Lake_Kapetogema.jpgDigital cameras often come with special settings that allow you, the photographer, to control the way the camera works. Understanding these settings can be extremely intimidating, however. This page is designed to help you better understand these special settings so that you can get the most out of your camera.

Aperture Priority (A)

Aperture is likely the least understood of all the special settings, but it can give you the most dramatic effects. Aperture is the hole in the camera's lens that allows light to enter the camera body. The size of the hole will determine the amount of light that the image sensor receives and how the detailed the image's background will appear. Aperture sizes are recorded as a series of numbers call f-numbers and vary from lens to lens. The size of the aperture (f-numbers), however, are not determined in the way most people would imagine. In the case of aperture, the smaller the number, the LARGER the opening. Sizes can be as large as f/1.5 and as small as. f/32. When adjusting the aperture setting from smallest opening size to largest (larger number to smaller number), you are basically doubling the size of the lens opening. So, if the lowest number on your camera reads f/1.5, that means you have your camera set on the largest lens opening. With a setting like this, you will discover that most of the background of your image is highly blurred - minus any detail at all (see image A below). If your camera's highest f-number is f/22, then your camera is set to the smallest lens opening. In this case, a good portion of your background will be in focus along with the main subject (see image B below). Check out the difference in these two photos of the same subject but taken at different apertures.

Image A - aperture f/4.5
Image B - aperture f/22

See how in Image A, most of the background is blurred, allowing the subject of the photo to stand out (or pop) from the background, whereas Image B's subject blends into the background is gets somewhat lost. Experimenting with different aperture settings allows the photographer to dramatically control the end result. For more detailed information regarding Aperture, please see the Understanding Aperture handout on the "Handouts" page.

Shutter Speed Priority (S)

Shutter speed is pretty easily defined as the speed of your camera's shutter. In other words, shutter speed determines how long the shutter will be open to allow the image sensor to "see" the scene you are attempting to photograph. Shutter speed is recorded in terms of seconds (or better yet, fractions of seconds). The bigger the denominator (the bottom number) the faster the speed. Most often you'll be using a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second or faster. Anything slower than that is at risk of being affected by camera shake and often requires the use of a tripod. So, why might a person ever need to adjust the shutter speed? Motion is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a scene will be more aesthetically appealing if motion is captured. Take a beautiful waterfall for example. If the water is moving rapidly and you want to emphasize that motion, adjusting to a lower shutter speed can give you a blurred motion effect (see Image C below). Or, if you want to "freeze" motion, you might want to increase the camera's shutter speed (see Image D below).

Image C - shutter speed 1/4

Image D - shutter speed 1/250

The one thing you'll need to keep in mind when adjusting shutter speed is that the longer the shutter is open, the more light you're letting into the camera. As a result, the aperture may need to be adjusted as well. If you are shooting in Shutter Speed Priority, your camera should make all the necessary adjustments for you. If, on the other hand, you are shooting in manual mode, you will need to make the necessary adjustments. Just keep your eye on the light meter. Another thing to remember is, If you are shooting a waterfall at a slow shutter speed because you want that "cotton candy" look, it is best to shoot in low light, preferably with a tripod, so that you don't get unwanted camera shake blurring. It is very difficult to hand-hold a camera at slow shutter speeds. Like aperture, adjusting the shutter speed can allow you to do some pretty creative things with your images, so don't be afraid to experiment with the camera mode. For more information on Shutter Speed, please see the Understanding Shutter Speed handout on the "Handouts" page.