“Manual Mode; ISO 100; shutter speed to 1/125s; aperture f/8 ” – those are the ‘magic settings’ I use for 90% of all the studio photographs I take.  But why?  Am I just being lazy or is there some logic to picking those as the settings?

Lets go through each of them in turn:

Manual Mode – In the studio (unless you are using some very expensive radio triggers) the only communication between camera and lights is a ‘fire now’ signal.  This means that camera doesn’t know how much light the flash is going to produce so it can’t calculate an exposure for you.  If it can’t calculate an exposure, then any form of auto-mode is useless, that includes aperture priority and shutter priority.  We need to tell the camera what settings to use.  That’s means going into manual mode.

Full Video.Still001

ISO 100 – This is probably the easiest one to explain.  ISO is the setting that describes how sensitive your camera is to light.  The higher the ISO the more sensitive it is.  The downside of that is that higher ISOs introduce noise into an image. Take a look at the two images below to see the difference increasing the ISO can make.  We want our images to be a smooth as possible so so we use as low an ISO as possible.  In the studio that is ISO 100

ISO Comparisons

Shutter Speed 1/125s – When using studio lights, your shutter speed is NOT your exposure time.  Studio lights are much faster. Your exposure time is actually the duration of the flash. The Bowens Gemini 500R studio lights I use are rated at 1/900s.  So why do we use 1/125s?  That is because we need the shutter speed to be slower than the flash sync speed.

The sync speed the fastest speed at which the entire sensor is visible all at the same time.  For most cameras this is 1/200s.  So we have to be slower than that.  1/125s just gives us a little bit of leeway to allow time the radio signal to get from the camera to the lights, the lights to respond to it, and any slave lights to be triggered by the first flash going off.

Aperture f/8 – This is possibly the most interesting.  Obviously you can use any aperture you want and set your lights accordingly.  I choose to use f/8 for most shoots for two reasons.  Firstly it gives a reasonable depth of field.  Not too shallow so that if the face is turned at an angle both eyes are in still in focus as is the rest of the facial features.  The second reason and perhaps more importantly is the fact that most lenses are at their sharpest at f/8.  So unless I want a particularly shallow depth of field or a particularly deep one, I might as well use the lens where it will give me the best results.


At the start I said these are the ‘magic settings’ in reality there is nothing magic about them.  They just happen to be the settings I prefer.  There are times I will use other settings, and plenty of photographers who use different settings.  But if you are new to studio photography they are not a bad start with – you can always adjust them to suit you.

For anyone who IS new to studio photography, you might be interested in the following events:

Friday 17th October : http://www.ians-studio.co.uk/events/try-something-new/

Saturday 15th November : http://www.ians-studio.co.uk/events/studio-photography-taster-day/

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