Photographers Exposure Reference Guide

A collection of the most useful settings, tips, and help for new and amateur photographers. Suitable for most situations. 

See below for Basic Camera settings info, Exposure troubleshooting, and Exposure Rules of Thumb.


Basic Camera Settings

Mastering your basic camera settings is the first step toward being a better photographer.

Mastering your basic camera settings is the first step toward being a better photographer.

Exposure Mode: 

M - Manual mode - Puts complete control of Shutter Speed & Aperture in the hands of the user. Suitable for serious learners and professionals as gives maximum control but requires more understanding and attention.

A (Av) - Aperture control mode - Allows manual control of Aperture while the camera automates Shutter speed to achieve average exposure. Suitable for most situations where light is changing but speed is not a factor. Exposure is changed using Exposure compensation (+/-).

S (Tv) - Shutter control mode - Gives the user control of the Shutter speed. The camera automates Aperture to achieve average exposure. Best used for sports and or exposure time effects. Exposure is changed using Exposure compensation (+/-).

P - Programme mode - Automated exposure with the ability to override Shutter speed or Aperture when desired (not P for Professional). This mode is not found on top-end cameras, suitable for casual photographers.

 

Aperture:

Aperture is the opening in the lens. Like the human eye it controls the amount of light entering the camera. 

Aperture is the opening in the lens. Like the human eye it controls the amount of light entering the camera. 

Aperture is the opening in the lens - measured on a scale called f-stops. Used to control the amount of light captured and the amount of the scene that is in focus (depth of field).

f/1.4 - Wide Aperture, lots of light, fast shutter speeds, limited depth of field (very thin plane of focus).
f/8 - Average aperture, less light, sharper focus, medium depth of field.
f/16 - Very small aperture, limited light, slower shutter speeds, very wide depth of field (most of the scene in focus).

 

Shutter speed:

Shutter speed is a measure of the amount of time your camera is capturing a photo for. 

Shutter speed is a measure of the amount of time your camera is capturing a photo for. 

A measure of how much time the photo will capture. Fast shutter speeds (1/1000 sec for example) freeze action but let less light in than slow shutter speeds (1/10 sec) which capture more movement with more light captured. 

 

ISO:

At higher ISO's your camera can 'see' much more detail in the dark, like this Milky Way. 

At higher ISO's your camera can 'see' much more detail in the dark, like this Milky Way. 

The sensitivity of the sensor or film in the camera. Low ISO (100) captures images at a higher quality but is less reactive to light than a high ISO (3200) which will work very well in lower light but at the cost of colour quality and more noise / grain. Use the lowest ISO you can and raise only when you need more light but cannot open the aperture or lower the shutter speed any more. 



Troubleshooting Exposure settings

Having some trouble? Follow these steps one at a time in order to solve your photographic issues.

Photo too dark - Under-exposed

Under-Exposing a photo will cause lost shadow detail. 

Under-Exposing a photo will cause lost shadow detail. 

  • Sports, wildlife and moving subjects: Open the aperture (lower f number) or Raise ISO. 
  • On a tripod / Long exposure: Lower the shutter speed or open the aperture. 
  • Studio: Adjust light sources

 

Photo too Light - Over-Exposed

Over-Exposure will cause blown-out highlights with lost detail. 

Over-Exposure will cause blown-out highlights with lost detail. 

  • Sports, wildlife and moving subjects: Increase the Shutter Speed, Lower the ISO, or Close the aperture (higher f number)
  • On a tripod / Long exposure: Lower ISO, Close the aperture, Add an ND filter (neutral density filter), or Increase shutter speed.
  • Studio: Adjust light sources

 

Blurry photos (camera shake / moving subject)

Longer shutter speeds can be a problem when photographing moving subjects or shooting hand-held.

Longer shutter speeds can be a problem when photographing moving subjects or shooting hand-held.

  1. Increase shutter speed - you may need to also raise ISO or open the aperture to prevent under-exposing.
  2. Use a tripod or monopod - steady your camera to prevent shake. Or lean on something stable. 

 

Not enough in focus

Use the aperture on your camera to control how much of the scene is in focus. Wider aperture, more blur. 

Use the aperture on your camera to control how much of the scene is in focus. Wider aperture, more blur. 

  • Aperture is too wide - choose a higher f number, you will need to raise ISO or lower shutter speed to compensate for under-exposure. 

 

Location is too dark

Sometimes you just have to use a flash to get the best quality photos in a dark space. 

Sometimes you just have to use a flash to get the best quality photos in a dark space. 

  • Use a wider aperture - as wide as you can without losing focus on the scene you want.
  • Raise the ISO - more sensitivity will help compensate for less light, although quality will be lower.
  • Add more light - use a flash, or allow more natural light in to add more light to the image.

Exposure rules Of Thumb

 

Sunny Sixteen

On a bright sunny day, the following settings will give a pleasing, normal exposure:
At Aperture: f/16  Shutterspeed: 1/ISO

ISO: 100
Shutter: 1/100th sec
Aperture: f/16

ISO: 400
Shutter: 1/400th sec
Aperture: f/16

On Cloudy days use f/11

 

Luna Eleven (moony 11, 8, 5.6)

When shooting the moon, use the same rule as sunny sixteen where Shutter is 1/ISO with the below apertures.

Full Moon - f/11
Half Moon - f/8
Cresent Moon - f/5.6

 

No camera shake

For sharper hand held photos use shutter speed: 1/focal length

Examples:
At 400mm zoom use at least 1/400th Second
At 50mm zoom use at least 1/50th Second