Excerpt for Behind The Lens by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Behind The Lens

A Guide To Getting The Most Out Of Your Photography

Frank J Perez

Copyright 2018 Frank Perez

Smashwords Edition

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Behind The Lens

Quick Introduction

Camera Kit

Prefocus & Shutter Lag

Magic Steps For The Photographic Beginner

5 Minute Creativity Kick

Candid Photography Tips

Stop Procrastinating

Basic Photography

Shutter Speed



Understanding ISO, Shutter Speed & Aperture

Digital Camera Modes

White Balance

Understanding Metering



Taking Better Pictures

Tell Your Story

Discover Other Titles By Frank Perez

Quick Introduction

With over two billion photographs uploaded every single day onto the web, how can any single image possibly compete?

Let’s put that into perspective, almost every minute of every day humans are taking more photo’s than ever existed roughly 100 years ago.

Crazy right?

Unfortunately for the majority of us, 99.99% of those images are literally a waste of time and space.

And just so we’re clear on things, many a ‘professional’ fits squarely into that category.

Now I understand that photography is an art and as such, the beauty is held by those viewing the images but there is a definite line between art and crap. Just as there is between insanity and genius.

DSLR cameras have come a long way over the past few years and are now firmly in reach of most people on the planet.

Why not take a little bit of time to learn what all those dials, knobs and buttons actually do? I guarantee that your photography will take a huge leap to where it should be. It’s not magic, just science.

Now before the enthusiasts get worked up, yes – there is an art to photography as well. I wholeheartedly agree with you. That is not something you can teach. It needs to be felt, learned and crafted over time. However, the technical aspects of what makes one image appealing over another can be learned. And it doesn’t take all that much time to do so.

So, read on if you really want to take your photographs up a notch. What have you got to lose?


Camera Kit

Understanding camera lenses will give you the ability to have greater flexibility and control over your creative imagery.

When first starting out it can be daunting trying to understand which lens or lenses you should be purchasing. The kit lens that came with your camera will only go so far. Below I've listed some different types of lenses that you will come across and what their main purpose is. A small introduction to allow you to get the basic information on what that particular lens is actually created for.

Zoom Lens:

A zoom lens allows you to get closer to your subject without the need of actually moving closer to it. It allows you to achieve a variety of different compositions in the quickest time. The focal length is measured in mm. i.e.: 70-200 is equal to 70mm to 200mm. This focal point is the key to the way the lens focuses. It magnifies the image by changing the focal point.

Prime Lens:

Unlike the zoom lens, a prime lens has a fixed focal length which cannot be adjusted. Prime lenses are slightly quicker to focus with a much better level in picture quality as there are less moving parts within the lens itself.

Macro Lens:

Macro lenses allow you to capture extreme close ups. They create a unique image of tiny subjects that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Wide Angle Lens:

This lens allows you to fit much more into an image than others, widening the amount of space that you can capture within the image. This lens is great when you have limited ability to step backwards to get more into an image or when shooting land and seascapes.

Fish Eye Lens:

This is an oval shaped, 180-degree view of the world. Initially created to give the photographer the ability to capture whole skies and landscapes. A fun little lens that you can use creatively.

Telephoto Lens:

High magnification lens enabling you to take long range action photography for the likes of sports and wildlife. It allows you to be further from the action and still capture in close shots. A monopod is usually used to stop camera shake on the images.


These are pretty straight forward. They hold the camera steady for long periods of time. It also gives you the ability to take yourself into the image!


The same basic functionality as the tripod with only one 'leg'. Much more convenient to carry around than a tripod, easier to carry and transport. Some places won't allow a tripod, like court-side at a sports match. They are often used in fashion and paparazzi images as well as they are easy to pick up and carry. Having only one leg means that you cannot simply let the camera sit on top of it and walk away, the main difference between the two.

Once you understand the purpose behind each of these items, it will allow you to get the correct ones for the purpose of your creative outlets, and remember, it is always better to shell out a little extra for the right lens instead of a new camera body. The better the glass, the better the image.

Prefocus & Shutter Lag

A lot of beginners I talk to who haven’t had a lot of exposure to photography talk about what is commonly known as ‘Shutter Lag’ – the delay between when you press the shutter release and when the shot is taken.

Early DSLR’s and point and shoot cameras had this issue and it was something that we just learned to live with. These days, shutter lag is near negligible and I was struggling to understand why these people were having this issue.

What I found when I got them to walk me through their process wasn’t a case of shutter lag but in fact due to the fact that they really didn’t understand how their digital camera actually worked.

The process that most of these people used was basically – see something, point, click. The whole point, click was done in one go. So, what was happening?

What happens is that the camera was taking time to actually focus the scene properly before taking the shot. That’s what they actually failed to realise. It wasn’t a case of shutter lag.

I know that this is a real ‘basic’ of digital photography but obviously one that some out there may not be aware of. The camera needs to focus before it will take the shot. Holding the shutter release button half way down will do this for you automatically – prior to taking the shot. [Unless you've changed the settings on your camera to something like back-button focus, my preferred option]

Obviously if you’re in manual focus mode, the job falls back to you.

Magic Steps For The Photographic Beginner

There's a few things to constantly keep coming up whenever I talk to someone new to photography. The questions asked always come back to settings and how to shoot the images that I do. Unfortunately, 90% of the time these people are asking the wrong questions. When first starting out on your photographic journey, start at the very beginning. The following 7 tips might help you towards your goals.

Simple Equipment

Most beginners believe that the more expensive the equipment, the better. I would recommend that you start simple and explore the type of photography that you actually love taking. Often this will end up being something completely different to what you thought at the beginning. Learn what you like and then find out the type of equipment you will need to make it happen.

Unsteady Hands.

Tripods are cheap these days. It is definitely worth getting one as your satisfaction with the final result will increase immensely! Couple this with either a remote release or when first starting out just using the timer that is built into your camera.

Be Ready

If possible, carry your camera everywhere. You never know when that award-winning shot will present itself and you want to be ready!


Get into the habit of always viewing things from a camera point of view. Keep notes on any interesting areas and subjects that might make a great shot. Take a notepad with you whenever you can. Write down thoughts, ideas and as much information as you can about certain spots so that you can come back armed and ready!

Enjoy Yourself

The more fun you are having, the more shots you'll be taking. It's really a simple matter of honing your skills and practicing!


These days even the most basic of point and shoot cameras have a zillion different settings for you to play with. Learn what they all are and how they behave and change the final output. You will amaze yourself. Don't be scared. There's plenty of resources out on the internet to propel you to much better imagery! Learn the basic rules first. Once you're comfortable with these - break them!

Shoot, shoot and then Shoot some more!

Get into the habit of shooting photo's each and every day, regardless. Practice makes perfect and sometimes even the most mundane of subjects can be spectacular if seen from a different perspective.

Above all, enjoy yourself. It's when you're happy and having fun that the magic happens!

5 Minute Creativity Kick

The beast that I am constantly writing about, creativity can sometimes be likened to a bear. Sometimes you need to be running full-tilt as it charges you and other times it's like it has gone into hibernation. Like when you're staring at a blank page and are full of motivation to get something written down, but the beast lies dormant and the page stays blank.

It's one of the worst feelings in the world when things just don't happen!

Fortunately for us there are some quick techniques that we can use to kind of poke the damn bear into action.

Doodle Away!

First out of the blocks is a quick, tried and true technique that has been around forever, even though you were actually told off for doing it. Grab yourself a pen/pencil and some paper and doodle away. Don't get caught trying to think of what you're doodling. Just doodle for fun!

Just to be clear. When I say 'doodle' I mean the act of taking the pencil to the pad and letting your fingers do the walking. I really don't want to know what else you thought it meant!


Often, we try to be creative in the same surroundings that we are always in, for instance the office. If possible, take your meeting or just yourself with your doodle pad out to some other surroundings. The different sights smell, and noises can have the impact of getting those juices flowing!

Relive Your Childhood

Don't go right back to your nappy days, probably just a tad too far. Start looking at life the same way you did when you were a toddler. Everything is new! Everything is FUN! Go ahead and press the walk button on the lights 23 times and then get excited when the 24th time you press it the light goes green! Talk about power!

Random Writing

This is a good one that can help sometimes. Basically get a few random words, however you can think them up. If you can tune in to the net, there's plenty of resources online for random word generators. Take those words and create a very short piece about them. Keep it really short, say 100 words or so. It's crazy how writing a very quick short piece about the Bacon College of Astronauts in Custody can kick-start the creative juices. Let's face it, everything is better with Bacon!

Above all, don't stress. Stress is the natural enemy and killer of creativity. Creativity can kill stress, but it is also susceptible to it. Talk about a weird relationship between these two! A Marriage made in Hell. Probably should try to add Bacon to it and see what happens.

Hmmm, Bacon College of Astronauts in Custody - catchy title for a new book. Now I just need to figure out what the story is about and just what a 'Bacon College' actually is... If you have any thoughts on the story line for this book, drop me a note. I'll be off doodling!

Candid Photography Tips

Candid style images are making a huge splash in photography these days. Capturing those unique, candid moments in time are priceless.

More and more these days, I'm getting hired to capture the 'behind-the-scenes' moments that are so precious to the people involved. Those moments when people have let their guard down and their public masks come off.

“The 'official' photographer will be there to capture the must-have moments but those who are crafty in capturing the more honest moments will always capture the heart and soul of any event.”

So, what can you do to ensure you are one of those rare individuals who can capture those endearing moments?

Have your camera with you - at all times!

Seriously, I cannot stress this one enough. I can't count the number of times that I've missed out on a candid moment because I'd left my camera behind!


“Be original, show off your style, and tell your story.”

My personal preference for candid photography is to always use a zoom lens. This allows me to capture those unguarded moments when people aren't aware that the camera is pointed their way!

Lose the flash

Pretty straight forward. If they see the tell-tale sign of a camera flash going off, then the masks will quickly be put back in place.

Get Strategic.

Think like James Bond and look for those sneaky places to aim your shots from.

Above all,

“Be original, show off your style, and tell your story.”

Stop Procrastinating!

What is Procrastination?

As with all things in life, we can only find solutions to a problem once we know what the problem actually is. So, to begin with, let's break it down.

Procrastination: The act or habit of procrastination is putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.

As a species this has been an issue for centuries. Ancient philosophers actually came up with a word to describe this behaviour: Akrasia. It is when you do one thing when you know that you should be doing something else.

Now that we know what it is let's move on to the why... Why Do We Procrastinate? What science has actually found recently is that there are two forms of mental environment that the world lives in- Immediate Return Environment and Delayed Return Environment.

Most animals live in the Immediate Return Environment. Humans live in what is known as Delayed Return. Essentially, most of what we actually do day to day is designed to have an impact on our environment later on in life!

For example, you might be trying to lose weight (future return) and to do so you know that you shouldn't be eating that donut (Right Now). This is where our brains divert from our goals. The immediate return of eating that donut will make me feel good, even though it is not good for our future selves.

The above is only one small sample, taking it further you can see that almost everything you do in your daily life, like going to work for someone else, is all about Delayed Returns. I show up today, do a good job, (hopefully) not get fired or retrenched and then get a pay check sometime in the future.

The problem with this is as we are always in the Delayed Return Environment, as humans this has led to chronic stress, worry and anxiety. Our brains have not evolved naturally into this kind of state. In fact, our brains are essentially hard-wired as they have been for the past 200,000 years.

Immediate Returns is what we crave.

Stress, as we know it today, is still governed by the laws that we had about 200,000 years ago.

Have you ever heard of 'Flight or Fight'? It's a natural process when stress is introduced into our environment. Ignoring the last 500 years or so of 'modernish evolution, stress and anxiety were hard-hired into us to help us survive. A hunter finds a lion coming across his path, gets stressed and then he either fights the lion or runs away.

This is a scenario on how stress is supposed to help us. It was designed to solve short-term high-pressure problems and once the problem was solved, the stress went away. Unfortunately, stress is now a common thing in today's' society - or more accurately chronic stress.

We continually find ourselves facing different problems

How will I pay the bills next month?

Will I still have a job next week?

Do I have enough money to survive retirement?

Will I make up with my wife tomorrow?

All our issues these days come from the Delayed Return environment, they are rarely able to be solved right this minute.

So, how does knowing this help us?

Having this information known to us is key in understanding the 'why' of what we do. We are constantly at odds with ourselves about future rewards vs immediate. What we need to do is find a way to bring those future consequences (whether they are good or bad) into the immediate phase.

There is actually more pain associated with procrastination than actually doing the work, whatever it might be. The issue that we have is not in doing the work but rather in starting the work. Motivation comes after we get started not before.

How to Stop?

Knowing what we know about Immediate vs Delayed rewards, there is a variety of strategies that we can put in place. Here's a few.

Bring the Rewards to the Immediate

One of the best ways to make future rewards move into the present is with something known as 'Temptation Bundling'. Essentially it is bundling the future goodies in with something that is beneficial now. - Listen to audio books you love while exercising. - Watch your favorite shows while ironing. - Get your hair done while answering emails.

Bring the Consequence to the Immediate

This is a simple strategy that might help. It won't be for everyone. Make a deal with yourself to get things done and stick to it. For example, if you know you should be going to the gym every morning at 7AM then make a deal with yourself that if you don't go to the gym, you will give $1 or $5 or $10 to charity. Make the consequence of missing the task immediate.

Make the Task Achievable

Since we already know that it's not the task itself but getting started that is a big issue then making that task achievable will make you less likely to procrastinate. Once started, momentum itself will keep propelling you forwards.

Small measures of progress help to maintain momentum over the long-run, which means you're more likely to finish large tasks.

The faster you complete a productive task, the more quickly your day develops an attitude of productivity and effectiveness.

Basic Photography Tricks: Pay Attention and Declutter

I know it sounds like a no-brainer to pay attention when you're taking a photo but believe me when I say that a lot of photographers don't give their images enough attention before clicking the shutter button.

What invariably happens is that they fail to notice distracting or just plain weird things within their images. Things, that may be an absolute nightmare to remove in post-production.

It only takes five seconds to check the background, look at the corners of the shot, and fine-tune the composition, and this will lead you to having much more success.

Keep in mind that the more ‘stuff’ that's going on in the background, the more your primary subject has to compete for the viewer's attention, and that's a bad thing in the end for your picture.

Instead, whether you're taking a portrait, creating a landscape photo, or something in between, strive to keep the background as clean and simple as possible. This will help your main subject stand out and have a more pleasant and appealing effect overall.

Stabilize Your Camera

This is another photography trick that sounds like a no-brainer, but for whatever reason somehow keeps getting forgotten by some beginners and pro’s alike!

If you don't stabilize your camera in some way, you run the risk of having blurry photos. That's especially true if you're shooting in low light scenarios.

Stabilizing your camera doesn't necessarily mean to have a tripod in every case. Sometimes it’s just a matter of holding your camera correctly.

Don't hold your camera out at arm's length like everyone does when they take a photo with their smartphone or use only one hand. Tuck your elbows into your chest and lock your wrists in place to act as support for the camera.

Place your left hand under the body of the camera.

Doing so will give your camera extra stability as you hold the camera's grip in your other hand.

Be Patient

This little tip is one of those things that most of the experts will just skate over. By nature, we’re all impatient to get the shots we’re after. If you truly want to capture those glorious moments properly then I’m here to tell you that patience is most definitely a virtue!

A tiny thing that has helped me in the past is to change my mindset. Remember to take quality over quantity. When you get yourself in that frame of mind things start to slow down of their own accord.

Shutter Speed In Photography

There are three major pillars that form the foundation of photography. No doubt you will have come across the three terms at one point in your photographic journey.

Shutter speed is one of these three, the other two being Aperture and ISO.

Shutter speed handles two things for us, changing the brightness of the image and creating those dramatic effects you see such as motion blur or freezing.

What is a Camera Shutter?

Your camera comes with a sensor that is covered by a curtain. This curtain stays closed until you fire off a shot.

Without getting into all the technical aspects of this, all you need to know is that the sensor ‘collects’ the light as it passes through the lens-capturing the image. The speed at which this curtain opens and closes is what we call the camera shutter and shutter speed.

What is Shutter Speed?

As mentioned in the above paragraph, shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Knowing how this affects your photos is essential and forms one of the basic keys to great photography. When you use a long shutter speed, you end up exposing your sensor for a significant period of time. The first big effect of shutter speed is motion blur. If your shutter speed is long, moving subjects in your photo will appear blurred along the direction of motion. This effect is used quite often in advertisements of cars and motorbikes, where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by intentionally blurring the moving wheels.

Slow shutter speeds are also used to photograph objects at night or in dim environments with a tripod. Landscape photographers intentionally use long shutter speeds to create a sense of motion on rivers and waterfalls, while keeping everything else completely sharp.

On the other hand, shutter speed can also be used to do just the opposite and freeze any type of motion in the image. By using a faster shutter speed, you can eliminate motion even from fast-moving objects, like birds in flight, or cars driving past. All of the above is achieved by simply controlling the shutter speed. In summary, quick shutter speeds freeze action, while long shutter speeds create an effect of motion when you photograph moving objects.

Measuring Shutter Speed

Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. For example, 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

Most modern DSLRs can handle shutter speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second, while some can handle much quicker speeds of 1/8000th of a second and faster. On the other end of the scale most DSLRs can range up to shutter speeds of 30 seconds.

Shutter Speed and Exposure

The other important effect of shutter speed is on exposure, which relates to the brightness of an image. If you use a long shutter speed, your camera sensor allows more light to be taken in and the resulting photo will be brighter. By using a quick shutter speed, your camera sensor is only exposed to a small fraction of light, resulting in a darker photo.

This is not the only thing that you need to take into consideration when exposing an image. Aperture, ISO and the actual available light surrounding you all work hand-in-hand to determine how the final image is exposed.

Shutter speed is vital when capturing a photo. On a sunny day, you may need to use a fast shutter speed so that your photo isn’t overexposed. Or, if it is dark out, a long shutter speed may be necessary to avoid a photo that is too dark.

Fast, Slow and Long Shutter Speeds

A fast shutter speed is typically whatever it takes to freeze action. If you are photographing birds, that may be 1/1000th second or faster. However, for general photography of slower-moving subjects, you might be able to take pictures at 1/200th second, 1/100th second, or even longer without introducing motion blur.

Long shutter speeds are typically above 1 second – at which point, you will need to use a tripod to get sharp images. You would use long shutter speeds for certain types of low-light/night photography, or to capture movement intentionally. If anything in your scene is moving when you use long shutter speeds, it will appear very blurry.

In between, shutter speeds from 1/100th second to 1 second are still considered relatively slow. You may not be able to handle them without introducing camera shake from your hands, especially close to the one-second mark.

How to Set Shutter Speed

Most cameras handle shutter speeds automatically by default. When the camera is set to “Auto” mode, the shutter speed is selected by the camera without your input to the best ‘guess’ your camera’s brain can figure out. In this setting it also selects the aperture and ISO.

By setting the camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, you get to choose the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the aperture based on what it ‘sees’ through its sensors.

By setting the camera to “Manual” mode, you choose both shutter speed and aperture manually.

Within both of these modes, you can choose to set ISO manually or automatically, depending on the settings chosen.

What Is Aperture?

Don’t think you’re alone when it comes to understanding the fundamental concepts in photography. I often come across professionals who struggle with the concepts even though they are in it daily!

Unfortunately, with most cameras getting smarter by the day, the basic concepts are long being forgotten by some who constantly allow the machine to do their thinking for them.

Aperture is a tiny hole within your lens that lets the light travel to the rest of the camera body. It works the same way as our eyes do. When we move between differently lit areas, the iris in our eyes will expand or shrink to control the amount of light it allows through to our brain. In photography, we control the size of the aperture to allow more or less light to reach our camera sensor. The technical definition of aperture is: “The opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera.”

Effects of Aperture: Exposure

One of the most important things aperture controls is the brightness in your photos. A larger aperture will let more light in therefore making your final image brighter, whereas a smaller aperture will limit the amount of light coming through and make your final image darker.

Always remember that the exposure you select at any given moment is dependant on the amount of available light surrounding you. For instance, if you are in a darker environment (like night time photography or low-light) then the aperture you select will need to be increased to allow more light to pass through the camera and be captured!

Effects of Aperture: Depth of Field

Another effect of changing aperture is something known as depth of field or DOF. Depth of field is the amount of your photograph that appears sharp from front to back. Some images have a shallow depth of field, where the background is completely out of focus. Other images have a large depth of field, where both the foreground and background are kept sharp.

The only thing we need to remember here is that a large aperture results in a large amount of background blur. This is often desirable for portraits, or general photos of objects where you want a blurry background and vice-versa.

What Are F-Stop and F-Number?

From a technical standpoint, aperture is actually expressed as a number known as the ‘f-number’ or ‘f-stop’.

Whenever you see an aperture value, the letter “f” will appear before the number, like f/8.

Most likely, you have noticed this on your camera before. On your LCD screen or viewfinder, your aperture will look something like this: f/2, f/3.5, f/8, and so on. Some cameras omit the slash and write f-stops like this: f2, f3.5, f8, and so on. So, f-stops are a way of describing the size of the aperture.

Size of Aperture: Large vs Small Aperture

Okay, it’s now time for a little confusion. Small numbers in aperture equate to a larger aperture and vice-versa. In essence the smaller the F-stop, the larger the aperture.

As you can see, an f-stop like f/8 represents a much smaller aperture opening than something like f/1.4.

Confused? Join a large part of the population. For those interested in knowing why this is the case, read on.

Aperture is actually expressed as a fraction! So, if you’re dealing with an f-stop of f/8 it actually means 1/8 and not just 8.

To stay sane just keep in mind, large aperture equals small f-stop and vice versa.

Setting Your Aperture

If you want to select your aperture manually for a photo (which is really the only way your photos are going to be launched to the next level), there are two modes which work: aperture-priority mode and manual mode. Aperture-priority mode is written as “A” or “Av” on most cameras, while manual is written as “M”. In aperture-priority mode, you get to select the aperture, and the camera automatically selects your shutter speed. In manual mode, you select both the aperture and shutter speed manually.

Lens Limitations:Which Apertures Are Available?

Every lens has a limit on how large or how small the aperture can get. If you take a look at the specifications of your lens, it should say what the maximum and minimum apertures are. For almost everyone, the maximum aperture will be more important, because it tells you how much light the lens can capture at its maximum (basically, how dark of an environment you can take photos). A lens that has an aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8 as the maximum aperture is considered to be a “fast” lens, because it can pass through more light than, for example, a lens with a “slow” maximum aperture of f/4.0. That’s why lenses with large apertures usually cost more.

With some zoom lenses, the maximum aperture will change as you zoom in and out. For example, with the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, the largest aperture shifts gradually from f/3.5 at the wide end to just f/5.6 at the longer focal lengths. Prime lenses also tend to have larger maximum apertures than zoom lenses, which is one of their major benefits.

Aperture is clearly a crucial setting in photography and it is arguably the most important. That’s because depth of field and exposure have such major effects on an image, and your choice of aperture changes both of them.

Using aperture-priority mode is an easy step to take towards those wanting to be able to utilize the full potential of their DSLR’s.


Another of the three pillars of photography that can dramatically affect the look of your images is camera ISO. ISO controls the brightness of your photos, and it is a crucial setting to use properly if you want to take the best possible images.

What is ISO?

In very basic terms, ISO is simply a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. For that reason, ISO is a good tool to help you capture images in dark environments or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings.

However, raising your ISO has consequences. A photo taken at too high of an ISO will show a lot of grain, also known as noise, and might not be usable. So, brightening a photo via ISO is always a trade-off. You should only raise your ISO when you are unable to brighten the photo via shutter speed or aperture instead.

Common ISO Values

Every camera has a different range of ISO values (sometimes called ISO speeds) that you can use. A common set is as follows:

ISO 100 (low ISO)

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (high ISO)

Quite simply, when you double your ISO speed, you are doubling the brightness of the photo. So, a photo at ISO 400 will be twice brighter than ISO 200, which will be twice brighter than ISO 100.

What is Base ISO?

The lowest native ISO on your camera is your “base ISO”. This is a very important setting, because it gives you the potential to produce the highest image quality, minimizing the visibility of noise as much as possible. Some photographers live by the mantra that you should always try to stick to the base ISO to get the highest image quality. I don’t agree with this. ISO is just another setting and tool at your disposal to create the images you are after. Grainy shots have artistic appeal as much as those without any noise whatsoever.

How to Change ISO

Changing your ISO varies from camera to camera. Here are some common ways to change ISO:

To start, enter a mode that lets you select the ISO yourself. Get out of Auto mode, and go to Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Program. For entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, you probably need to open a menu and find the section for ISO. Select the value you want or set it to Auto.

Minimizing Noise and Maximizing Image Quality

Some photographers think that the best way to capture high-quality images is to use ISO 100% of the time. However, as demonstrated above, that simply is not true. Sometimes, you’ll be in dark environments when you have no choice but to use a higher ISO.

Don’t try to force ISO 100 in a dark environment, or your photos will come out way too dark. Similarly, if you’re using a fast shutter speed to capture action, it’s essentially the same as taking pictures in a dark environment. So, for certain types of sports and action photography, a high ISO might be your best option.

To maximize your image quality, here are some steps you may want to follow initially:

Select the aperture setting that will provide your desired depth of field.

Set your ISO to the lowest value and put your shutter speed to whatever setting provides a proper exposure.

If your subject is blurry, progressively raise your ISO and use a faster shutter speed until motion blur disappears(if this is the effect you are after).

That’s all it takes! If you follow these steps, you’ll capture the maximum image quality each time. You’ll find the ideal balance between noise, motion blur, and depth of field.

Common ISO Myths and Misconceptions

ISO has a lot of myths surrounding it, including some that are quite common to hear and frankly bore the hell out of me.

Is ISO “Sensor Sensitivity”?

This is the most common myth related to ISO. It is something you will see everywhere. Initially, the definition of ISO came from film photography, long before the advent of digital cameras.

ISO (film speed) Definition: Used colloquially in the context of film photography, ISO followed by a number (e.g., 400) represented the sensitivity of a given film emulsion to light, often referred to as "film speed."

Higher ISO numbers indicated a greater sensitivity to light Digital cameras do not have a sensor with different sensitivity. ISO now acts as a way of telling your camera how bright the output photo should be, given a particular input exposure.

Is ISO Part of Exposure?

No, ISO is not part of exposure. Shutter Speed and Aperture brighten your photo by physically capturing more light. ISO doesn’t do that; instead, it essentially brightens the photo you already captured.

Is Raising ISO Just Like Brightening Your Photo on a Computer?

This is a clever question, but, again, it is simply a misconception. Brightening a photo on your computer can act in many ways like raising your ISO, since it does make noise more visible (and it leads to a brighter image). But the simple difference is that raising your ISO in the camera nearly always provides better image quality than brightening a photo on your computer. In other words, it is better to use ISO 800 when necessary, rather than brightening an ISO 100 photo to a huge degree in post-processing software like Lightroom!

Understanding ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture

It is difficult to take good pictures without having a solid understanding of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture – the Three Pillars of Photography. These are also known as the Exposure Triangle. While most new DSLRs have Auto modes that automatically pick the right shutter speed, aperture and even ISO for your exposure, using an Auto mode puts limits on what you can achieve with your camera. In many cases, the camera has to guess what the right exposure should be by evaluating the amount of light that passes through the lens. Taking the power back allows you to fully take charge of how things operate and attain those long-sought images you are after. Knowing how to adjust the settings of your camera in different situations will you get the best out of your camera and push it to its limits to the best shots you possibly can.

Shutter Speed – the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. Slow shutter speeds allow more light into the camera sensor and are used for low-light and night photography, while fast shutter speeds help to freeze motion. Examples of shutter speeds: 1/15 (1/15th of a second), 1/30, 1/60, 1/125.

Aperture – a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. The larger the hole, the more light passes to the camera sensor. If the aperture is very small, the depth of field is large, while if the aperture is large, the depth of field is small. In photography, aperture is typically expressed in “f” numbers (also known as “focal ratio”, since the f-number is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens). Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0.

ISO – a way to brighten your photos if you can’t use a longer shutter speed or a wider aperture. It is typically measured in numbers, a lower number representing a darker image, while higher numbers mean a brighter image. However, raising your ISO comes at a cost. As the ISO rises, so does the visibility of graininess/noise in your images. Examples of ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600.

Should I Use Flash or Increase ISO?

It really depends on what you are taking a picture of. Sometimes it is not possible to use your built-in camera flash in a low-light environment. For example, if your subject is standing far away, you might not be able to reach the subject with your flash. In that case, the only solution is to either come closer to the subject or turn off flash completely and use a higher ISO. Obviously, for landscape or architectural photography, you should always turn off your flash, because it will not be able to brighten up the entire scene. So, in a low-light situation, the only two options are to either increase the ISO so that you can shoot handheld or set the camera to the lowest ISO and use a tripod.

Specific Examples and Case Scenarios

Let’s now go over what you could do in your camera to properly expose an image in different lighting conditions.

What should I do in low-light situations?

Use Aperture-Priority mode, set your aperture to the lowest possible number. Be careful if you have a fast lens such as Nikon 50mm f/1.4, because setting aperture to the lowest number (f/1.4) will make the depth of field very shallow. Set your “Auto ISO” to “On” (if you have it) and make sure that the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed are both defined. If after increasing your ISO you are still getting small shutter speeds (which means that you are in a very dim environment), your only other options are to either use a tripod or a flash. If you have moving subjects that need to be frozen, you will have to use flash.

What do I need to do to freeze action?

First, you will need plenty of light. Freezing action during the broad daylight is easy, whereas it is extremely tough to do it in low-light situations. Assuming you have plenty of light, make sure that your aperture is set to the lowest number then set your “Auto ISO” to “On” (if you have it) and set your minimum shutter speed to a really high number such as 1/500th or 1/1000th of a second.

What settings do I need to change to create a motion blur effect?

Turn off Auto ISO and set your ISO to the lowest number. If the shutter speed is too fast and you still cannot create motion blur, increase aperture to a higher number until the shutter speed drops to a low number below 1/100-1/50 of a second.

What do I do if I cannot get proper exposure? The image is either too dark or too bright.

Make sure that you are not shooting in Manual Mode. Set your camera meter to “Evaluative” (Canon) or “Matrix” (Nikon). If it is already set and you are still getting improper exposure, it means that you are probably taking a picture where there is a big contrast between multiple objects (for example bright sky and dark mountains, or sun in the frame) – whatever you are trying to take a picture of is confusing the meter within your camera. If you still need to take a picture, set your camera meter to “Spot” and try to point your focus point to an area that is not too bright or too dark. That way you get the “sweet middle”.

How can I isolate my subject from the background and make the background (bokeh) look soft and smooth?

Stand closer to your subject and use the smallest aperture on your lens. Some lenses can render background much better and smoother than others.

How can I decrease the amount of noise/grain in my images?

Turn off “Auto ISO” and set your ISO to the base ISO of the camera (ISO 100 on Canon and ISO 200 on Nikon).

Digital Camera Modes

Having a good understanding of the digital camera modes is essential to gaining control of the images you produce. The more understanding you have of each mode, the easier it will be for you to know exactly what mode you should use in different circumstances.

Different modes allow you to control the different aspects of an image’s exposure - shutter speed, aperture and ISO

Before the advent of the modern digital cameras everything was done in manual mode. Every image had to be set with the appropriate aperture, shutter speed and the correct selection of the ISO speed for the film used. Pro photographers had to carry around a light-meter to help them determine the correct amount of light available. This would form the basis of the settings they dialled to get those shots.

Most digital cameras in this day and age have various types of camera modes that can be used in different situations. While most point and shoot cameras concentrate on automatic modes, more advanced cameras feature modes that allow both automatic and manual exposure control.

Types of Camera Modes

You will most likely come across the four main types of modes available at large today.


Shutter Priority(Tv) or (S)

Aperture Priority(Av) or (A)


Program Mode

In “Program” mode, the camera automatically chooses the Aperture and the Shutter Speed for you, based on the amount of light that passes through the lens. This is the mode you want to use for “point and shoot” moments, when you just need to quickly snap a picture. The camera will try to balance between aperture and shutter speed, increasing and decreasing the two based on the intensity of light. If you point the camera to a bright area, the aperture will automatically increase to a bigger number, while keeping the shutter speed reasonably fast. Pointing the camera to a darker area will decrease the aperture to a lower number, in order to maintain a reasonably fast shutter speed. If there is not enough light, the lens aperture will stay at the lowest number (maximum aperture), while the shutter speed will keep on decreasing until it reaches proper exposure.

This is the mode I have my camera set to when I’m not actively using it to capture a distinct image. Why? In case I come across a situation which unfolds before me that I won’t have time to ‘dial in’ the appropriate settings otherwise. Think of it like having a point-and-shoot setting ready at all times for unexpected moments.

Shutter-Priority Mode

In “Shutter Priority” mode, you control the shutter speed of the image and the camera will automatically select the aperture it feels is correct at that moment. This mode is intended to be used when motion needs to be frozen or intentionally blurred. You control the shutter speed and the aperture automatically changes based on the amount of light available.

Aperture-Priority Mode

This is the inverse of the above. You get to manually control the lens aperture and the camera will automatically dial in the shutter speed for correct exposure. This mode allows you to control things like DOF but will not allow you to control the ‘motion blur’ aspect of your image.

Manual Mode

This mode gives you full control. You are the ultimate arbiter of every aspect of the image. In this mode, you can manually set both the aperture and the shutter speed to any value you want – the camera lets you fully take over the exposure controls.

White Balance

There's numerous sources and articles about getting the 'correct' white balance settings from your camera. I've written some myself to help out those looking to get true color representation out of your images.

In this chapter I'm going to take a different angle. How to choose the wrong white balance settings.

Wait a minute. Why would I deliberately dial in the wrong settings for an image?


Artistic and creative imagery is all about looking at things different to the norm or perhaps even highlighting further a 'cold' or 'warm' look in your images. Something as simple as setting your white balance to 'Tungsten' will have the result of making an image appear cooler. Perhaps next time I'm in Antarctica!

Most DSLR's have some built-in predefined wb settings such as Tungsten, Cloudy, Flash or Fluorescent. These are prebuilt settings for the Kelvin scale. If your camera has a direct setting for Kelvin temperature it will give you even finer control over the wb setting and allow you to get even more creative and artistic.

Below is a rough guide to the Kelvin scale. For those who have trouble remembering all the different settings and what they do just keep in mind:

The lower the white balance setting the cooler the image. The higher, the warmer the final image will be.

A Rough Guide to Kelvin

1000-2000 K Candlelight

2500-3500 K Tungsten Bulb

3000-4000 K Sunrise/Sunset

4000-5000 K Fluorescent Lamps

5000-5500 K Electronic Flash

5000-6500 K Daylight with Clear Skies

6500-8000 K Slightly Overcast Skies

9000-10000 K Shade or Heavily Overcast Skies

The fun part is to check out all the different settings using the same scene at the same time, or roughly.

There are no rules when it comes to your creative imagery. Next time you are out at the golden hour for sunset or sunrise, try setting a different wb into the mix. Perhaps throwing more blue or setting the wb to Tungsten or flash and then see what difference it makes to your image. The results may surprise you and push your creative juices along a little bit. I know a lot of people who will probably be thinking, 'I can do that in post-production'.

True. You can.

Personally, I prefer to get the image that I'm after straight from the shot and not playing in post-production to get the results. Whichever way you go just remember, that white balance is not just for correcting the colour representation but rather a tool that can be used creatively for artistic purposes.

All those crazy settings on your camera are just that - settings. They are not rules to live by.

Understanding Metering

Remember above when I wrote about light-meter’s in the bad old days? Guess what, your camera has something inside called ‘Metering’ (or metering mode, camera metering or just plain metering).

What is Metering?

Those pesky light-meters didn’t just up and disappear one day and your camera got some kind of magic wand that figured it out. These are now inbuilt into the camera and that is used to determine what it perceives to be the best aperture and shutter speed.

The most common metering modes in digital cameras today are:

Matrix Metering(Nikon), also known as Evaluative Metering (Canon)

Center-weighted Metering

Spot Metering

If you point your camera at a very bright area, the bars will go to “+” side, indicating that there is too much light for the current exposure settings. If you point your camera at a very dark area, the bars will go to the “-” side, indicating that there is not enough light. You would then need to increase or decrease your shutter speed to get to “0”, which is the optimal exposure, according to your camera meter.

Problems with Metering

Camera meters work great when the scene is evenly lit. However, it gets problematic and challenging for light meters to determine the exposure, when there are objects with different light levels and intensities.

By default, the camera meter looks at the light levels in the entire frame and tries to come up with an exposure that balances the bright and the dark areas of the image overall. This could potentially ruin an image if there are many different objects with different light levels involved.

Matrix / Evaluative Metering

Matrix Metering or Evaluative Metering mode is the default metering mode on most DSLRs. It works similarly to the above example by dividing the entire frame into multiple “zones”, which are then all analyzed on an individual basis for light and dark tones. After reading information from all individual zones, the metering system looks at where you are focused within the frame and marks it more important than all other zones. This is a very basic explanation of the method but gives you a rough outline on how it comes up with the results it does.

Center-weighted Metering

This metering mode is useful when you are trying to evaluate the light in the middle of a frame and don’t want to take the entire frame into the equation. (Imagine trying to take a meter reading of a person when the sun is right behind them.)

Center-weighted Metering evaluates the light in the middle of the frame and its surroundings and ignores the corners. Compared to Matrix Metering, Center-weighted Metering does not look at the focus point you select and only evaluates the middle area of the image.

Spot Metering

Spot Metering only evaluates the light around your focal point and ignores everything else. It evaluates a single zone/cell and calculates exposure based on that single area.

Some cameras have the ability of multi-spot metering. It works the same way as spot metering but allow you to choose multiple spots and it will then determine an average value for the whole frame.

Autofocus Modes

Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or professional camera, knowing how to use autofocus system effectively is essential to get sharp images. A badly-focused image will ruin a photograph and you cannot repair it in post-processing. (Tip: sometimes you can covert the image to B&W and with some post-production magic, come up with some interesting images.)

Accurate focus equals sharper images. Now, sharper images are not the be-all, end-all of photography. However, if you are incapable of getting a sharp image because you don’t know how, then it is a problem! Once you learn how to properly focus with your camera, you can then decide whether you want to blur something on purpose or not.

How Camera Autofocus Works

The nice thing about digital cameras today, is that you do not have to manually focus like people used to in the past. Digital photography is much more forgiving in this regard, because unlike film, you can see the results instantly and you can easily change your camera settings and take many exposures without worrying about film cost and replacement. The autofocus systems built in to DSLR’s now are absolutely amazing. We won’t get into the technical wizardry behind this magic. It’s not what we’re here for. Let’s leave the little pixies do what they do best and concentrate on how to use them.

Focus Points

Focus points are the little empty squares or dots that you see when you look through your viewfinder. Manufacturers often differentiate entry-level DSLRs from professional ones by implementing different types of autofocus systems. Entry-level DSLRs generally have simple AF systems with a few focus points for basic focusing needs, while pro-level DSLRs have complex, highly configurable AF systems with lots of focus points. These focus points are a part of “Phase Detection AF”, so each one of the focus points can be used by the camera AF sensors to detect contrast.

As you can see, Nikon D5000 has a total of 11 AF points and Nikon D300s is equipped with a total of 51 AF points – a big difference in the number of AF points. Is the number of AF points important? Of course it is! More points to control the composing of your image and the camera uses these points for subject tracking.

Types of AF Points

The number of focus points is not the only important factor in autofocus systems – the type of AF points is also very crucial for getting accurate results. There are two types of AF point sensors available – vertical and cross-type.

Vertical sensors are one dimensional and they only detect contrast on a vertical line.

Cross-type sensors are two dimensional and they can detect contrast both on vertical and horizontal lines, which makes cross-type sensors much more accurate than vertical sensors.

What this means, is that the more cross-type sensors your camera has, the more accurate autofocus is going to be.

Other factors that impact AF performance

As you can see, both the total number of focus points and their types are very important.

To get accuracy though we need to know the quality and amount of light. By now, you probably already know that your camera autofocus works great when you shoot in daylight, under bright sun and starts to suffer when you move indoors to challenging light. Passive Autofocus completely relies on light that passes through the lens. If the quality of that light is poor, then the autofocus performance is lower.

DSLR Focus Modes

Your DSLR will come equipped with different focus modes for different situations. Portrait, where the subject doesn’t move to fast paced action, where the focus is continuously reacquired as the subject speeds along. Choosing the correct mode is critical in getting the most out of your images.

Single Area Focus Mode

The “Single Area AF”, also known as “AF-S” in the Nikon DSLR’s or “One shot AF” in the Canon world is a pretty straightforward way to acquire focus. Pick one focus point and your camera will look for contrast just there. Be wary of moving your camera once focus has been acquired as it will not refocus!

Continuous/AI Servo Focus Mode

Another focus mode that is available on all modern DSLRs is called “Continuous/AF-C” (Nikon) or “AI Servo” (Canon). This mode is used for tracking moving subjects and it is a must for shooting sports, wildlife and other non-stationary subjects. Continuous mode will automatically readjust focus if you or the subject move. All you need to do is continue half press the shutter button or holding the dedicated AF button (if you have one) on your camera and the autofocus system will automatically track any movement. Compared to Single Area AF, the Continuous mode is generally highly configurable (especially on high-end DSLR models) and can do complicated tasks, such as tracking subjects with a single or multiple focus points.

Single/Continuous Hybrid Mode

Some cameras also have another mode called “AF-A” (Nikon) or “AI Focus AF” (Canon), which is basically a hybrid mode that automatically switches between Single/One-Shot and Continuous/AI Servo modes. This mode is generally not available in the high-end DSLR’s as it is a beginner’s tool.

Full-time Servo Focus Mode

The newer Full-time Servo AF mode, also known as “AF-F”, was introduced by Nikon on such DSLRs like Nikon D3100 and Nikon D7000, specifically for recording video in Live View mode. This mode automatically tracks subject movement and acquires focus during video recording.

Tips to improve autofocus performance in low light

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