Photography Terms for Beginners (Shutter speed, ISO, Aperture)

photography terms for beginners

千里之行,始於足下

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

“What is this? Do I have to know this? MUST I know this?”

Well, as a start you don’t have to, but it’s always great to pick up some camera lingo for the rare situation where you encounter the elusive camera buff out in the concrete jungle, who got attracted by the sound of your puny disposable camera clicking away. “What this is? What aperture? What ISO?” he grunts, sizing you up. You’re terrified, but then you remember this guide, and you stand your ground to this monstrous behemoth, and calmly reply, “This is a disposable camera, with a f/10 aperture and 400 ISO.” You smirk as you watch him tremble with fear, before slinking away to the darkness that is the digital camera realm where he came from, for he knows he has been shamed and bested.

Jokes aside, yeah I’m just gonna try and dumb it down because that helped me a lot.

Shutter speed

Would basically mean how long the shutter (front part of the camera that goes chik chik) stays open for. For example, the Fujifilm Quicksnap ISO 400 has a shutter speed of 1/100, which means that its shutter stays open for 1/100th (0.01) of a second when you fire the camera.

Well you don’t have to know that, but what I took away was if you have a slower shutter speed, more light goes in and vice versa. So 1/25 would be slower than 1/100, and that means the image captured by a camera with 1/25 shutter speed would definitely be brighter than a 1/100 shutter speed camera.

ISO

So apparently the most obvious thing that EVERYONE in the camera industry knows is ISO, and it’s the question that everyone leads with. Oh, what ISO is this camera? Oh, can you adjust the ISO? ISO!?!

So just what is ISO? Well, I just remember ISO as the thing that determines how bright your photos get. So the lower the ISO, the darker it’ll get and vice versa! Some people I’ve met actually asked me if a lower ISO meant that the camera was worse and they tried to haggle for a better price. However, please don’t do that because first, it shows that you haven’t read this guide (shame, thou art shameful) and second, because you look stupid.

The lower the ISO, the less sensitive your film is to light and the less grainy it’ll be. (This goes both ways of course.) Some photographers actually prefer that grainy look for their photos, and it actually can turn out quite nice. It gives off a bit of that dreamy/nostalgia effect but personally I feel like it’s quite a hard effect to achieve.

Normally, we keep our ISO at 400, perfect for daylight shoots, but not so in the night. Read more about lighting here.

Aperture

I believe that at this point, this would be more than enough to begin your film journey. At this point in writing, I confess that I still don’t really know what aperture is. From what I understand, it’s basically the f/N number (i.e. f/10), which tells you the ratio of the focal length to the diameter of the lens. However, I still get pretty sick photos so yeah, MAYBE not the most important thing to note when starting?

However, for those interested I’m still going to give my interpretation of what I think aperture is.

aperture guide
Picture credit: photographylife.com

I found this photo from photographylife.com explaining aperture and felt that this (and the whole guide actually) is really in-depth and covers everything there is to know about aperture. HOWEVER, I believe that beginners will take a lot longer to understand so I’ll just attempt to give a rough summary of how aperture works.

So based on the picture above, we can see that as the number goes down (f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 etc.), the smaller the hole gets. And the smaller the hole gets, the less light it lets through. Hence, we can conclude that the bigger the aperture number, the brighter the area should be.

It also affects depth of field. The bigger the aperture number, the larger the depth of field. I still don’t understand why, but basically if you want a blurred background and focus to be on the subject in front of you, use f2.8 or something.

So yeah, here it is, a rough guide to shutter speed, ISO and aperture.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Chris

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