Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Better Blog Photos

I’ve recently committed to trying to learn how to use my camera so that I can take better pictures.  When I first got the camera (a Nikon D90 that Jimmy picked out for our family last Christmas), all my pictures of James were blurry because I unknowingly had the camera on the wrong settings.  It wasn’t until his birthday two months later, that I finally figured out how to get a clear picture of him. 

I’m only just getting started playing with my camera and finding good sources as references, so I’m not qualified to give a full tutorial; however, I can summarize for you what I’ve learned so far from Kate at Centsational Girl and Darcy at Life With My 3 Boybarians.

Centsational Girl’s Better Brighter Blog Photos  is where I started and she provides a great, basic introduction to Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Sensitivity.

Last weekend, after the boys in my house went to sleep, I stayed up late two nights in a row reading through all 31 days of Life With My 3 Boybarian’s 31 Days to a Better Photo Series.  Like any good student, I had to take notes, realizing that I was going to need a mini-crib sheet to remember all the info when I went to put it into practice.


Darcy’s initial lessen requires you to pull out that dreaded camera manual (actually not so awful) so that you know what the icons on your camera stand for and so you can learn how to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity.  I was more than a little surprised to discover that “A” on my camera did not stand for “automatic”, but rather, Aperture Priority. 

Quick Reference Guide

Here’s a quick reference guide to what I learned so far from Darcy and Kate regarding Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Sensitivity. 

Aperture (the width of the ‘hole’ or opening in your lens, which is measured in  f-stops (f/1, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, . . . f/32). 

Lower f-stop (ex. f/1) = wider opening which allows for more light, brightening your image; but decreases depth of field (blurring the background)

Higher f-stop (ex. f/32) will allow for the entire image to be in focus



image via

Below is an example from a student in Darcy’s series that also illustrates how a lower f-stop (f/5.6) creates a blurry background and a higher f-stop (f/36) keeps the whole image in focus.



Shutter Speed (the amount of time your camera’s shutter is open, measured in fractions of seconds, such as 1/10, 1/20, 1/100, 1/250, 1/1000, 1/4000).  I was never good in math, but 1/4000 is much faster than 1/10).

Slow (ex. 1/10) = shutter is open longer, allowing more light in darker situations.

A slow shutter speed such as 1/10 will almost always require a tripod because it is nearly impossible for you to keep your camera as still as it needs to be to keep the image clear. 

To avoid “camera shake” where the image is blurry because your camera moved during the shot, shoot at 1/60 or faster. 

Fast (ex. 1/4000) = It can freeze time, good if your object is in motion and you want to capture it still.  Kids and pets are best shot at a faster shutter speed such as 1/125 or 1/250.

ISO Sensitivity (your camera’s sensitivity to light, which varies from 100, 200, 400, 800, to 1600 and sometimes higher).

As a scale,

100 = a sharper image

1600 = brighter, but grainier image

Darcy also covered white balance, histograms, exposure compensation, cameras, and post production, but I’ll save that for another post when I understand it better.


After learning what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are and how to change them, the difficult part for me is figuring out what to set them at for the best exposure.

One little rule of thumb:

“Sunny 16 Rule”: On a sunny day, shoot at f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/ISO#. So ISO 100 at 1/100s or ISO 200 at 1/200s.

For overcast days, the rule is “Cloudy 8″. Start at f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/ISO# as a guesstimate.

Quick Fixes

If your image is underexposed (too dark):

  • decrease shutter speed
  • increase aperture
  • increase ISO

If your image is overexposed (too bright):

  • increase shutter speed
  • decrease aperture
  • decrease ISO

Kate’s picture of her living room was taken with these settings:

Aperture f/5; Shutter Speed 1/5; ISO 400


The thing about learning to take better photos, though, is that you have to actually spend time TAKING pictures and adjusting your settings to get better.  I read that master photographers have logged 10,000 hours with their cameras!  I’ve only just begun to practice with mine.  I’m HOPING that I get better and that my blog reflects my efforts.

Yesterday afternoon while James was napped, I snapped about 25 shots of these Gerber daisies in my dining room from the same angle with various camera settings:


I thought that the one that came out the best (sharpest and clearest flower) was taken using settings:  Aperture f/3.5; Shutter Speed 1/20; ISO 250  

I’d love to know where you’ve found helpful photography tips.  I’ve heard Pioneer Woman is awesome, and after a few visits to her blog, I have to agree.  I also really enjoy Kelle’s photography (and blog) at Enjoying the Small Things



  1. Fabulous Megan, bravo for taking this on, it's like a whole new world right? I confess since I acquired the D90 I'm STILL learning how to use it, but just like you say, practice is key. Fantastic post, and thanks so much for the linky love!


  2. Oh my...Thanks for breaking it all down. I just received my first DSLR for Mother's Day and I'm STILL reading the manual - this post definitely helped!!

  3. Thanks so much for this! I don't own a camera yet! but this will come in handy when I do!! :)
    hopefully for our anniversary next month!! :D

  4. Thanks for posting this! My husband has a DSLR and I never knew how to use it properly. Thanks for your tips and advice, I guess I a better understanding now. But I still need to read this blog post a few more times to really absorb everything.


  5. Kristen Duke Photography has a great little pocket sized ebook that you can print out and throw in your bag (I printed mine at Walgreens then had it bound at Kinkos). Has great tips for photographing using natural light!

  6. Fantastic post, Megan! Can't wait to dive in and read it in detail when I am not so tired. I need all the help I can get.

  7. A Little Sussy, I took on of her online photography classes and learned SO much! She offers amazing courses and is an incredibly talented photographer.

    Here is her link:

  8. Thanks for the tutorial! You are like the Spark Notes for this. Got a camera about a month ago and I am still learning, but I love it. I will need to read this a couple more times and probably take notes from this posting :)

  9. I wish I could just print this post to carry around with me. Thanks for summing everything up...we all need these cheat sheets!

  10. I am so happy you posted about this. I just got a Nikon D3100 and besides basic picture taking I am lost. Thanks so much for writing about this. Can't wait to figure it all out!

  11. Great tips Megan! I love taking photos and I've been trying to do a better job but I didn't realize all this number stuff until you just showed me. I'm going to get my camera right now and start making some changes!

  12. takes time and patience to learn how to use a camera properly. I am still learning!! LOL Great post.

  13. Love you for posting this...really, really want to improve my photos...thanks!

  14. I bought "Nikon D3000 for Dummies" at Borders and they had one for just about every model. I haven't had the time to really go through it in detail, but it looks like an amazing guide.

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I currently live in the auto settings of my SLR since I know I can edit it all in Photoshop but you explained so well that I think it's time to set up my (manual) game.

  16. I've picked up a few good tips from Bower Power:) Here's a link..

  17. This is so helpful!! I always like to pop back into Marla's QA on Darby's blog:

  18. my head is spinning!!! I just got the Nikon D7000 for Mothers Day- all I know is where to push the "take picture" button! BUT it did get a good lens with a low f/stop (1.8) for taking some great indoor pics in low light. Thanks for the info- Im going to head over to Darcy's page and read up!!

  19. thanks for posting, I so need this! I'm slowly getting away from auto mode but it is intimidating!!!

  20. My local camera store offers a basic class that spans 2 evenings. I LOVED it! I learned so much and could learn so much more if I went and took it again! Thanks for the post! Very informative!

  21. Wow, thanks for this post. I definitely needed it.

  22. ugh -- i'm going to have to find my camera manual, aren't i? thanks for giving us the cliff notes!

  23. Great post! Photography has always interested me but I've never known where to start.

  24. Tartelette takes amazing photos and she has actually come out with a book recently. Her site is:

  25. Excellent lesson! I don't have a nice camera yet, but hope to get one before the end of the year. Might as well read up on it now!

  26. Great tips! I'll have to play with my camera too!

  27. Thanks! I know I just need to practice more but it never hurts to keep reading tips in hopes that it will sink in eventually! Thanks for linking to the 31 days thing. I'm going to check that out.

  28. Wow Megan! Thanks for all of the great information and I know it was a lot of work. I don't have a fancy camera yet but my point and shoot has some settings that this might be helpful for.

  29. What an incredibly generous thing you did to put this in terms that I could understand. I read Kate's post way back when and there were a few terms I wasn't familiar with. The manual for my camera is useless as it assumes you know the basics-which I don't.

    Thank you so much for writing a post that I could understand (with pictures to illustrate!!!) I've bookmarked this to re-read later when I have time to do a bit of practicing.

  30. This is an EXCELLENT post! Really excellent information - I'm making lots of notes.

  31. great post Megan... before you know it, you'll have it down pat -

    have a great weekend!

  32. Thanks. I have been having the same problem. I put my camera away a year ago because of it. However, my plan is to have a friend do a mini class.

  33. You are quite the student and teacher, Ms. Megan!

    I've been rocking my iphone 4 for the blog, with as good of natural light as I can find...

    I'm pinching pennies to get a new camera, but I am "pinning" your post so I remember to reference it when the time comes...

    Great resources!

  34. Thank you for the great explanations and great resources. I used to know all this stuff back when I shot with film but digital has made it so simple to point and shoot. Except with my phone. Can never get a good shot that way.
    I do need to spend time reading my manual and adjusting settings. I know this gets to be fun when you understand it.

  35. Thanks for this awesome "Cliff's Notes" version. True story: I read Kate's post a while back and took similar notes as you. I then grabbed our camera only to find out you can't change the F stop or ISO! Boo! But I am filing your post away for when we get our nicer camera.

  36. wow! I'm so impressed!! Now if only I could find the manual...

  37. Excellent and understandable tips! It does make such a huge difference when you start to play around with the camera settings. I believe everyone can have great photos by reading up a bit on it, like this post!

  38. I'm so glad you did this post! There are lots of great websites out there to help us newbies learn how to use our cameras. One of my favorites is Katie Bower, at I hope you can get some great info and a giggle out of her blog if you aren't already familiar.
    Thanks again Megan!

  39. thank you for sharing! it helped a lot!


  40. I'm catching up on some posts :-) But, have you heard or visited the Houston Center For Photography? They offer GREAT & super affordable classes. Some are just a few hours once a day or a one time weekend thing. I've learned everything I know from my sis in law who has been in photography for over 10 years and re-reading my manual ALL of the time. Good lenses also make a huge difference and lots and lots of practice! I've joined my sis in law on some shoots especially around Christmas and even got paid for it. It was a ton of fun to see how professionals do it behind the camera.

  41. Pinned this great tute. Thanks for sharing!

  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

  43. Awesome!and after visiting a few post I found your blog that has a lovely,clear and well captured photo.
    EPSON Premium Glossy Photo Paper


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, I read every one! I try to answer questions in the comment section since many readers are "no reply" and so everyone can benefit from the response- so please check back. :)

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