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Capturing your kids: the basics

Welcome to the first official post in our photography series, Capturing Your Kids. (We introduced the series last month, you may find that post here.)

Today I’d like to start out with the basics of shooting in manual mode: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. The trifecta. Keep in mind this subject can be extensive, and for the sake of keeping it simple, I’ll be touching on each briefly.


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Also referred to as f/stop, aperture refers to how much of your image is in focus, how much light is let into the camera. The number associated with your f/stop determines how open or closed the aperture is (typically you will shoot anywhere from 1.2f to 22f).

The lower your number (1.2 – 2.8 for example) the wider your aperture, in turn letting in more light. The higher your number (16+ for example) the more closed your aperture is, hence allowing in less light. This can be a bit confusing in the beginning so let’s break it down a bit.

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Let’s recap. When shooting indoors or in low light you will typically shoot at a lower aperture (1.4 – 2.8), to allow in more light. Remember you will have less in focus, but portraits are lovely when shot at a low f/stop. If you’re shooting outdoors on a bright and sunny day, you may want to up your f/stop (3.5 +). This allows for more in focus (think group shot).

How to capture your kids with Aperture

As mentioned above, the loveliest of portraits are created using a lower f/stop. Find a well lit room in your home (pull back those curtains and open those doors!)  allow the light to engulf the room. Move in close to your child so their face/upper body are nearly filling the frame of your camera and set your f/stop anywhere from 1.4 – 2.8. When doing so you’re focusing solely on the subject and the background will blend together in a beautiful blur.


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Some find it easiest to remember ISO when thinking in terms of film speed (remember back in the day?). The higher your ISO (think 800+) the quicker your digital sensor or film speed is and the less light needed. The lower your ISO (think 200) you’ll need more light and your speed will be slower.

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Let’s recap. Outdoors + lots of light = lower ISO. Indoors + lower light = higher ISO.

How to capture your kids with ISO

With warm weather approaching let the kids stay up a bit late one evening and take them outside. As dusk approaches give them glow sticks and let them run a muck! Turn your ISO up (think 1200+) and snap, snap, snap! You’ll capture them in their element – laughing and having fun, which in turn gives you genuine images full of life.

Shutter Speed

Capturing Your Kids: the basics behind taking awesome pics on

The final element in this equation. Your shutter speed is really just the length of time the shutter is open within your camera, how long your sensor is able to ‘see’ your image. Think of it as a door, or window.

This speed can be anywhere from a few seconds to mere fragments of a second – depending upon what your subject is and how you’re wanting to capture them. On your camera you may notice 60, 120, 250 & higher represented. This stands for 1/60th of a second, 1/250th of a second, etc.

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Let’s recap. The more action you’re shooting, the higher your shutter speed (keep in mind you’re letting less light in) – the lower your shutter speed the more stability you will need (but more light is allowed in).

How to capture your kids with your Shutter Speed

Are your children running through a sprinkler mid-Summer? Perhaps your son plays basketball. Perfect time to take advantage of a high shutter speed (think 1/1000+). You can also test this during the glow stick party mentioned earlier by slowing down your shutter speed (play around with this, but try 1/30 for starters) and watch the magic unfold.

Bring it all together

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Now that we’ve covered the three basic elements of shooting in manual mode, let’s talk a bit about how to make them work together.

  • It’s time to think about which is the most important element to you in your given situation.  I typically choose my aperture first (this is personal preference). I’ve come to love a really wide open shot (wide open = low aperture = less focus = more light). From here I’ll move onto my next priority which is shutter speed.
  • Now continue on with the other elements. The second thing for me to consider is my shutter speed. Am I out on a nature walk with the kids or are they wrestling with their dad? Move this number around some depending upon the setting, and then head into the final piece of the puzzle. For me this is my ISO. I’m going to dial it to where I have learned it should be based upon the light but keep in mind the three elements need to work together to create a properly exposed image.
  • Adjust accordingly. Just because you’re outside on a sunny day and you know your ISO should be around 200, the settings of your aperture and shutter speed could be throwing that off and you may need to move that ISO around until you’ve achieved an exposure you’re happy with. If you decide that ISO 200 is your preference, dial your f/stop up some or raise the number on your shutter speed. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed. Nothing is learned and perfected in a day. It may feel like an awful lot of things to remember for a few photographs of your children, but I guarantee it will become second nature if you practice and perfect your skills.


What element will you try first? If you’re familiar with shooting in manual mode, would you share some tips for our friends just starting out?

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. A

    This was a really good post! I “know” this, but it’s hard to remember… Thank you!

  2. Sam Sprott

    Thank you Angie for such a concise and simple refresher. I had forgotten the fundamentals and have just set the camera on automatic. Going back to aperture priority or manual to try again for more than snapshots.

  3. Mara

    Wow, thanks so much! I know it’s a simple summary, but it helped inspired me 1) to actually figure out HOW to get into manual mode on my point-and-shoot (it’s now obvious to me, but sad to say I didn’t know before), and 2) actually figure out how to change my exposure and ISO.

    One question then: is “exposure” on a non-fancy point-and-shoot camera have more (or anything) to do with aperture, shutter speed, or some combination? Or is exposure something entirely different? My thought is that “exposure” is related more to shutter speed, the amount of time the aperture is open, but since ISO, aperture, and shutter speed all effect the amount of light coming in, I’m a little confused as to which is which!

  4. Crista

    Thanks for the tips. I do a lot of camera shooting and while I can remember the basics, I still carry around a cheat sheet to make sure I take the shot correctly!

  5. Breanne

    I know this but I don’t always remember the whys. I typically just fool around with all the dials until I find what I’m looking for. =P Thanks the simple tips. =)

  6. Lana Wilkens

    I wish I was more of a photographer. I think I have an eye for a good shot, but all the fumbling around in the moment and it seems to be gone! So I guess I just need some intentional practice time when the stakes are low!! 🙂


  7. Maia

    Thanks for the lesson, I’ll have to start trying out manual mode again. I used to know these things, but I’ve been lazy with my digital camera and just use it on auto mode.

  8. Starla

    Angie, Thank You so much for this blog. I am a semi -newbie at photography, I did study in High School more than 25 years ago. I worked for the Dept. of Navy as their photographer for MWR (Moral, Welfare and Recreation) for 7 years and now I really would like to make this a career choice. I am a military spouse on a budget, would you recommend a camera to start off with?


  9. Kimberly

    These are fabulous tips for those wanting to dip their toes in manual mode! I’ve been shooting in manual for about 3 years and my advice would be to practice, practice, practice! I’ve learned so much through trial and error. Thanks to digital, it doesn’t cost us anything when we mess up and messing up becomes a great teaching tool. Look at what your settings were and decide where you should adjust to get the results you want.

    However, practice when the results aren’t so critical. For instance, your child’s birthday party probably wouldn’t be the best time to play around in manual mode for the first time. It is okay to shoot in auto just to be sure you get the memories captured.

    My other suggestion would be, if possible on your camera, to try out aperture priority mode (usually an A on the dial) or shutter speed priority mode (an S on the dial). For aperture priority, you decide the aperture and let the camera decide the shutter speed and possibly the ISO depending on your camera. Shutter speed priority – you decide the shutter speed and let the camera choose aperture and possibly ISO.

    Another suggestion would be to pick something specific you want to try (like getting that beautiful bokeh or shooting in low light – just for examples) and practice that one skill until you are comfortable. Then move on to something else. Before you know it, you will be comfortable in almost any situation.

    I hope these were helpful!

  10. Kathy

    Thanks for the great tips! I just got a new camera and look forward to learning how to use it properly!

  11. Jessica

    Thank you for that post it makes it a little clearer now. I just use auto but I think I will try to use those settings.

  12. Alicia

    Great tips and easy to read format.

  13. Rusty Solomon

    Thanks for the lesson,I use s9100 and now I’ll have to start trying out manual mode.Keep blogging

  14. Gwen @SimplyHealthyFamily

    Excellent tutorial Angie! Thanks so much. I pinned so I can keep referring to it 😉

  15. Nicole @ Gidget Goes Home

    Thanks for this succinct explanation, Angie. I’m definitely going to save it for reference. I feel like I might actually be able to apply these techniques because you made it so easy to understand. 🙂

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