The 3 Pillars of Photography – EXPLAINED

Erasmus Bridge – Rotterdam

You just got your hands on a new camera, you’re picking up your old camera or you just stole your mum’s. I recently found myself in the first situation. I bought a new camera, my first camera with adjustable settings. A new camera can seem overwhelming, but cameras are actually quite easy to handle. Since I just went trough the process of learning the ins and outs of my new friend, I figured I’d save you some time and teach you the 3 pillars of photography. Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO.

To “unlock” the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings, your camera needs to be in full manual mode. This is usually done using the wheel on top of your camera. Make sure it’s on “M” mode.

The 3 Pillars of Photography


Your aperture basically does the same thing as the iris of an eye. It adjusts your lens’ opening to control the amount of light hitting the sensor in your camera. The higher your Aperture (Expressed in F-stops or F), the lower the amount of light entering the camera, and vice-versa.

Your aperture also determines the depth of field. Depth of field is about how much of the picture is in focus. A low depth of field can be used to get the classic blurry background, or some nice bokeh. (for reference, see the picture on the left). A higher depth of field will result in sharp imagery all across the shot.

In short, a Low F results in brighter images & a shallow depth of field, while a high F will darken your images while having a big depth of field.

Shutter Speed

My favourite pillar; shutter speed. Shutter speed determines how fast the shutter opens and closes. This affects not only how much light hits the sensor, but also how much motion blur will be in the picture. You’ll want to use a fast shutter speed to capture moving subjects, but you can also use a slow shutter to capture intentional motion blur, like in the pictures above this paragraph. I used a slow shutter speed to get parts of the picture in focus, and other parts of the pictures to be completely blurry.

In short, a high shutter speed will get you razor sharp images with little to no motion blur, but your pictures will also be darker. A low shutter speed will have more motion blur and light.

As a rule of thumb; don’t shoot below 1/50 without a tripod. Your hands are shakier than you think!


Finally, ISO is the not-so secret sauce in photography. I’ll keep this one short since there’s not really much use for it other than adding light and grain to your photos. A high ISO will add extra brightness to your photo, but it will also add grain to your pictures. A low ISO will add less brightness and little to no grain.


Aperture determines how much light is let in, but so does shutter speed. ISO is also used to add more light. So how do you combine this? Let’s look at an example.

F16.0 – ISO 100 – 15″

Here’s a shot I took last month. The skyline of my hometown, Rotterdam. See how the water acts as a mirror? That’s because of the low shutter speed. The motion blur smooths out the waves, creating a flat surface. Because the shutter speed is low, a lot of light will hit the sensor. To account for this amount of light I not only kept my ISO at 100, adding no extra brightness to the picture, but I also changed my aperture to 16, which makes the lens opening really small.

In short, Less light gets in trough a tiny opening, but because the shutter stayed open for 15 seconds, the picture is properly exposed.

Now I’m not saying I’m some sort of photography guru, or that I know exactly how all camera’s work, but these pillars are the same for any recent camera with manual settings. If you’ve got any further questions feel free to reach out to me on instagram, or in the comments below.

Have fun shooting! I look forward to seeing your pictures!


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