The 3 Most Important Camera Settings

This article aims to help beginners understand the correlation of three important factors of digital photography. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings are the three most important camera settings when it comes to exposure:

camera aperture

“Camera lens and aperture” captured by Nayu Kim

1. Aperture is the size of the opening of the lens through which light enters to expose the shot.

2. Shutter speed is the amount of time that light is allowed to enter through the lens for exposure.

3. ISO is the amount of sensitivity toward the light entering into the lens. The higher the ISO setting on your camera, the higher the sensitivity will be. The lower the ISO setting on your camera, the lower the sensitivity. Too much ISO sensitivity causes the photo to be grainy and washed out. Lower ISO can cause a photo to be very dark or the colors to look faded. (ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization,” which is an organization that standardized a system to measure the sensitivity of film rolls. This has been adapted into digital cameras without much change.)

The photographer needs to find a balance between these three factors in order to get a shot that has perfect brightness and colors. The quantity and intensity of light coupled with the amount of time that light is allowed to enter makes or break a great photograph.

color and light in photography

“The very colorful sunset in Bratislava” captured by Miroslav Petrasko

A good analogy that helped me understand how these factors work with each other is that of coffee and milk. Think of light as milk in your morning coffee, aperture as the size of the opening in your milk jug, shutter speed as the time for which you allow milk to flow into your coffee, and ISO as the strength of the black coffee in your mug. The bigger the opening of your milk jug, the more milk flows out of it (aperture). The more time you allow milk to flow, the more milk flows out of it (shutter speed). If you couldn’t control the flow of milk and wanted your coffee darker, you’d make your concoction itself stronger (a low ISO sensitivity setting).

coffee photo

“Good Morning” captured by Artur Chalyj

Choose an object (or person) as a subject and start experimenting with these settings. Make sure the subject has adequate light falling on it. Once you get a feel for these settings and their resulting photographs, go ahead and try shooting the same subject in different lighting conditions. A step further would be to try capturing moving objects. Try a lower ISO and higher shutter speed as a starting point for moving shots.

motion photography

“Crazy Dizzy Spin” captured by Carly Webber

Most cameras take care of these settings automatically for the user. But they also allow you to adjust these settings manually. It’s important for a beginner who is serious about getting into photography to learn the essence of these three factors and begin to experiment by changing the settings. It is recommended that you use auto focus while learning so that you can concentrate solely on mastering exposure.

About the Author:
Ashwin J (nikonl120 dot in) is an amateur photographer who currently owns a Nikon L120.

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3 responses to “The 3 Most Important Camera Settings”

  1. Mike Dixon says:

    (ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization – This is wrong. See

  2. Alicia says:

    Thanks for the coffee analogy, really helped out.

  3. Rose says:

    Great insights, in my personal journey, I just press and release the shutter. Just a query, maybe irrelevant, What do you think about the high-end camera? Is it takes a lot of time to process the shot burst?

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