ISO, Aperture and Shutter Explained Simply

When talking cameras, no doubt you’ve heard the terms ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. But what do they mean to the average person? How can they help you take the perfect picture? And do you need a degree in photography to make them work for you?

People can be intimidated by the different functions of a camera, and therefore put some really useful tools in the ‘too-hard’ basket, which is a pity, because not only would these tools help make great pics, they are really easy to use.

We’re going to cover a few basics on features used when it comes to utilising light – ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

Charlie Brown explains in simple terms what these mean and how your photography skills will grow. He is one of Australia’s cutting edge commentators on lifestyle technology. He is the technology editor for Channel Nine’s Today Show and appears regularly on Nine News and A Current Affair, as well as having a weekly segment voicing his opinions on consumer electronics during the Steve Liebmann Show on 2UE.


First up is ISO. This function is a measure of a camera’s ability to capture light. This is significant for when you want to take shots in low light conditions, such as early evening or twilight. You can set the ISO manually, or most Nikon devices will do so automatically for you. The lower the ISO number, the better the quality of the photograph. This is because there will be more detail in the image. What a higher setting allows you to do, is shoot in really bad light conditions. There is a small trade off, in that the higher the setting the grainer a picture can be. However, in saying that, with Nikon gear you can set an ISO of up to 102,000, which is like shooting in the dark, but will still get a pretty good end result.


Then there is aperture. Simply put, the aperture is the word used to describe the diameter of a lens opening, and controls the amount of light that is being let through. It is similar to ISO in that it is related to light, and in this case, the wider the aperture, the more light is let in to reach the digital sensor. Again, it’s all about light, light, light. An aperture is measured by a f stop. If you look on your lens you will see several ‘f’ stops. The lower an ‘f ‘stop, the more light that is being let in.

Shutter Speed

The last piece in the light puzzle is shutter speed. Probably the easiest feature to understand, it is what it says it is – the speed at which the shutter opens and closes on the camera. The faster the shutter speed the better the picture will be as far as clarity. For example, if you are photographing sport, then you will want a super-fast shutter speed to capture the moment. If you want a longer exposure – say taking a picture of a waterfall – then you will have a slower shutter speed.

As you can see, these are great features to utilise and easily explained. If you embrace the technology, you’ll find that your photography experience will be a lot richer.