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Photographing Your Kids At Home: Camera Settings

Welcome to the second week of the Photographing Your Kids At Home series! If you missed my last post, talking about the camera and lenses, go back and read! If you have read it, I’m hoping you have a better idea of what Camera and Lens to go with!

Today I’m going to be talking about the settings within a camera and lens, what they mean, and how you can use them to take the best possible pictures of your kids!

Each DSLR camera has 3 main components that work together: ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. These can all be adjusted within the camera using “Manual Mode” or you can choose between different automatic settings so that the camera guesses for you. I think it’s important to know what these settings mean so that you can get the most out of your gear!

There are many “rules” in photography that I don’t really follow. I’ve never really been great at following rules anyways haha. This is photography according to Melinda!

Let’s get started!


ISO is a scale for measuring sensitivity to light. The numbers on this scale range from 50 being the least sensitive, and 6400 (or much more, depending on the camera). You might not get the full range with older/less expensive digital cameras. When we only used film, you would buy rolls dependent on ISO. Say you buy a roll on film that says “ISO 400.” That is how sensitive to light that roll of film is going to be. With digital cameras, you have a built in sensor so you can change the ISO with a click of a button rather than changing out a roll of film.

ISO is responsible for grain. You know, all those little tiny spots you see covering photographs. The higher your ISO, the more grain- or noise- you will have. Have you ever listened to the radio in the car at a low volume? Then turned up the volume really loud only to have all this extra “noise” associated with the music? This is similar to a digital light sensor. You’re basically turning up your sensor to grab more light, but in the process you get that grain in your photo.

Here’s a few examples (all settings were changed accordingly to accommodate the ISO):

This photo was shot at ISO 100 indoors in the early evening. Very soft, no noise.

This photo was taken at ISO 400 (my ideal well lit, indoor ISO), still hardly any noise, but more than the first photo.

This next photo was taken at ISO 6400. If you look closely or zoom in, you’ll be able to see the amount of noise in this photo compared to the first and second.

The goal here is to not use your flash! The light sensitivity is so impressive that you really don’t need a flash most of the time (unless you’re shooting at night or in a very dark room). 90% of the time, pictures look SO much better without a flash!

My typical ISO rules: On a bright, sunny day: ISO 100-200. In a well lit room or overcast day: ISO 200-400. In a not so well lit room, on a darker day, or as the sun is going down: ISO 600-800. When it’s getting really dark outside or inside a room with hardly any light, use what your camera has available until you feel like you need to use a flash.

Shutter Speed

Do you ever hear that quick “click” sound as you’re taking a picture? That is the shutter! There’s a small door inside the camera that I like to think of as a person blinking. You can make this door go really really fast, or relatively slow. The speed of your shutter is measured in fractions of a second. Within that fraction of a second is amount of time that light is passing through this little door. It also controls your ability to stop motion in a frame.

Most DSLRs can capture photos with a shutter speed as quick as 1/4000th of a second with the ability to go up from there. If you’re going to go with a slower shutter speed, your subject might be more blurry due to that motion blur associated with the shutter being open longer.

With this photo, my shutter was at 1/50th of a second, so Ellie’s  wiggling hand became a blur.

It’s also difficult to get a sharp picture with a slower shutter speed while you’re holding the camera by hand. No matter how still we think we’re holding the camera, there’s still going to be a little bit of shaking from simply pressing that shutter button. If there isn’t enough light to have a high shutter speed, or you’re wanting your camera to be 100% still and leveled, that’s where having a tripod comes in hand. But mostly for just regular every day photos of your kids, it’s not necessary.

This was Ellie at full on dance mode with my shutter set at 1/1000th of a second. Her arms, legs and even the tassels on her pants were frozen in time.

My shutter speed rules: Most people can’t get a still picture holding the camera at anything greater than 1/60th of a second. I like to stay as close to 1/200 or much more if I want to ensure that my subject will be frozen.


The aperture is a little circular door inside of your lens. I view the aperture just like the pupil in our eye. When there’s a lot of light, our pupil is very small. When it’s dark, our pupil gets bigger so that we can see better with less light. The Aperture does the same thing. The bigger the circular door opens, the more light is being let in. At the same time, the bigger it gets the more depth of field (more commonly referred to as the “blurry background”) you are going to get. As the door opens, it’s measured in what is called an F Stop. F stops are measured in numbers. The smaller the number, the larger your  aperture opening. They range from f/1.2 all the way up to f/22. When you’re buying a lens it will have the widest F stop following the millimeter number. If your lens is capable of a wider aperture, you’ll have much more versatility with that lens. The ones with larger apertures tend to be made better as well. Here’s a quick comparison:

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8  lens is only $110. It’s an AMAZING lens for the price (I always recommend it for a first time lens), but the difference in your photos by spending more money to get a wider aperture is crazy.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 Lens is $329. Like I mentioned in my last post, this lens is my go-to for just about everything. Having that wider aperture makes all the difference in my photos.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L Lens is $1,299. Just that .2 difference (plus the quality of the lens itself) makes this lens more than $1,000 over the price of the 50mm 1.8.

These were all examples of fixed lenses- or lenses that do not zoom in and out. When there is an F stop range like the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens, this just means that you have a zoom lens with different aperture capabilities at the different points of zoom you are at. When you’re fully zoomed out, your max aperture will be different from when you’re fully zoomed in.

For photographers, that F stop number after a lens means a lot when looking to purchase. Having the ability to shoot at f/1.4 doesn’t mean that I’m always shooting there. In fact, I rarely do and I think most photographers rarely use their largest F stop. The wider the aperture, typically just means that you have a higher quality lens that can take sharper images.

I try and stay above f/2.0 or above if I’m taking a picture of one person or child. If I’m taking a shot of multiple people, I try and stay above f/3.2. If I’m taking a picture of some scenery, or children far away that I want to ensure are in focus, I go to f/5.6 or well above.

Here are some pictures to show you how your aperture works. I was using the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Here’s a portrait taken at f/6.3. As you can see, her face, ears, hair, arms and neck are pretty much totally in focus. Her shirt, pants, and the wall behind her start to lose focus a bit, but you can still see most of the detail fairly well.

This photo was taken at f/2.5. HUGE difference! Her face is pretty much the only thing in focus. Her ears, hair and shirt are very blurry with slight detail, where the wall behind her is almost blurred together.

Getting that dramatic depth of field is my favorite thing about photography. It can be difficult to get a sharp subject when shooting with a wide aperture, but when you get that tack sharp image with beautiful blur in the background, you’ve got a gorgeous, professional looking image!

There’s the basics!

On my next post, I’ll be talking about how you can get the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture to work together! I’ll talk about the dials and buttons on your camera and lens and how to figure out which ones are going to be best for you to use.

Stay tuned!