If you’ve been following our guides to photography basics, you’ve probably already started putting your new techniques to the test and filling your photo books with the shots you’ve taken along the way. But if you’ve not quite got to grips with all the settings we’ve covered just yet, here’s a quick refresher. This bite-sized guide will look back at topics including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance, so you can get a quick recap on all your photography essentials.

What is shutter speed?

An action shot of a little girl and two dogs running around on a small grassy hill.

Your camera’s shutter rapidly opens and closes when you take a photo, allowing a certain amount of light to hit the sensor or the film. Depending on the conditions you’re shooting in and the level of exposure you need for an image, you can control how much light enters your camera by altering the shutter speed. A longer exposure will allow more light into your camera, whereas a shorter exposure time will let less light in. Altering your shutter speed will also give you more creative controls too, by allowing you to freeze movement or create motion blur.

You can find out more about the basics of shutter speed, here.

Practical shutter speed tips to try

  • A great way to capture the feeling of movement is to create motion blur in an image. To do this, use a slow shutter speed of around 1/20th of a second. You’ll need relatively low light for this though because if the setting’s too bright, you could overexpose your image.
  • You can also take the perfect action shot by adjusting your shutter speed. Try a fast setting like 1/500th of a second to freeze movement. You’ll need lots of light for this type of shot though, to avoid underexposing your image.

For more practical shutter speed tips, check out this guide. .

What is aperture?

A close-up shot of a woman and a sleeping baby. The woman in the foreground is slightly out of focus, while the baby is in focus.

Most camera lenses have a diaphragm, which is a set of blades that open and close like the pupils in our eyes. Just like a pupil, the purpose of a diaphragm is to control the amount of light coming through the lens. When these blades open, the opening that allows light through is called the aperture.

On a DSLR, the aperture’s measured in what’s known as an f/stop. You’ll see it on your camera’s display like this: f.x. When the x is replaced by a low number, that means the diaphragm is open wider, and the brighter your image will be. The higher the number, the narrower the diaphragm, and the darker the image. Adjusting your aperture also gives you control over depth of field (DoF) – a creative tool that lets you direct the viewer to important areas of your image.

For all the basics on aperture, check out our beginner’s guide.

Practical aperture tips to try

  • If you want to capture a busy street scene in full, try a narrow aperture. This will give you a broader focus, so you can capture all the details in your image. Photo journalists often use this technique because it speaks directly to the viewer and doesn’t leave much open to interpretation.
  • To focus on a single person or object in a scene, try a wider aperture. You’ll start to see everything in front of and behind it blur slightly in the frame. This helps to direct the viewer to that person or object.

You can find more easy aperture experiments here.

What is ISO?

An image of people in a crowd at a concert. The lighting is low, and everything in the background, including the stage, is out of focus.

ISO refers to your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light, and in film photography it refers to how sensitive the film roll is. In film photography, you might need to change your roll to cope with different light conditions, but with a digital camera, you can just adjust your ISO settings.

ISO values usually start at around 100 on a digital camera. As they increase, the values double, like this; 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200. And the higher the ISO value is, the more light will hit your sensor and your image will be twice as bright.

Practical ISO tips to try

  • The easiest way to use ISO is to increase it when your image is too dark. But be careful; if your ISO setting is too high, it can create noise in your image, which is a layer of digital artefacts, kind of like graininess on a film.
  • ISO can also help you to freeze movement in an action shot. If you’re using a fast shutter speed but your subject isn’t in direct light or you’re shooting on a cloudy day, try increasing your ISO to expose your images to around 1/500th or 1/1000th of a second.

To put ISO to the test, you can pick up more tips, here.

What is white balance?

A man holding a little kid on a very bright sunny day at the beach, standing on the shore.

Not all light is the same, and some light is colder than others – take a cold blue neon light compared to a golden sunset, for example. Our cameras can’t detect the quality of light in settings like this very accurately, and although there are automatic settings that can help, the colours aren’t always balanced correctly. This is where white balance comes in. By adjusting it, you’re basically balancing the tones in your image.

Light temperature is measured on a scale of Kelvin degrees. The low values represent warmer light, like candlelight, whereas the high values reflect overcast skies or shade. You’ll often see this represented as a simple slider on many smartphones and in image editing software, so you can adjust the tones after you’ve taken a picture. These sliders usually range from yellow to blue and from green to magenta.

For everything you need to know about white balance, take a look at this guide.

Practical white balance tips to try

  • When you’re adjusting the white balance in your image with a slider, it can be easy to go overboard with one tone. Unless you’re going for a specific look with your image, you’ll want the scene to appear as it did on the day you took that picture.
  • To avoid oversaturating your image in one tone, first move the slider to the two extremes, so you can get an idea of how your photo would look if one colour was more prominent than the other. Next, move the slider back to the middle neutral spot, and then make subtle corrections from there.

A woman cycling in a street on a hazy sunny day. The street is covered in brightly coloured paper lanterns hanging overhead.

That’s just a very quick recap on all the photo tips topics we’ve covered in our series so far. If you’re a beginner to photography, trying out these techniques is a great place to start. This way you can build up a technical understanding of what makes a good photo, then you can experiment more and push your creativity by using these modes and settings in your own way.

We hope you’ve already got some amazing shots from testing out these techniques. And we’ll keep you posted on our next series of photo tips, so you can take your photography to the next level. In the meantime, start showing off your new skills with a bonusprint photo book full of your best snaps, and get out there and keep taking more great photos.