything but the subject out of focus.  I chose to use F2.0 as I thought it would give the photo a more  dreamy feel if the background was out of focus with the golden light. The only reason my shutter speed is so high is because using F2.0 was letting in a lot of light,  and I needed to use a higher shutter speed simply to expose properly. (I could have lowered my ISO too but it's quicker to change my shutter speed - ideally this would have been down at ISO100) 

F2.8 / 1/100 / ISO1250

Once again, the aperture is my most important setting here as I wanted to have the paints in sharp focus but Callum out of focus - but not too much, I wanted people to recognise it was Callum there! So I used F2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/100 as he was relatively still.  My ISO is high as I was indoors in quite low light.  Photos like this are one of the main reasons I love using aperture creatively - it allows you to move your focus so you can choose which part of the story to tell.

F2.2 / 1/320 / ISO100 

I really wanted Callum to pop off the background here so I choose a low F number to blur out the background. Shutter speed is reasonably high as we are outdoors and moving around.  The background would still have been blurred at a higher aperture setting - he was quite a distance from the background which also makes a difference to how much blur there will be.

For my style of photography, I mostly use large apertures (low F number) but on occasion I do go the other way....

 F22 / ISO 1600 / 32 seconds 

At the other end of the aperture scale we have this.  You need to close your aperture way down to get light sparkles like this so I used F22. I'm letting in so little light with that size of aperture that I need to slow my shutter speed right down (yes, that does mean 32 seconds - in that, you press the shutter and 32 seconds later it is finished taking the picture! One word for you:Tripod!)

F9.0 / 1/300 / ISO100  

I should have actually used a higher aperture setting here, but even at F9.0 you can see that a lot of the scene is in sharp focus, although the mountain at the back could probably be sharper.  The shutter speed is high because it is a sunny day - even at F9 I am letting in a lot of light!  I could easily have gone for a higher aperture setting here, and just reduced my shutter speed to maintain the correct exposure - going down to 1/80 or so so that I would not have needed a tripod.

F6.0 / 1/200 / ISO100 

There is not much by the way of near and far subjects here, so I used F6.0 which rendered all of the scene sharp - if there had been things behind the big wall that I wanted in focus, or something closer to me, I would have had to have used a higher F number.

That's it for aperture examples, lets look at some more photos with camera settings when shutter speed was more important. 

When is Shutter Speed the most important setting? 
Shutter speed is your most important setting if you are trying to photograph movement. If it is an action shot, for example of your child at sports day, you will be trying to "freeze" the action with a fast shutter speed, so this is the most important setting for you.  If you are trying to show action by creating motion blur (think a dreamy, blurred waterfall) then again shutter speed needs to be set first.

Again, it's not knowing when to use shutter speed that is hard, it's what to set it at.  You can take a look at this post about understanding shutter speed for some examples.

 1/400 / F 2.5 / ISO 125

In this one, the subject is running full stead ahead so shutter speed needs to be high. I set this first at 1/400, and set my aperture at F2.5 (although I would only go this low with your aperture and moving subjects if you are confident in your focusing ability - if in doubt use a higher aperture number and increase your ISO to suit)

1/13 / F32 / ISO 100

In this one I'm trying to show light motion (the photo is actually bubbles being blown - the lights are the sun reflecting off the bubbles) so I've used a pretty slow shutter speed, 1/13, to show the light streaks. As I have slowed my shutter speed right down, I'm letting more light into the camera so I need to close up my aperture at F32! (this was outdoors on an incredibly sunny day)

1/640 / F3.5 / ISO200 

Last one, in this I'm trying to freeze the water droplets so the shutter speed is reasonably high at 1/640 (I could have gone even higher to freeze them even more) F3.5 was reasonable to blur out the background, and kept my ISO down at 200. 

Is ISO ever the most important setting?
In some situations where you have extremely low light you are probably going to have to set your ISO first and hope for the best.  Remember that ISO controls how much light reaches the sensor, and high ISO's allow you to photograph in very low light situations, however their is a downside as it introduces noise into your photographs.  Generally you want to keep your ISO as low as possible without under-exposing, or having blur through too slow shutter speeds.  Although it is usually the last variable - keep it as low as you can once you have the aperture and shutter speed you want - there are times if you are shooting people in incredibly low light that you might just want to whack your ISO up as far you can to see what you are left to play with for aperture and shutter speed. 

Last photo with camera settings: 

ISO6400 / 1/125 / F2.5

This photo was taken in the bowling where it was amazingly dark, with the exception of the horrid yellow light over the actual bowling lane.  The only options were to use flash (which I don't have) or bump up my ISO.  I set this at 6400 as that was as high as my camera could go. I then just had to try and let in as much light as possible through my aperture and shutter speed, keeping them as low as I could go without motion blur or accidental bokeh - you can see I haven't got a high enough shutter speed here as his hand is starting to show motion blur.  With my ISO up as high as it will go, the only option would have been to use a lower aperture number. 

I should point out that not all of these settings are perfect - sometimes I could have lowered my ISO or my shutter speed -  a lot of the time you are just taking the picture so that the most important setting is correct, and the rest just have to quickly fall in so you can get the correct exposure.  It depends on how much time you have to get it right!

So, when you are taking a photo, stop for a moment and decide what you are trying to achieve, and decide which of these two settings (Aperture or Shutter Speed) is the most important. You are almost working down in order of importance - for example, if Aperture is your most important setting, plug this into your camera first.  Shutter Speed would then be the next most important, so plug that in next, and ISO is going to be the one that you set to get your camera to expose properly - in other words, get that little bar into the middle.  If you feel your ISO is too high, you can tweak your other settings to compensate if need be, however, I always prefer to have my aperture and shutter speed set how I want, and introduce a little noise with a higher ISO setting if I have to.

If you are ready to look at the next set of settings, take a look at posts on Focus Modes, which tells you which focus mode to use when, and Metering Modes, which explains which metering mode you should use.

I hoped seeing some photos with camera settings alongside has helped some of you that are just starting out setting your camera and looking to get away from Auto, either by using Aperture or Shutter Priority mode, or if you are beginning to use Manual Mode.

Other Posts You Might Like:

Why Shoot In Manual Mode
Why Are My Photos Out of Focus? 
Bokeh Tutorial
Photography For Moms 


Tasha Meyer said...

This was very helpful! It's so hard to learn the valence on these three, whenever you are chasing after kids. Do you think you can post the numbers you used under pics in other posts too? Thanks!

Audrey said...

I will from now on if I remember!

Jan said...

i love the way you explain things so clearly! i'll say it again and again, but you truly have a gift for making the complicated simple!

what lens were you using for images 4 and 8? 135?

Audrey said...

Yes! How did you guess? Both these images were with the 135 (in fact the only two on the page!) It does makes the subjects "pop" more off the background doesn't it? How are you liking the 100?

Jan said...

the 135 produces images with a certain (AMAZING!) look about them. i want nikon to come out with an updated version. i'd really want one! i'm mostly shooting with my good ole 50 since we're inside most of the time. i'll use my 100 more come spring. in fact, i'll pop it on now and play with my 100 for the next couple of days. i still want the sigma 35 1.4 though. i really like how it feels on the camera body. my plastic 50 makes my camera body feel unbalanced. but it's a great lens so i can't complain.

Audrey said...

You've made me want the 35mm too, think it would just round up my lens collection nicely!

love photos said...

Ohhh Lovely kids...

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