Photography 101 // Light

For the second installment of Photo 101, we'll be talking about some basic lingo. If you missed the first post I talked about my journey into photography. But if you're not in the mood for stories and want to get to the grit, here we go!

Before we get into lighting, composition, and editing, it's important to understand some of the terminology I'll be using. So here are a few key words you need to know! Please note, these are pretty simple definitions. If you are looking for a more in-depth explanation check out this helpful guide!

There are three basic ways you control light in photography. That's through the ISO, the aperture, and the shutter speed. The combination of these three functions reads the light in order to take a picture that's properly exposed.


The ISO number is one of the ways you control light.  The higher the number the more light is let in, the lower the number the less light you'll let in. So if you are shooting in broad daylight in the middle of the day when the light is the strongest, you'll want to have an ISO of 100.  If you are shooting inside where there isn't much natural light, I'd say start off at ISO 400 and then bump up it up higher if you need more light.  If you are shooting in low light (saying outside at a party with dim lighting) you should start at ISO 1600 and bump it up as needed. 

Aperture / F-Stop / Iris

All these three terms mean the same thing. This is another way you can control light. The lower the number, the more light that's let in.  Also, the lower the number the blurrier the background is (which is also called bokeh). In dark situations you want the lowest number you can get (like a f/1.2) because it lets in the most amount of light, and you really need all the light you can get when you're in a dark situation. But the lower the number is the shallower the depth of field is. The depth of field is the area of your image that is in focus. The shallower (or smaller/thinner) the depth of field is, the blurrier the background will be and the less in focus there will be.  So when shooting detail shots (say of a ring, or of flowers) you'll want a shallow depth of field (small number aperture) because it will give you that dreamy bokeh background with the details in crisp focus.  When shooting a group shot of people you'll want to have a higher number (like a 4.5 which creates a larger depth of field) because you want everyone to be in focus.

Shutter Speed

This is how long your camera's shutter stays open. The longer the shutter stays open (the slower the shutter is) the more motion it captures and the stiller you need to be when taking the pictures otherwise it will capture your motion.  This is great for taking nightime landscapes. The shorter the shutter stays open (the faster the shutter is) that means less motion is captured. This is useful when you are doing sports photography and you want your camera to be fast at capturing moving objects.

The Combination

The combination of all three of these functions, the ISO, the aperture, and the shutter speed is what makes up a photo. I would say start with setting the ISO first.  It all depends on the available light (whatever light is in the room, the backyard, wherever you may be). Then I would set the aperture. If I'm shooting details I'll go with a smaller number (like f/1.2) but if I'm shooting people I'll start at a f/2.0 or f/2.2 and go up from there depending on how many people are in the photo.  Then I'll adjust the shutter speed to make sure the photo isn't over or under exposed.

Like anything it all takes practice. Learn how to judge light and you'll get faster at adjusting your settings depending on whatever situation you may be in.

Photography by Chaucee Stillman
Words by Chaucee Stillman
First published on

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