I’ve been asked a few times now about what camera I use. I always think that’s a bit of a funny question. Yes, I do use a DSLR (Canon Rebel t3i) and that’s probably of significance, but the actual camera itself is a lot less significant than the settings I choose and the lens that I use. Couldn’t have planned that rhyme if I tried. So while I’m not a photographer, I thought it might be worth running through some of the most basic settings to think about and what the advantages of certain lenses are. Turn that camera to manual!


The aperture essentially determines how much light is let into your photo. The lower the f-stop the more light you have coming in. However, it becomes slightly more complicated in that the more light you’re letting in, the smaller your depth of field. In other words if you have your f-stop set low, you’re going to have a blurry background. If you have your f-stop set high, you’re going to have more of your background in focus.

Having a soft blurry background tends to be a desirable trait in beauty photography so what you likely want to look for in a lens is one where the f-stop can be set quite low (this pretty much rules out your kit lens). I use the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens because it’s cheap as chips as far as lenses go and it gives that desired soft focus effect. However, if I had a little more to spend, I’d probably go for a lens like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, which would allow me to shoot closer to the subject, while letting even more light in and creating a greater soft focus effect.

Taken with an F-stop of 1.8: brighter with a blurred background

Taken with an F-stop of 6.3: darker with a less blurred background

Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the amount of time your camera shutter is open for when you’re snapping a shot. It’s another factor that determines how much light you have in your photo. If your shutter speed is slower, more light is going to be let into the photo. Seems good. However, if you go too low you’re more likely to end up with a shaky, blurry photo. For a still shot I generally try not to go below 200.

ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to light. If you don’t have a lot of natural light where you’re shooting and your ISO is set low, your photo is going to turn out quite dark. Turning your ISO up is a beauty photographers best friend. However, and of course there’s a however, turning your ISO up too high will result in a grainy effect to the photo. So ideally you really want to have a decent light source wherever you’re shooting. I don’t ever really turn my ISO above 800, maybe 1600.

Taken with an ISO of 400 and studio lights: minimal grain

Taken with an ISO of 6400 and no studio lights: more grain

Low f-stop = more light, blurry background
Low shutter speed = more light, shakier photographs
High ISO = more light, more grain

When it comes to photography everything is about balance. There are advantages and disadvantages to every setting and even every lens. One thing I didn’t really touch on here was focal lengths. For a wonderful detailed post, with lots of visuals check out All About Prime Lenses & Focal Lengths on A Beautiful Mess.

  • this is so helpful!

  • i really really want to get a new lense, at he moment I use the kit one and it just doesn't give that depth of field I want, definitely an investment for next month

    Clothing Conscious // Fashion & Lifestyle Blog

  • For the moment I just use my phone to take my photos, but when I will be able to buy a better camera I will probably go back to this post! πŸ˜‰

  • This is a great post, I have just purchased a new DSLR and I'm getting to grips with the settings x

  • Thanks for the advice I always have trouble with my photos

  • I needed this! I still can't figure out how to alter the f-stop though like I read the manual and googled and everrrthing πŸ™

    ellabooxo | beauty, lifestyle, etc.

  • Excellent advice – I always get so complacent with my DSLR settings so it's great to get a bit of a refresher on them!

    Tessa at Bramble & Thorn

  • Took me forever to realise that the shutter speed made the difference. Loved this entire post.

    Annabel β™₯
    Mascara & Maltesers

  • Wow. This is such a useful post, I used to be really into photography but kind of forget about it for a while. Now that I have started blogging I'm loving it again and this was a great reminder of how to use my camera. Thank you for the post xx Dandy I

  • Oh and I forgot to say above but your blog is absolutely gorgeous.

  • Thank you so much for this post–I've bookmarked it! I also find that editing comes into play as well. Do you have any quick tips about that too? -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

  • Thank you! I was into photography as a kid too. I had a old Nikon with actual film and everything, but by the time I bought my DSLR I'd forgotten everything and had to relearn it all again.

  • Oh yeah. Definitely. When I first got my DSLR I remember not touching the ISO because on my old digital turning up the ISO made it so terribly grainy. Once I realized I can actually boost it up quite high on my current camera it made a world of difference.

  • I'm emailing you.

  • Yeah it definitely took me a while to get used to it. I'm still trying to get used to the filming setting on it. Challenging.

  • It's so so worth the money! I can't explain what a difference it makes.

  • Gewwwwdd gewwwd. I'm glad.

  • Thank you for this wonderful post! You put everything in normal human language, and I really appreciate that πŸ™‚ I will definitely be experimenting with my Nikon tomorrow as the only thing I do when I take photos is turn the flash off! I usually use Photoshop to adjust brightness, levels, etc. but I think taking a great photo is the first step πŸ™‚

    Emily //

  • Sounds excatly like me. But I had and still have the canon. My dad's hobby is photography. He travels a lot so he even has a website for his photography. I think that was a big part of why I was interested in photography in the first place. But now that I have rediscovered it, it is definitely for me. Capturing moments on film is such a great feeling. xx Dandy

  • This is probably one of the best breakdowns I've seen, great simple advice that will really help,

    Mel x

  • Excellent post! I did A-Level photography and learning all about this has been a godsend since starting up my blog. Now that I have finished my course, my blog means I have a great reason for taking my DSLR everywhere with me!

  • Thank you so much! I'm a new-ish follower and have a lot to catch up on πŸ˜›

  • This was super helpful, thank you for sharing! πŸ™‚

    xo Mandy | Blog

  • This is seriously great advice. I love shooting with a higher quality camera (I have a Canon T5i), but I am terrible at knowing all the ins and outs of it like above.

    Thank you!