How To Take A Stunning Silhouette Photo

How To Take A Stunning Silhouette Photo

How To Take a Stunning Silhouette Photo

Inside: Learn how to shoot a stunning silhouette photo in 5 easy steps with your DSLR. iPhone silhouette photo tutorial also included!

Disclaimer: This contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). I only recommend tools and resources I use and love!

Last year for my birthday all I asked for was a nature hike with my family. 

They obliged, and we hiked a small summit near our home. The grade to the top was steep, but short. My kids hauled rocks to the top and we were rewarded with a beautiful view and fresh water pools where they tossed their stones.

Minus the water, it felt like we were on the surface of the moon.

I had my trusty camera with me, of course!  As the sun sank lower, my anticipation grew.  I knew the best light would come as the sun set.

I couldn’t wait to capture the perfect silhouette photo.

5 Simple Steps To a Stunning Silhouette Photo

We’ve all seen silhouette photos around the internet.  I’ve always admired them but didn’t understand how to capture them until I learned how to use my DSLR camera.

I’ve broken the process down into 5 simple steps: 

Step 1 to a Stunning Silhouette Photo: Find a Location With Open Space

Great locations for silhouette photos include the beach, the top of a hill or an open field – anywhere with lots of open sky and not a lot of trees, houses or other objects in the way.

I took this silhouette photo on the beach.

Step 2 to a Stunning Silhouette Photo: Find The Best Light

The easiest time to capture a silhouette photo is in the evening when the sun is low and after sunset.

To capture a great silhouette photo the light needs to be behind your subject.  Place your subject between your camera and the setting sun. 

Silhouette photos are easiest at this time of day because the light is getting softer. Shooting into softer light is easier than shooting into direct sun. Also, as the sun goes down the sky becomes more vibrant!

I took this image as the sun slipped below the horizon.

Step 3 to a Stunning Silhouette Photo: Get As Low As You Can

Here’s a pullback of the spot where I took the photo above.  It’s hard to see the difference in elevation, but the kids were up higher than I was. I was positioned in a lower spot, laying on my back.

You gotta do what you gotta do to get the shot!  Get as low as you can.  You may need to lie on your back to get low enough.

Step 4 to a Stunning Silhouette Photo: Expose for the Sky

To expose for the sky, you’ll need to shoot in full manual or a semi-automatic camera mode.  I always recommend manual mode. 

If you need help with that, check out this photography cheat sheet for beginners.

Don’t be afraid to shoot in manual mode!  For silhouette photos, it’s the best option.

If you want to use a semi-automatic camera mode, I’d recommend Shutter Priority so you can choose a shutter speed high enough to avoid motion blur.

If you’re in shutter priority mode you’ll need to set your exposure for the sky, then use the exposure lock feature on your camera so the exposure won’t change when you focus on your subject.

In my opinion, that’s more cumbersome than manual mode.  And manual mode will allow you to tweak your exposure as the light changes while the sun goes down.

The light will fade fast at sunset!

Here are the steps to expose for the sky:

Step 1: For the most precision when you set your exposure, I recommend spot metering mode and single point focus.  Point your camera at the sky, but not at the sun.  Place your focal point on a spot in the sky that’s blue.

Step 2: Adjust your ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed until your camera meter is a 0 or somewhat underexposed (below 0).  You may need to underexpose to get your subjects blacked out.

Step 3: Once your exposure is set move your focal point to your subject and take a test shot.  If the sky looks good and your subjects look like blacked-out silhouettes, you’re ready to go!  If not, adjust one of the legs of the exposure triangle to darken your exposure a bit more.

Step 5 to a Stunning Silhouette Photo: Isolate Your Subject

This is easier said than done with kids, but if you have more than one person in your photo, encourage them to give each other a bit of space.

You’ll have best results when you can see each person’s distinct features.

If your subjects are too close together they may look more like a blob than people!

This principle also applies to the subject’s environment.  I love how in the photo below my daughter is isolated from her the ground beneath her.

PRO TIP: Ask your kids to jump, dance, walk and move.  You’ll get more photos where you can see the entire body and their limbs are more likely to look distinct.  But be sure your shutter speed is fast enough to capture the motion.  In this photo my shutter speed was 1/640.

I love this image BUT the houses and trees on the horizon line “ate up” my daughter’s feet.  The image would be stronger if I could see more of her feet.

Pro Tip:  If you notice anything distracting along the horizon line, remove it in Lightroom.

I used the healing brush in Lightroom to remove a cell phone tower in the distance.

A small distraction removed keeps your eyes focused on the subject.

How To Take An iPhone Silhouette Photo

An iPhone silhouette photo is a bit simpler to take, but the camera phone’s capabilities are limited. An iPhone is more challenging to use in low light, so still subjects work best if you’re shooting after sunset.

Step 1: Place your subject with the light behind them. Face your phone toward the sunset (or light source).  Get down as low as possible.

Step 2: Tap your finger on the sky to set your exposure.  You can drag your finger up or down on the iPhone screen to brighten or darken the photo.  Adjust the exposure until your subjects look blacked out.

Step 3: Snap the photo!  Edit the photo on your phone to give it more pop.  Lower the shadows and increase the contrast so the silhouette areas are nice and dark.

I took this photo with my iPhone. 

The next time you’re out in nature with your family be sure to stick around for the best light around sunset and remember these five steps to create your own stunning silhouette photo:

Find a Location with Open Sky

Put the Light Behind Your Subject

Get Down Low

Expose for the Sky

Isolate Your Subject


Check out my Easy to Understand Photography Cheat Sheet for Beginners:

How to Achieve a Blurry Background in Your Photos

How to Achieve a Blurry Background in Your Photos

Inside: Want to take photos with a blurry background? These three tips will help you achieve a beautiful blurry background – and two don’t require you to change your camera settings!


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). I only recommend tools and resources I use and love!

Years ago I kept a personal family photo blog, before I knew the first thing about photography.

Back then, I didn’t know how to take good photos, but I did seem to recognize when I got lucky on my auto settings.

When I look back I see the photos I loved and shared most had a sharp subject in the foreground and a blurry background.

Those photos garnered lots of attention and compliments from others.  I remember the rush of excitement I felt to share my best photos. I knew they looked good, yet I could never pinpoint why those photos came out so well. 

I had no idea how I’d done it!

blurry background

Now I know how to get consistent results from my camera and how to take photos with a beautiful blurry background.

Why We Love Photos With A Blurry Background 

A good photo mimics the way the human eye sees.

Let me explain with a quick exercise.  Hold your hand one foot in front of your face.  Without taking your eyes off your hand, notice what you see beyond your hand.

It’s blurry, right?

A good photo captures a scene the way your eyes would see it.

I encourage you to pay attention to this the next time you’re talking with someone. Notice how they look sharp and what’s behind them looks blurry.

Which of these photos looks most natural to you (or, which appeals to you most)?

If you stood and looked down at the fern frond, the first image looks more like what your eye would see.  Your eyes would blur the table and doily as you focus on the fern.  The entire scene wouldn’t be in focus like the second image.

On the other hand, if you look at a scene far from you, such as a landscape, notice how most of the scene appears in focus as you gaze over it.

A good landscape photo will have the whole scene in focus because it mirrors how the human eye would see it.

As you learn to take good photos, you can think through the way your eyes would view a scene to evaluate how well you captured it.

The First Key to a Blurry Background

You can increase the blur of your photo’s background with two methods I’ll share below.  These don’t require any change in camera settings.

But one camera setting is crucial to a blurry background – your aperture.

Aperture is one of the legs of the exposure triangle.  Aperture, also known as f/stop, controls how much of your image is in focus.

For a simple to understand explanation of aperture, be sure to check out my EASY TO UNDERSTAND PHOTOGRAPHY CHEAT SHEET FOR BEGINNERS.

The wider the camera’s aperture opens, the lower the f/stop number will be, and the blurrier the background of the photo will be.  

The more the camera’s aperture closes, the higher the f/stop number will be, and the less blurry the background will be.

In the example with the ferns above, the photo with a wide aperture of f.2.8 has a blurry background.  The photo with a narrow aperture of f/13 has a sharp background.

The first key to a blurry background: choose a lower f/stop setting, like f/2.8 or f/3.2.  

portrait blur

This photo, taken at aperture f/2.8 has a beautiful blurry background.

To read more posts on photography basics, check out my photography resource page HERE.


Here’s Second Key to a Blurry Background:

increase your subject’s distance from the background behind them.

The further the subject’s distance from the background, the blurrier the background will appear.

Check out these two photos.  I took them both at aperture f/6.3 with the same lens, my favorite 35mm.  But notice how much blurrier the background in the second photo looks due to the subject’s increased distance from the background:

How to Take Photos with a Blurry Background on your iPhone

With your camera phone you can’t control your aperture.  The phone chooses the aperture for you.

But you can use your subject’s distance from the background to get a blurrier background.

The next time you’re taking a photo of a person take a moment to move them into a position where the background will be as far behind them as possible.

Another option: use your phone’s portrait mode to generate a blurry background.  The phone uses an algorithm to create the blur.  On closer examination the blur may not look as natural as it would if taken with a DSLR, but overall, it’s a nice option to improve your iPhone photography.

Here’s a great tutorial on iPhone portrait mode.

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And The Third Key to a Blurry Background:

use a lens with a long focal length.

You can achieve a blurry background with a wide angle lens.  In the example below, I used one of my favorite lenses, a wide-angle 35 mm lens:

blurry background

But a longer lens, like an 85 mm, 135 mm, or 200 mm compresses the background.  That is, the focal length lens causes the background to appear closer to the subject and blurrier.

In the photo below I used my 135 mm at aperture f/3.5.  I love the creamy background.  The trees behind her are across the street but it looks like she’s in the middle of the forest.


portrait blur

Background Blur Simplified

To achieve a blurry background:

  • choose a wide aperture (low f/stop number)
  • increase your subject’s distance from the background
  • use a long lens

All 3 employed together are a powerful combination for beautiful photos with background blur.  No luck required.

Need all these photography terms simplified? Click on the image below to download a Free Easy to Understand Photography Cheat Sheet for Beginners:


How to Toggle your Camera’s Focal Point for Better Photos

How to Toggle your Camera’s Focal Point for Better Photos

Inside: Read my detailed tutorial on how to choose your camera focus points and choose which part of your image you want in focus.


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). I only recommend tools and resources I use and love!

Before I learned how to use my DSLR camera I found myself in need of a creative outlet.

A Pinterest search turned up some cute glass tile pendant necklaces and I got excited to try my hand.  I made a few and felt so pleased with my craftiness I wanted to show them off with photos.

I studied the photos on the tutorial’s website.

The pendant in the photo’s foreground looked sharp while the background looked blurry.  Such a nice effect.

I loved how it looked and wanted to figure it out.

What’s the Secret to Choosing the Focal Point?

I laid my pendants out on a white table cloth and arranged them in rows.

I took a few shots with my nice DSLR and checked the back of my camera.

Arghhh…why couldn’t I get the one I wanted in focus?

I tried everything I could think of.

I changed my camera angle and took the photos from the side.

I moved closer in, then further away.

How hard could this be?

But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my camera to focus where I wanted it to.

One shot would have one pendant in focus, but never the one I wanted.

The next shot would have them all in focus.

And the third would be a shot of the wall behind them!

After 20 minutes of attempts to get my camera to focus where I wanted it to, I gave up.

“What am I missing?” I thought.  “What’s the trick to this?”

Why Its Important to Choose Your Camera Focus Points

A great photo has a clear focal point.  The focal point should be in focus and stand out from the rest of the image.

In Auto Mode, most cameras will choose the focal point for you.

As you look into your camera’s viewfinder you will see an array of focal points.  When you depress your shutter half way you’ll notice how one or more of the camera focus points light up.

camera focus points

If you’re lucky, when you shoot in auto mode, one of the camera focus points will fall on your subject.

But as often as not, when your camera decides for you, you’ll get an unpredictable result.

In the image below I wanted to flower in focus, but the camera chose the leaf instead:

photo of flower demonstrating how to choose your camera focus points

I got the result I wanted when I chose the camera’s focal point.

photo of a flower demonstrating the power of choosing your own camera focal point

Learning how to choose your focal point will take your photos to the next level. 


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A Powerful Setting!

Toggling your focal point is powerful.  Here are three reasons why:

First, it’s powerful because you can tell your camera what’s most important in your image.

Here, I placed the focal point on my daughter.  This told my camera I wanted her in focus, not the poles or trees behind her.  When paired with a wide aperture the background blurs while the subject remains sharp.

Second, it’s powerful because if there’s something between you and your subject you can incorporate it into the foreground of the image without confusing your camera as to what you want in focus.

In this shot, I told my camera to focus on my son as the subject of the photo, not my daughter in front of him.  This added nice depth to the photo, and my camera knew what I wanted in focus.

Last, it’s powerful because you can use it to create interesting compositions while shooting.

In this photo I used the rule of thirds to compose my photo with my son in the right third of the frame.

boy playing soccer with focal point overlay to show how photos was composed and shot


Confusing Terms

I’ll be the first to admit that photography terms can get confusing.  The words focus, auto, and mode get thrown around a lot and not always in reference to the same camera function.

In this tutorial I’ll use the term single point focus to refer to the camera setting that allows us to choose and toggle our focal point.

But this camera function may be called something different based on the camera model.  On Nikon cameras it’s called the AF area mode.  On Canon cameras it’s called single point AF.

How to Toggle Your Camera’s Focal Point

Step 1 – pull out your camera manual.

Remember that manual that came with your camera?  Time to dig it out!

If you can’t find it, Google can help.  Most camera manufacturers provide copies of their camera manuals online.  You can search for your Nikon camera manual HERE, or your Canon camera manual HERE.

Every camera’s a little different so you’ll need to find out how to switch to single point focus – or whatever term your camera manufacturer uses – on your camera.


Step 2 – Get Out of Auto Mode

You can’t choose your focal point unless you shoot in manual mode, or a semi-manual mode.  If you shoot in Auto mode the camera will choose both your exposure settings and focal point for you.



Here are some tutorials to help you switch your camera to single point focus:

Canon Rebel

Nikon D300

Nikon D5000

Canon 5D Mark iii (see page 14)

Step 3 – Practice!

Once you get your camera set to single point focus practice using your camera’s multi-selector wheel to toggle your focal point.

On most cameras, it looks like this:

Look through your camera’s viewfinder. Use the arrows on your multi-selector wheel to toggle your focal point up, down, left and right.

Practice until you get comfortable doing it.

Give it a try!

Get out your camera manual and find out how to toggle your camera’s focal point.  You’ll have a powerful photography tool for whatever you want to shoot – craft projects and kids alike! 

Want to improve your own photos right now?  Sign up for my free e-course:

Do You Make This Photography Mistake?

Do You Make This Photography Mistake?

Inside: New photographers often struggle to figure out what aperture to use.  This post gives you two questions to help you decide.  Read on to learn from my photography mistake!



Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). I only recommend tools and resources I use and love!


At six weeks old my third baby had begun to smile in earnest and I knew I HAD to capture it.

I settled the baby in her bouncer with a pretty blanket draped over the seat to create a nice background and enlisted my husband to help me coax out a baby smile.

My camera settings were ready and I felt my heart beat faster as my husband chatted with the baby in sing-song tones.

The moment came – her daddy’s voice made her face light up with the sweetest grin and I snapped away.

I reviewed my images on the back of my camera and saw a beautiful photo of my baby’s smile.

Success!  A keeper!

what aperture to use

…or so I thought.

Later when I downloaded my photos to my computer I admired my capture.

The exposure looked perfect and her grin made me giddy.

I imagined how much everyone would love this photo on her birth announcement.

I zoomed in…

what aperture should I use

Wait, the eyes.

My heart sank.

Her left eye looked blurry.

My excitement shifted to deep disappointment.

What happened? Where did I go wrong?

I had no idea.

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What Aperture To Use

As a new photographer I’d read the rule of thumb:

choose your aperture based on the number of subjects in your photo.

That was easy enough to remember.

So I’d chosen an aperture of f/1.8 because I had one person in my photo. Shouldn’t that have worked?  Why didn’t it work?  

How do you know what aperture to use?

The fact is


It’s true.  The aperture you should use depends on how many people or subjects are in your photo.

But other factors also need to be considered when you decide what aperture to use.

photography cheat sheet

Aperture, also known as f/stop, is one of the legs of the exposure triangle.  Aperture helps photographers create the beautiful, blurry backgrounds most people want when they are learning how to use their DSLR.

 what aperture to use

photo with blurry background taken at f/2.5

Lower f/stop = Shallow Depth of Field

A photo taken at a lower f/stop setting has a “shallow depth of field.”  A small “slice” of your image is in focus.

Think of it like a pane of glass running on a vertical plane through your image.  A lower f/stop setting will create a “thin” pane of glass through your subject.

This imaginary window pane, or in-focus “sliver” of the photo is called the “depth of field.” 

Remember, a photo taken at a lower f/stop setting, like f/2 has a “shallow depth of field.”  A photo taken at a higher f/stop, like f/11 has a “wide depth of field.’   


I Made One Simple Change


Scroll through the photos below and see if you can spot what I changed from the first to the second photo.

Hint: It wasn’t my aperture setting.

In the first photo notice only the toes are in focus.

In the second image notice how all of both feet and part of the legs are in focus, even though I didn’t change the aperture.

Do you know what changed from the first photo to the second?  Click on the photo to see a larger version:


In the example with my daughter’s photo taken at f/1.8 the shallow depth of field could not encompass both eyes.

How to Fix It

To fix the problem I could’ve closed down my aperture to f/2.8 or f/3.2 to capture both of her eyes in focus.


I could’ve taken the photo from further away to get both eyes in focus without adjusting my f/stop setting.

In the example above I took a few steps back but didn’t change my settings. 

I cropped in closer on the second image (in Lightroom) to show the increased depth of field created when I moved further from my subject.

But you can see here how far back I was compared to the first photo, which was not cropped.

I learned three important lessons from my photography mistake:

  • Mistakes are good!  I learn something important from every mistake I make.  I’ve learned to embrace them because they always teach me a lesson I’ll remember.
  • When I’m close to my subject a wider aperture won’t be the best choice because I want to get both eyes and most of the facial features in focus.  A higher f/stop number such as f/3.2 or f/4.0 may be a better choice.
  • Zoom in on the camera’s LCD to check focus!  If I’d zoomed in on those photos of my daughter I’d have realized I needed to adjust my aperture setting or back up a bit to get both eyes in focus.

How Do I Know What Aperture To Use?

The next time you need to decide what aperture to use ask yourself two questions:

1.  How many people are in my photo? 

Use one aperture stop for every person in the photo.  For 5 people, for example, use at least f/5.  And if they are on different planes, such as in rows, you may need to raise your f/stop number even more to get everyone in focus.

2.  How close am I to my subject(s)?

If you’re close to your subject for a portrait, use a higher f/stop to increase your depth of field and get all the important parts of the subject’s face in focus.

NOTE:  your lens and the type of camera you have also impact a photo’s depth of field.  Check out this helpful article to better understand how these other factors affect the depth of field in a photo.

Practice with different lenses if you have more than one. Different lenses will affect your depth of field based on their focal length.

If you’re new to photography I recommend a lens like THIS or THIS.  It’s a great lens for beginners!

Learn From My Mistake

Learn from my photography mistake and take your distance from your subject into account when you choose what aperture to use.  You’ll avoid download disappointment and increase your keepers.


Need all these photography terms simplified? Click on the image below to download a Free Easy to Understand Photography Cheat Sheet for Beginners:

Free Download – Easy to Understand Photography Cheat Sheet

Free Download – Easy to Understand Photography Cheat Sheet

Inside: New to photography?  Start here!  Download my free DSLR photography for beginners PDF HERE.


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). I only recommend tools and resources I use and love!

I looked down past my large, round belly, to the brand new DSLR sitting in my lap. I was 8 months pregnant with my first child and I couldn’t wait to take beautiful photos of our new baby.  

But as I read the instruction manual and fumbled with the camera settings my excitement waned. I wanted to take great photos, but had no idea where to begin.  

“A photography class is what I need!” I mused.

A few days later a discount on a local photography class landed in my inbox and I registered right away. 

Surely this would unlock the mysteries of my camera and have me taking beautiful photos in no time.

I went to the class one week before my due date, larger and rounder.  I paid close attention and scribbled notes on ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  

I was sure I understood.

Then it was time to go out and test my new knowledge by taking photos in manual mode. And I was LOST.  

I couldn’t remember

-which setting to choose first,

-which setting controlled which aspect of the photo, or

-why I thought this class was a good idea in the first place!

How was I supposed to hold all this information in my head???

DSLR Photography for Beginners

I checked my notes again.  I was still lost.

In frustration I switched the camera back to Auto mode.  

The instructor came by to check my progress.  He saw that I’d reverted back to Auto.  I felt the heat creeping into my cheeks.  

“It’s challenging, isn’t it?”, he said. 

“Um, yeah, understatement of the year” I thought.  I was ashamed to admit I’d already given up.

My scribbled notes weren’t cutting it. This photography class didn’t deliver the results I’d hoped for.  

I needed someone to simplify this for me.

This article explains the exposure triangle in depth.  I want you to read it all.

But if you’re like I was and need a simple photography cheat sheet that will eliminate the overwhelm of choosing your camera settings, you can download it below:

DSLR Photography for Beginners PDF

If you’re new to photography, the exposure triangle is the first thing you need to understand.  It’s the foundation for understanding how to use your dslr camera.


photography for dummies pdfEvery camera (even your camera phone) utilizes three elements – Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO – and balances them to create an “exposure,” or image.

When you shoot in auto mode your camera makes the decisions for you of how to balance the three elements of the exposure triangle based on the scene you’re photographing and the light available.

When you shoot in manual mode you get to do the thinking and choose the best settings for the lighting you’re in and the effect you want to achieve.

Taking control of my camera settings and learning manual mode was the key to learning to take photos I love.  

Let’s look at the function of each leg of the exposure triangle.  We’ll start with ISO:

ISO Settings

ISO stands for “International Standards Organization.”  

That’s not important except to know there are internationally recognized standards for this camera setting.

Your ISO setting determines how sensitive your camera’s sensor (the part inside your camera that captures an image) is to light.  The lower your ISO setting, the less sensitive.  The higher the setting, the more sensitive.

The higher you set your ISO, the more light your camera will be able to “gather”.

Most entry level DSLR’s have an ISO range from 100 to 3200 or 6400, while pro-level DSLR’s have ISO ranges up to 32,000 and even higher! 

A higher ISO setting has one major drawback.  The higher you set your ISO, the more “noise” you’ll get in your photos.

Higher end cameras can handle this noise better than entry level DSLR’s, so the better your camera, the better it’s ability to shoot in low light where you’ll need to use a higher ISO setting.

A higher ISO setting also limits the range of highlights and shadows (known as the dynamic range) your camera can capture.

For these reasons, it’s best to keep your ISO setting as low as possible.

ISO Examples

I took this photo of my daughter watching fireworks under dark low light conditions. I have a higher-end DSLR and my ISO setting was at 20,000!

photo of girl watching fireworks at night illustrates digital noise caused by a high ISO setting

When I zoom in (below) you can see the noise caused by the high ISO setting. This noise is considered undesirable in terms of image quality.

To avoid this always keep your ISO setting as low as possible.

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Shutter Speed

The next leg of the exposure triangle is SHUTTER SPEED.

Shutter speed refers to how long the camera’s shutter stays open when you snap a photo, expressed in fractions of a second.

For example, a shutter speed of 1/125 means the shutter will stay open for one one-hundred-twenty-fifth of a second (which isn’t long at all)!  

You’ll sometimes see shutter speed written as a whole number, like SS 125, but this can be confusing, so it’s best to write and think of it in fraction form.

The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter speed.  

For example, SS 1/800 (one 800th of a second) is faster than SS 1/50 (one 50th of a second).

Shutter speed can be used to capture motion blur.  A slow shutter speed can make running water look silky, or lend a sense of movement to a photo.  To achieve this look you would choose a longer shutter speed, such as 30 seconds.  

This shutter speed is not written as a fraction, because it’s longer than a second.

This site has great examples showing how to create motion blur using a slow shutter speed.

For handheld photography it’s best to set your shutter speed at 1/125 or faster, especially if photographing a moving subject (like a child).  

In most cases, a faster shutter speed is better.

One important note:

set your shutter speed higher than the focal length of your lens.  For example, if you have a long telephoto lens, such as a 200 mm, your minimum shutter speed would need to be 1/200.

A slower shutter speed can lead to blurry photos.  This is known as “motion blur.” A fast shutter speed will be able to freeze the subject’s motion.

A faster shutter speed also allows less time for the camera to capture light, so with a faster shutter speed less light will reach the camera’s sensor.  A slower shutter speed gives the camera more time to gather light, so more light will reach the camera’s sensor.

Shutter Speed Examples

These photos illustrate how shutter speed can help you achieve a sharp photo.

This photo was taken at a fast shutter speed of 1/8000.  That’s one eight-thousandth of a second.  Note how sharp and in focus the flower is, even though the wind was blowing:

photo of flower taken at shutter speed 1/8000 shutter speed 1/8000

This next photo was taken at a slow shutter speed of 1/60 (that’s one 60th of a second). 

1/60 is too slow for a handheld shot, and too slow to capture an object blowing in the wind.

photo of flower taken with a slow shutter speed shows motion blur shutter speed 1/60

For sharp photos, set your shutter speed at 1/125 or faster.

What Aperture to Use

The third leg of the exposure triangle is known as APERTURE, also referred to as f/stop. The aperture you use depends on the effect you’re going for.  Let me explain.

Aperture may be my favorite of the three legs because it’s what creates those beautiful blurry backgrounds that set a great photo apart from a snapshot.  This is what most people think of when they picture “professional photography.”

Aperture means “opening”  

The camera has an opening inside of it that allows light to pass through to the sensor.  The f/stop number, expressed as a fraction (yes, fractions again!) refers to how “wide open” or “closed down” the camera’s aperture is.

The wider the camera’s aperture opens, the lower the f/stop number will be, and the blurrier the background of the photo will be.  

The more closed the camera’s aperture is, the higher the f/stop number will be, and the less blurry the background will be.

Some situations call for having more of your photo in focus.  Landscape photos, for example, should have the whole scene in focus and you’d need to use a narrower aperture to achieve this. 

A photo of a large group of people may also call for a narrower aperture setting so everyone will be in focus. 

The aperture you choose depends on what you’re photographing.

A wider aperture (lower f/stop number) lets more light reach the camera sensor.  A narrower aperture (higher f/stop number) lets less light reach the camera sensor.

The terms can get confusing!

I had a hard time keeping this one straight when I first started learning manual mode.

Think of it like the iris in your eye. When the light is dim your iris opens wider to let more light in.  When the light is bright your iris closes down to let in less light.

In practice, the most important points to remember about aperture are:

A lower f/stop number will give you a blurrier background. 

If you’re photographing a larger number of people or a landscape a higher f/stop number will be needed.

Aperture Examples

The photos below illustrate how your aperture, or f/stop affects your photo.

This photo was taken at f/3.2.  Notice the nice blurry background:

photo of tulip with a blurry background taken at wide aperture f/3.2

In this photo I changed my aperture to f/7.1.  Notice how the background doesn’t look as smooth.

photo of tulip taken at narrower aperture f/7.1

This photo was taken at f/16.  Notice how the background is much more in focus and we see more of the distracting elements in the background.  The photo taken at a wider aperture blurs them out for us.

photo of tulip at f/16 f/16

If you want a blurry background, choose a lower f/stop number.

FREE DSLR Photography for Beginners PDF

Five years later after my third child was born I’d finally gained a good understanding of how to use the exposure triangle.  

I don’t want you to struggle with it for as long as I did, so I have a simple photography cheat sheet for you. It will help you when you’re trying to decide on your camera settings.  

You can print it and take it along with you when you’re out shooting.  Download it below.

I truly love my photos now that I’ve mastered shooting in manual mode and understand how the exposure triangle affects my photos.  

Learning manual mode was the key that unlocked the mysteries of photography for me and allowed me to take beautiful photos I love.

Eliminate the overwhelm and get help choosing your camera settings.  Download your FREE Photography Cheat Sheet for Beginners:

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