You’re probably not getting the most out of your camera.

Maybe you just bought a boujee new DSLR or point ’n shoot camera, so you of course take it out of the box and start shooting. You’re probably using the GREEN AUTO mode and maybe you’re happy with that. Eventually you’ll run into the situation where your flash is blinding you in your selfies, or the wrong parts of your photos are too bright or dark. This is because you’re letting the processor determine what you’re taking a picture of. The thing is, you are way smarter and more creative than your camera’s processor. And because you’re so smart I’m going to teach you how to reach your full potential (with your camera, at least).

I get it, there’s a lot going on in that little screen. There are graphs, meters, and even fractions. It’s intimidating for anyone, but switching from Auto to Manual (M) will dramatically change the quality of your photos. Here are the 3 main settings that you will manipulate to get the right exposure and motion on your photos.

ISO

This is how sensitive your sensor is to light. This is the first setting you should change when you start shooting. You can change the other settings all you want but if the ISO is wrong you will get photos that are way too bright or way too dark. The ISO range in your camera is typically goes from 100 to 6400. The extent of the range will depend on your camera but always starts at 100. If you’re out on a bright sunny day, ISO of 100-200 is where you’ll want to be. If it’s getting late in the evening or you’re in a dimly lit room, you’ll want to set your ISO around 1600-6400. But, when shooting in lower light you need to remember that the higher the ISO, the more loss of detail and quality in your photo.

Shutter Speed

This is the duration of time that your sensor is exposed to your subject. This number is shown in fractions of a second. The longer (or slower) your shutter speed, the more light is captured in your photo. More light makes a brighter photo. But, in those brighter photos you have a greater chance of motion blur. A fast shutter speed will freeze motion and decrease blurring, but will allow less light in your photo, making it darker. If shooting handheld, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50 of a second or faster (1/100s etc). For sports or action you may want to have a shutter speed around 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second to make sure you really freeze that motion and capture quick movements.

Aperture

Similar to the iris of your eye, this is the opening of the lens that determines how much light is let in. It is a physical circular opening that opens and closes depending on your environment. This is shown as a decimal (f), typically (but not always) ranging anywhere from f1.4 to f22, depending on your lens. The “wider” or “faster” the aperture, such as f1.4, will give you a brighter photo. A slower aperture, such as f8-f22, will give you a darker photo.

Now you know! Go to a local park, or well-lit area, and just go crazy with these settings. Manipulate them to see how they affect your photos. Then play with them some more. And then you’ll start to see your camera’s full potential.