Hall Photography 101: ISO, Shutter, Aperture

Previous tutorials:
Outdoor shooting: https://blizzardterrakphotography.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/basic-outdoor-lighting/
Picking a camera: https://blizzardterrakphotography.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/what-kind-of-camera-is-for-you/

When I first started photographer, I left the camera on “Auto”.  Jokingly known as “A for Awesome”, it was great that all I needed to do was point at a subject and push the shutter.  Unfortunately, the “Awesome” setting produces much less than awesome results for indoor and night shoots and I had to deal with three very important camera settings:  ISO, Shutter, and Aperture.

The ISOs


ISO 800

Since the days of film photography, ISO values indicate how sensitive to light the final shot will be.  The higher the ISO value, the more sensitive the film was and lower values were not as sensitive.  This was transferred into digital photography, except now the camera’s sensor can be adjusted by the user on the fly instead of predetermined by the film in the camera.  The ISO range of a camera body will directly affect how well the photographer can handle different lighting conditions.

Cosplayers:  LimitlessEdge

ISO 200

Using higher ISO levels makes the end photo brighter, but there are trade-offs.  Increasing the ISO causes digital noise in the sensor, creating “graininess” in the photo taken.  While grain could be minimized by more advanced cameras and in post-processing software, there is no foolproof way of escaping grain at higher ISO values.  Therefore a photographer should try to use as small an ISO-value as possible, particularly if the photos taken are for large quality prints.  That beings said, don’t be afraid of increasing the ISO to get the shot.  It’s only when you push the camera to the absolute brink where the grain becomes unbearable.

Biggest factor:  Camera body

SO 200
The sensor is located in the body and cannot be swapped out for another.  Cheaper cameras tend to have max out at about ISO 1600 with a lot of grain while more expensive cameras have been known to go at least to ISO 128,000 or more.  Generally the cheaper cameras can go up to ISO 400 without having significant grain while more expensive cameras can go to ISO 3200 and beyond.  Full-Frame cameras work better and higher ISO ranges than many of the Crop-Sensor cameras.

Another minor annoyance in some cheaper cameras is that the ISO can only be changed in a menu.  Those could be big factors in terms of purchasing a camera.

Outdoors – Cloudy Day

ISO 100 – ISO 400 (ISO 800 at sunset)

Indoors or Nighttime

ISO 800 – 3200 (and higher)

I Shutter to Think…


1/400 (freeze)

Raven Cosplayer - Kimba616

1/125 (slight motion blur)

Shutter Speed is how long the camera shutter is open in order to take a photo, measured in fractions of a second.  However long the shutter remains open has a direct impact to how bright a photo turns out.  Too much time, and the photo will be “overblown” or end up as a white wall.  Too little time and the photo will be too underexposed for anything to be seen in the black.  The general rule of thumb is that a click on the Shutter dial will either halve or double the amount of time the shutter remains open and has a proportional effect to the brightness of the photo.

Shutter speeds should be a factor in motion photography.  While the shutter remains open, more light ends up hitting the sensor/film.  If your subject (or the camera) moves, the extra light will also hit the sensor, creating motion blur.  Of course, if the shutter is quick enough, the subject is actually frozen in the shot with no blur.  This is what bird or sport photographers do to capture that “frozen motion” shot.  Also anyone who likes to “draw” at night will leave the shutter open for long periods of time.  (see FreddieW’s “Light Warefare” Youtube video).

Biggest Factor: Type of Camera

Digital cameras come with a wide range of shutter speeds from very slow to very fast.  However point and shoots and especially camera phones have to leave the shutter open longer than DSLRs since they have smaller sensors and require more light in for the same brightness in photos.

Shutter Speed

Amount of Light in

Motion Blur


1/250 – 1/4000

Low to Very Low

Frozen in time.

Sports photography / Birdwatching (no flash)

approx. 1/100 – 1/200


Still photos (usually for flash photography)

Everyday photography (flash enabled)

approx. 1/100 – 1


Photos sensitive to motion blur

(may depending on zoom length)

Low light photography, motion blur photos

Bulb (shutter held open by user)

Very High

Very sensitive to motion

Starfield, Fireworks, “Night Time traffic in the city”

F-Stop for Aperture


Let’s use the human eye for reference.  When in a dark environment, the pupils will dilate or widen to let in more light to create an image.  Conversely in a bright environment, the pupils contract and narrow to prevent too much light from entering.  Apertures work the same way, widen to let more light in and narrow to let less light in.  For many lifeforms (on this planet anyways) the amount of light let through the eye pupil is determined automatically and will either widen to see in the dark or constrict to prevent damage.  Cameras do not have this weakness and many photographers will adjust the aperture for a wide variety of effects.

Apertures also have a secondary effect in terms of focusing.  In darkness, humans have trouble with depth perception.  They may be able to focus on one object, but everything else around the object would be blurry.  Conversely, during the day, when there is plenty of light, the pupils will constrict, letting less light in as well as allowing the person to see a larger depth of field and see everything in focus.  Lenses behave the same way, the actual depth of field decreases with the wider aperture size used while taking the shot and vice versa.  The term “bokeh” was coined to describe this phenomenon and is becoming a common style in photography.  However much bokeh you would want to use is up to you, the photographer.

Biggest Factor: LensDSC_1224-2

There are many lenses on the market, but they will all advertise their widest aperture setting.  Some lens, frequently in cheaper zooms or telephoto lenses, will have an aperture range (f3.5-5.6).  This means that the max aperture many change depending on the zoom length used (a lens may have a max aperture at f3.5 at 35mm but have f5.6 at 55mm).  This is mainly due to how the lens was designed and built.  Other lens may have a single value, f1.8 for example.  This means that no matter which zoom length, the max aperture will remain constant.

Generally the wider the aperture, the more expensive the lens, with the exception of many prime lenses like the 35mm and the 50mm primes.  Since prime lens do not zoom in or out, it costs less the make, but the sharpness and wide max aperture are their main selling points for both amateurs and professionals.



Typical use

f1.4 – f2.8

Brighter images / “bokeh” (very blurry)

Isolating subjects from background / low light


Nominal amount of brightness / Very little “bokeh” (some blurring of distant objects)

Everyday photography / Hall Photography

f5.6 – f8

Good depth of field and brightness on Sunny Day

Needing a greater amount of focus / Sport photography

f11 – f22

Darker images without increasing ISO / wide depth of field

Birdwatching / Landscape photography

Final WordSailor Scouts

When you first get a DSLR, forget about using “Auto” setting.  Otherwise, you will get the same results as a Point and Shoot camera but at a much higher cost.  If you want to learn each of these settings gradually, start out with Aperture-Priority and manually set your ISO when you want to start learning.  Those tend to have the most to do with cosplay photography and will affect how much the camera flash as well as ambient lighting show up in a photo.  Try and get a feel for which values you want depending on lighting (Sunny day, Shady, Bright indoor, and Nighttime).  There is a lot of practice involved but these are skills that will transfer over when you’re upgrading your camera body and/or lens.

Have fun!



~ by BlizzardTerrak on January 6, 2014.

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