Say you’re interested in photography. Enough at least that you’ve moved on from your phone camera and perhaps even beyond a simple point and shoot to a bona fide fancy DSLR.

Where do you even begin?! What do all these numbers and settings mean?

Hmm, maybe I should just keep it on ‘auto’ to be safe…?

That’s no fun! Granted the auto setting is a pretty cool feature, but if you want to really take it to the next level and get creative, it’s important to learn the basics.

Here we go over three camera basics that are SUPER important – shutter speed, aperture, ISO – three things that you need to know how to use without even thinking about it. These guys (or ladies) are your new best friends – your badass photography gang. Not only does each member fill an essential role, but they all complement each other. If you want to be fully manual and proficient with your camera, you can’t just use one without using the others.

1. Shutter Speed

As the name implies, shutter speed is simply how fast your camera shutter opens and closes to take the photo. This also affects how much light is exposed to the camera sensor.

Slow Shutter Speed

With a slow shutter speed, moving subjects in your photo, such as a waterfall or moving car, will appear blurred, This gives a sense of speed or motion while other objects in the photo appear sharp. Because the shutter stays open longer, the camera sensor will gather more light or exposure making a brighter photo.

To answer your question, yes, you can brighten up a dark photo with a longer shutter speed, but you will often need a tripod to avoid getting a blurry picture. This is called “camera shake,” where no matter how steady you hold the camera, you can never stand perfectly still and those slight movements show up as blurred lines throughout your photo.

Fast Shutter Speed

A faster shutter speed essentially freezes motion to make moving objects sharp and clear. Because the shutter opens and closes so fast, only a fraction of light makes it into the camera sensor, resulting in a darker photo. This is where the interplay of aperture and ISO come in handy to adjust the amount of light captured. On the other hand, you may want to use a faster shutter speed on a bright day to avoid overexposure.

Typically measured in seconds or fractions of a second. A shutter speed of 1/100 means 1/100th of a second, or 0.01 seconds. A full second-long shutter speed would be very slow. A good rule of thumb, the higher the denominator (number below the line), the faster the shutter speed. For example, a shutter speed of 1/1000 would be much faster than 1/60.

2. Aperture

In short, aperture is the size of the opening in the lens. Different lenses are going to give you different results. Some can open wider than others. Basically, the larger the opening, the more light that can get in.

Aperture is measured in f-stops, such as f/2.8, f/4, f/8, f/22, etc. Each new setting either doubles are halves the amount of light that gets through the lens opening.

UNLIKE shutter speed, the number doesn’t correspond with the size, which can get confusing. Here, it’s the opposite. The larger the f-stop number (e.g. f/22) the smaller the aperture/opening (less light gets through), while a smaller f-stop (e.g. f/2.8) is a larger aperture and allows more light through.

Confusing, right? Eh, you’ll get the hang of it!

Another note: aperture affects the shot’s “depth of field” which changes what’s happening in the background of the photo. This gives that cool effect of having a certain subject in focus with a blurry, or out of focus, background.

This little ladybug was shot with a larger aperture (lower number), which causes the background to be out of focus – a shallow depth of field.

3. ISO

ISO is simply how sensitive your camera is to light. This mostly comes into play for low light or indoor situations where you may need to crank up the ISO if you don’t have enough light. It’s kind of like creating fake light. It’ll brighten up the photo, but the more you use it, you risk the quality of your photo.

At higher ISO, you’ll begin to get a grainy or pixilated photo—called a noisy image. However, the higher quality camera your working with, the higher you can set your ISO and still get a crisp image.

100 ISO is a low sensitivity and generally ‘standard’ or considered normal. High sensitivity ISO is upwards of 12,800 or more. The amount of light will determine your preferred ISO setting. For example, if you’re shooting some photos in broad daylight, an ISO of 100-200 may be best. In the shade or indoors in a well lit room, perhaps 200-400 ISO. In a darker room you may prefer an ISO of 800-1600 and then move up to 1600-3200 at night.

Keep in mind that whenever ISO changes, this will need to balanced out by adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, or both.

As a photography newbie, it’s essential to learn these three things so well that you can adjust your camera settings like it’s nothing. You’ll instinctively know how to alter a photo and get the results you’re looking for.

All cameras are different. All preferences are different. This is your time to get creative! Get out there and play around with these three settings and see what you can come up with. Before you know it, you’ll know exactly what to do to capture that perfect shot each and every time.