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

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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?