The Basics

January 30, 2010

You’ve heard the terms before: aperture, composition, exposure, depth of field, f-stops, ISO and shutter speed. But you’re just a parent, an amateur photographer, and its just not possible to master photography. The solution, or so you think, is just to get an automatic camera and not worry about all of those “technical things”.

The problem is, it is not that hard or difficult to learn how to use these things, and the rewards far outweigh the small effort required to figure them out. In fact, most of today’s modern point-and-shoot cameras have enough functions to enable anyone to improve over the program, or automatic settings, results.

Let’s take a few moments to explore each of these terms in a little detail.


Schedule of Aperture

Schedule of Aperture

Aperture in photography refers to the opening of the lens in your camera. When you press the shutter release button it allows light to come through the lens on to the collector. Aperture is measured in f-stops such as f/2.8 etc. The smaller the number the larger the lens opening. Click on the diagram to the right to see this relationship in a visual format. Notice how the openings get larger the smaller the f-stop numbers.


On most digital cameras there is a button that allows you to choose the ISO setting which refers to the sensitivity of your camera to light. For example, ISO 400 is twice as sensitive to light as ISO 200, ISO 800 is twice as sensitive to light as ISO 400, and so on. The higher the ISO setting the noisier the image will be. In other words, the fuzzier the image will be. Often times the ISO setting is the easiest way to manipulate the camera aperture and shutter speed combinations.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is measured in the amount of time the lens is open to light. Typical shutter speeds are expressed like 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and so on. You use faster shutter speeds to stop motion, typically like 1/250, 1/500 or 1/1000. This will eliminate the blur and make your image look like it is suspended in mid air.

Depth of Field

Depth of field is the field or area in the photograph that is in focus. In some cases you may want your subject to be in focus and the background out of focus, such as when you are photographing people and don’t want the background to distract the viewer. In other cases, say photographing a landscape where a road or fence goes off in the distance, you may want everything to be in focus.

A long depth of field is when you want to include the environment in the photograph, and a short depth of field is where the entire background is out of focus.


Composition, in part, is figuring out what you want to be the focus of your photograph and then using all of the above tools to achieve the desired result. You can see that by learning to use these settings you can have more control over your photographs.

Remember, keep taking lots and lots of photographs of your kids. You will be glad you did!

Betty Muscott, Child Photographer

Betty Muscott, Child Photographer

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