6 Essential Camera Settings Explained for Beginners

Do you know the meaning of the basic camera settings for taking a picture?

All Professional Cameras shoot photos through basic camera features, which are ISO, diaphragm aperture and shutter speed. Knowing the basics is the first step for anyone who wants to become a good photographer and understanding how each part of the camera works when taking a picture is essential.

Those concepts can help you shoot much better photos as they are useful for any photography style. In this post, you will discover how camera sensors work, what is camera shutter speed, what is diaphragm aperture (f), what is camera exposure, what is Depth of Field (DoF) and what is ISO.

What Exposure Is In Photography

That will be very helpful for the next time you need to set up a DSLR Camera or a Mirrorless Camera, or even a smartphone camera with any of those features!

In this post we will get the 6 most essential camera settings explained for beginners in photography!

Let’s get started!

1. How Sensors Work in Digital Cameras

In a digital camera, the sensor captures light and transforms the information into pixels for shooting a picture. The quality of the picture captured by the camera will be determined by the amount of light that the sensor is able to capture, that is reflected in the place and objects in which the photo is being taken.

Digital cameras with larger sensors capture larger pixels. The larger the sensor, the more light it will absor, resulting in images with more details.

Professional DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras have refined sensors and physical space to house larger sensors. Smartphones and compact cameras have smaller sensors, so the photos shot by them have lower quality than photos taken by DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras. In case you don’t know what’s a Mirrorless Camera or a DSLR Camera, you can check our posts:

What Is a Camera Sensor

2. What Is Shutter Speed

The camera shutter is a device that opens and closes inside the camera to control for how long light will be reaching the camera sensor. It’s the camera shutter that makes the “click” sound when you press the button to shoot a photo.

The longer the light hits the camera sensor, the more light the final shot will have. That is, the brighter the photo will be.

The shutter speed is the measurement of time that it takes for the camera shutter to open to expose light into the camera sensor.

There are multiple shutter speeds that you can set up on a DSLR or on a Mirrorless Camera. Also, there are apps that simulate a digital camera shutter on smartphones.

The shutter speed is measured in seconds (sec). More specifically, in fractions of seconds, such as 1/100 sec, 1/500 sec, 1/1000 sec, and so on, where 1/100 sec is a hundredth and 1/1000 sec is a thousandth of a second. Each type of photography works better with a specific range of shutter speeds.

When the image is in motion, it is necessary to adapt the shutter speed and the speed of the object (motion speed). The right shutter speed can even “freeze” the movement in the final photo, which is very useful for some photography types, such as Sports Photography, Wildlife Photography and Bird Photography.

3. What Is Diaphragm Aperture (f)

The camera diaphragm is a device formed by overlapping metal blades that works in automatic mode or manually regulated mode. Those metal blades open and close to adjust the camera lens’ opening for increasing or decreasing the amount of light entering the camera lens.

The larger the aperture of the diaphragm (f), the more light will enter the camera. The smaller the aperture, the less light enters the camera. This feature is represented by the letter “f” on cameras. In symbol “f/x”, the “x” is a number and the larger this number, the smaller the aperture. At f/22, for example, the diaphragm will have a very closed aperture, while at f/2 it will have a larger aperture.

Camera Settings Explained for Beginners

What does the camera’s “f” mean? The abbreviation f/x is an equation, where “f” represents the focal length of the lens divided by a number. This equation gives us the exact size of the diameter of the lens aperture.

For example, on a 110mm lens, the aperture diameter of f/2.8 would be 39mm (3.9 cm) allowing greater amount of light to enter the camera and resulting in brighter photos. If the camera is set to f/22, we will have an aperture of 5mm (0.5 cm), allowing a lower amount of light to pass than at f/2.8.

4. What Is Camera Exposure

Camera exposure is the amount of light that enters a camera’s sensor, it’s the exposure that determines brightness and the darkness of a photo and whether photos will result darker or brighter. If the photo is too bright, that means that the camera sensor captured too much light and the photo is overexposed. If the photo is too dark, that means that the camera sensor didn’t capture enough light and the photo is underexposed, that is.

What Is ISO In Photography

When a photo has the correct exposure, it shows all the details of the scene that was photographed by the camera’s sensor. The exposure is controlled by the camera shutter speed and by the lens aperture. Slower shutter speeds and greater lens apertures (f) result in greater exposures.

A high shutter speed will result in less exposure time, this can create the effect of freezing the object being photographed, which is useful for photographing motion, like taking pictures of moving cars, for example. Exposure and shutter speed can be used creatively for different results.

5. What Is ISO

ISO is the speed at which the camera sensor shoots a photo. The ISO sensitivity is measured by numbers that vary from 50 to 16000. Those numbers determine the sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO number, the higher the sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number, the lower the sensitivity to light. Both digital cameras and smartphones have this feature.

When you set a camera to a higher ISO, the camera sensor captures more light. In dark photo scenes, it is necessary to increase the camera’s ISO sensitivity so that the photo is not dark (underexposed). In photo scenes with more intense lighting, it’s better to lower the camera ISO so that the photo is not too bright (overexposed).

In places with low light, the camera ISO shoub be set to higher values. However, remember that every time you increase the camera ISO there are more possibilities of image noise, which is photos with graininess.

The amount of noise in an image (grain) will depend on the camera used. More professional and modern cameras can avoid noise at a higher ISO. Sensor technology makes it possible to use higher ISO values without too much photo quality loss, but every camera will end up shooting images with grain from a certain ISO value.

6. What Is Depth of Field (DoF)

Depth of Field (DoF) is the area within the field of view that the camera lens is focusing on according to the lens aperture. This Depth of Field area is small when only the main element of the photo is on focus and the rest of the image is out of focus (such as blurred background). The Depth of Field area is large when all elements of the image that are in focus are sharp (not blurred).

What Is the Meaning of Diaphragm Aperture in Photography

The diaphragm aperture (f) will determine how sharp and how blurred a photo is. For example, a photo with small Depth of Field (blurred background) the aperture of the diaphragm should be set to a large aperture, such as f/2. For a photo with a high Depth of Field, the diaphragm should be set to a small aperture, such as f/22.

Other factors greatly influence the final depth of field of a photograph: the focal length of the camera lens, the distance from the photographer to the subject and from the subject to the background. This varies based on the photo scene and on the camera set up, and all those features can be combined as you like.


Great! Now you know the meaning of the most useful camera features in photography! You also know what’s the purpose of those features. So don’t hesitate to put what you’ve learned into practice!

You can also share your thoughts in the comments below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *