Category Archives: Photo Education

Photo 101: ISO


Your ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings all work together to determine how much light hits the sensor in your camera.  This blog post will focus on ISO but keep in mind that one affects the other.slides

Once you start getting a grasp on setting your camera manually you’ll come up with a system that works for you.  This is how I do it:
I typically begin by setting my ISO setting before aperture and shutter speed.  I take a look at my surroundings (see graphic below) and set it based on that.  For bright, outdoor photography you can set your camera on the lowest setting, around 100.  If you’re in a cloudy area you may want to set it closer to 400.  If you then are in the shade or the sun is starting to set you can crank it up to 800, 1000 or higher.  Indoor photography with no flash may require you to set your ISO at 2000 or 3200 so that your image is bright enough.  slides9

See the images below.  I kept all of the settings on my camera the same except the ISO so you can easily see how it affects your image.  iso photo 101 (1)

So you might ask, why not just keep the ISO high to get bright images?  I’m sure you’ve all seen photos taken at night when they begin to get “grainy” or “noisy.”  The higher you set your ISO the lower the quality of the photo.  So you want to try to keep the ISO setting as low as you can.  If you look at the images below you can see see the noise in the second image, especially in the background.  The third image is a close up so you can see it better.photo101_iso_noise-1photo101_iso_noise-2

Here are a couple of real life examples from photo shoots I’ve done.  This first session was out at the beach midday.  I don’t typically shoot at this time because the sun is so harsh but we had to work around schedules and some crazy weather.  It was really bright outside so I set my ISO to 200.  100 would have worked, too.stein-12

This photo, on the other hand, was taken inside a room with one or two windows to my right.  It was pretty dark so I set my ISO to 3200 to brighten the photo and it allowed me to set a shutter speed that was fast enough so any movement the dog made didn’t result in her being blurry.aiden-15

See my other blog posts about aperture and shutter speed to help you understand how they all work together:


Shutter Speed

How to Find Good Light

Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

I live in Charleston, SC and offer one-on-one lessons!  Contact me at if you have questions or would like to customize a lesson for you!

Thank you Emily at Texture Design Co for creating my graphics!

Photo 101: Aperture


Photography is ALL about light.  To create a proper exposure (the lightness or darkness of an image) there are a few different camera settings that allow you to adjust how much light enters your lens.  Your aperture setting (also called f-stops) is one of them.  This is also the setting that controls your “depth of field” which means how much of your image is in focus.  It’s a fun setting to experiment with to create some fun photos!

The ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings all work together to create a proper exposure.  So if you set your aperture the way you want it but the image is too dark you can adjust your ISO or shutter speed to result in a proper exposure.


If you put your camera on Aperture Mode you can experiment with what happens when you change only the aperture (f-stops).  Your camera will then adjust the other settings for you to give you a proper exposure.


The LOWER f-stop numbers allow MORE light into your camera.  (This can be confusing – small number = large opening)  So, if you are in a low-light setting and need to let more light in you can lower the f-stop number.

small images5small images6

As you lower the f-stop number to allow more light in your DEPTH OF FIELD decreases.  This means that a smaller area of your photo will be in focus. Creatively, this can be a really good thing!  But you also have to be aware that what you want in focus IS actually in focus!

slides7There are other factors that affect how depth of field works like the distance you are from your subject, the distance your subject is from the background and your focal length.  That’s another lesson for another day!  But something to be aware of.

In this image of Aiden you’ll see there is a shallow depth of field.  His eyes are in focus but his ear and hands are not.  This photos has a “shallow depth of field.” (f/3.2)

So if you want more in focus you’ll need to keep your aperture number higher and may need to let more light in by changing your ISO or Shutter Speed.  If you’re in Aperture Priority mode your camera will do this for you.  In this image I wanted a deep depth of field so I put my aperture at f/10.  Since I was shooting outdoors on a sunny day I had plenty of light to work with.

Look at the difference in the depth of field of these two images below.  There is a larger DOF in the first image (f/6.3) as opposed to the second where the DOF is shallow (f/1.8).
[I did have to change the shutter speed and ISO to allow more light in for the first image because at the higher f/6.3 setting it doesn’t let as much light in.]aperture-5aperture-6

You may have heard about the new iPhones offering a portrait mode that allows you to blur the background.  It’s giving the look of a fancy camera on a low aperture setting.  I personally love setting the aperture low to make my subject really pop!  Here are a few more examples of that:

I hope this information was helpful!  When you start researching this topic it can seem overwhelming and the numbers will get mixed up in your head!  But the best thing you can do is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!  Get outside, pick a subject and just start shooting on different settings and things will start to click 🙂

Read more about:

Shutter Speed


How to Find Good Light

Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

I offer one-on-one photo lessons to those who live in the Charleston, SC area.  I have a background in art education and love teaching people how to take better photos!  Email me at with questions or to set something up.

Thank you to Emily at Texture Design Co for designing all of my graphics for me!

Photo 101: Shutter Speed


Photography is ALL about the amount of light that enters your lens and hits your camera sensor for any given shot.  Shutter speed, ISO and aperture all work together to allow more or less light into your camera.  We’ll focus on shutter speed in this post and I’m writing assuming you’re in Manual Mode but just know if you change your shutter speed setting it affects the other two.


If you want to adjust shutter speed ONLY and have your camera automatically adjust the the other settings you can put it on shutter speed priority mode:

Shutter speed is the amount of time that your shutter is open and allowing light in.  It’s measured in fractions of seconds on your camera.   A typical shutter speed setting on your camera could be 125.  Keep in mind this is 1/125th of a second that your shutter is open and allowing light to touch your camera sensor.

If you take a dark photo you can slow down your shutter speed to allow more light in.  If you take a photo and it’s too bright set your shutter to a faster speed.

You can get creative with this setting on your camera!  As you can see in the graphic below you can freeze action on fast shutter speed settings (think fun jumping photos).  You can also blur motion.  Whenever you see blurred, smooth waterfalls the photographer used a slow shutter speed (and a tripod!)slides4

You have to watch out for blurry photos caused by a shutter speed that is too slow.  I usually stick with a speed of at least 1/250 (remember, that’s 1/250th of a second) for photographing children because they are fast!  You can go higher than that to freeze action but remember as the shutter speed gets faster it lets in less light so you have to be in a well lit area, outdoors preferably, to freeze action completely.

photo 101 blog graphic

The graphic below is a general rule for when to use a tripod but let’s get more specific for you photo nerds out there.  You can hold your camera in your hands for shutter speeds faster than the reciprocal of your lens focal length.  When your shutter speed gets slower than that you need to use a tripod.  For example, if you’re using a 50mm lens once you get slower than a 1/50 shutter speed you need to stabilize your camera.  Did your brain just explode? I’m going to leave it at that and get back to the basics.  You can research that more if you want to!

This graphic also shows that you will use faster shutter speeds when you have a lot of light available.  Think about it.  If you have your shutter open for a long time (ex 1/15) in the bright sun your sensor will be flooded with too much light and your photo will be white (overexposed.)  If you do the opposite and use a fast shutter speed, like 1/1000, indoors you’re not allowing enough light in to properly expose a photo and it will turn out black.  If your priority is your shutter speed you can set it then adjust the ISO or aperture to create a proper exposure.slides3Here are some examples of how this all comes into play.  The first image of the waterfall is taken with a faster shutter speed than the second is taken with a slow setting.  Keep in mind that if you increase or decrease the shutter speed you’re changing the amount of light that’s coming into the camera.  So you’ll have to adjust the ISO or Aperture accordingly to keep a proper exposure.chittfalls-1chittfalls-2

Here’s another slow shutter speed setting.  I had my camera on a tripod and left it open for maybe 10 seconds (10″) while my friends used their sparklers to write a letter in Emily’s name.  If I had tried these same settings during the day the entire photo would get too much light from the sun and would be completely white.  *Note: You’ll usually work with shutter speeds written in fractions of seconds.  On your camera it will just show the number on the bottom.  (125 = 125th of a second).  Once you slow it down to whole seconds it is written as 2″ = 2 seconds)*295205_10150905144281277_1570377693_n

Here are a few images using fast shutter speeds to “freeze” action.  This first one is at 1/400.  You can see her hands and feet are a bit blurry so to completely freeze her jump I could have gone faster, like 1/1000.huffmansm-15

In this photo Ben is running so I shot this at 1/640.Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photography.

This shutter speed was 1/1250 so even her hair is frozen in place.Mulberry-23

I hope this was a helpful post!  Learn more about:



How to Find Good Light

Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

If you live in the Charleston area I offer one-on-one lessons!  Feel free to email me at with questions or to book.

Thank you Texture Design Co for creating all of the graphics for me!


Photo 101: How to Find Good Light

Photography is ALL about light!  I have photographed families here in Charleston, SC since 2012.  Below are the “rules” that I use for outdoor sessions using natural light.  Keep in mind every person has their own photography style and lighting they prefer and these are not hard and fast rules!


When shooting outdoors choose places where you have some shady options.  You are looking for nice, even light.  Direct, bright sunlight is not ideal for most photos unless you’re going for a more artistic shot.  Shoot in the morning or evening within two hours of sunset.  Have you heard of the “golden” hour?  There’s a reason!  The time before sunset provides beautiful, warm light that is ideal for portraits!



I understand that you will not always be shooting under those ideal conditions!  What if you want to take some photos outside and it’s midday with no shade?  Midday light can be harsh!  The following session was taken around 1:00pm only because I had to work around schedules and some crazy weather.  I positioned everyone so the sun is to their back and left side a bit.  You can see their shadows on the ground in front of them.  If they were facing the sun their faces would have harsh shadows, “hot spots,” and they’d be squinty.stein-2
An even better option – putting them in the shade of the pier to create nice, even light.stein-1

Here are two photos I took just to prove my point!  The first one I had the girls face the sun.  You can see how their are shadows around their eyes and Molly on the right is very squinty!  For the second photo (which was taken immediately after) I simply turned them around and put them closer to the house to make use of the shade so that the light is even and more flattering.herongirls-1herongirls-2

Sometimes I end up doing photo sessions later in the morning than I would like.  But you’re working around kiddos naps and family schedules so you have to make the most of it!  This kind of lighting situation used to terrify me!  But I live at the beach so after practicing I gained confidence.  For this session I made sure the sun remained at my clients back or side.  It still makes for great photos, just a completely different look than the golden hour photos I posted above.moorefamily-121

When the clouds are out there’s a new rule!  I turn my clients toward where the sun is.  Thick clouds act as a natural filter and make the skin look so beautiful and smooth.  So don’t think cloudy days are bad for taking photos! dubose-19

What if you have speckled light where it’s patchy with shady spots and hot sun spots?  I do the same thing if I was on a bright beach.  I took these shots one after another and just turned the girls around so the speckled light wasn’t on the front of them.  In the second image you can still see the speckled light behind them on the house which is a little distracting but at least the light on their faces is even.danielfindinggoodlight

Another example of speckled light where I kept the sun behind my subjects.nightingale-1

For indoor photography I use my camera with no flash.  So I have to use windows and doors for my light source.  Make sure your subject is near the window.  On a cloudy day with small windows you won’t be able to get too far from the windows.  But if you have a lot of natural light pouring in on a sunny day you will have more options for posing as you can get away from those windows and doors.max-54

And the same goes for newborn session – I’ll put my babies on the floor or in a basket near a window.  Natural light makes the best images!  Just one disclaimer – you want your subject in the light, but not in a direct patch of bright light like a cat 🙂  You still want that nice even light which is most flattering.parker-20

Okay!  Now go out and practice!  You’ll start to get a feel for what style of light you’re drawn to and your editing style.  Try shooting in different lighting set ups so you feel comfortable in any situation.

My LAST bit of advice?  Learn how to use your fancy camera on manual mode.  You are smarter than your camera and can learn how to tell your camera exactly what to do to achieve the final result you want.  You can read more about that here:



Shutter Speed

Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

If you live in the Charleston area and would like a one-on-one lesson I now offer them!  You can get more information here.  Or feel free to email me at if you’d like me to photograph you and your family!



Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

Let’s face it – kiddos can be HARD to photograph!  They are fast and busy and couldn’t care less about looking at the camera with a real smile.  They’ve got things to do!
photo 101

I’ve been photographing families in Charleston, SC since 2012 and I want to pass along a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.  Here are some thoughts along with photos to help you next time you’re photographing some busy children!

Before you even take a photo…
Set realistic expectations
Be patient 🙂
Kids should be fed and rested
Remove clutter from area

MAKE IT FUN!  Kids are not designed to sit still, look at the camera and smile.  Even when they are old enough to do that they often have a forced smile they’ve been trained to give when an adult pulls out a camera.  To pull out real, genuine smiles get ready to play with your kiddos!  Below are images I’ve given to clients and the activity we were doing exactly when I snapped the photo:

Play “peek-a-boo.”  This one works really well with certain ages!

Bubbles!  They have been a lifesaver for me.  I order them in bulk from Amazon, ha!  They make for some really fun candids.  I typically save them for the end of a shoot because once you pull them out that’s all the kiddos are focused on.  But sometimes I take them out earlier in the session if a kid is having a meltdown or you need them to be still for just. one. second.

Choose toys you don’t mind being in the photos.  If it helps the child feel more comfortable it’s worth it!  Plus, I think it adds to the image because you can look back and remember what the child was into at different stages.

For this image I was was throwing a ball with Blaise with my left hand and taking photos of him with my right.  It takes some coordination but it works!  Be sure to have your camera on a high shutter speed.

Along the same lines, bring an activity they love.  At the time these little ladies were into tea parties so that’s exactly what we did at the park.

Let your kiddo just do their thing.  Allow them to play and explore and follow their lead.

Visit a playground.  I love the one at Palmetto Island County Park which is made of wood as opposed to the crazy colored plastic ones.

Eat a treat! I think photos of kiddos eating seasonal foods like ice cream, watermelon or s’mores in the summer can be so fun. And it gives them something to do.

Sing songs.  This sweet girl and I were singing and she looked at her parents and started tapping her hands on the table.

BRIBE THEM.  Because once they get a little older it works!  You can promise a trip to get donuts or a treat after you take some photos or for smaller kiddos sometimes it helps to have something on the shoot with you.  I’ve had parents bring all kids of treats!  I think mini marshmallows work well because they’re not messy 🙂
Here’s the shot we got right before we gave them the lollipops!

Say “Don’t smile!”  At a certain age this works like a charm.  If you tell them not to smile  then make a big deal when they do (“Stop, stop, stop – I told you not to!”) you can get some great genuine smiles.  Of course, it can completely backfire on you and they’ll just give you the stink eye, but it’s worth a shot!  That’s how I got this sweet scrunched nose smile from Clara…

And speaking of smiling… it’s overrated!  We say “smile” so much that kiddos just tune us out!  Take some photos of your child without a smile.  It still makes for a beautiful image and it captures another side of their personality!
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC. Charleston Children Photographer.


And speaking of overrated… so is looking at the camera!  I’ll say the same thing.  Kids hear us say “look at me!” “look at the camera!” so much they grow immune to it.  And that’s okay.  Go ahead and take photos of them anyway 🙂

Capture the tantrums, too because #reallife.  You can use them as blackmail later.
It’s hard being a model.

Get different perspectives.  Get down on their level.  I was on my stomach just like them for this shot:

Shoot from above…
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photography.

Shoot from far away…

Shoot close…
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photographer.

Shoot closer…
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photographer.

Most of the sessions I do are outdoors. I just love natural light!  If you want to take some photographs indoors – shoot midday, shoot near windows and doors and shoot as your child plays.
For newborns, I usually put them in a basket near a window or door so the light is coming at them from the side.  If you have an abundance of natural light coming in you can place them on a bed or somewhere further away from the window.  As long as they are getting good natural light from a window or door you should be good.  You don’t want to put them in the direct sun, either.  Hot spots aren’t good!  And turn off other lights and lamps, natural light only.

I hope this has been helpful as you think about ways you can capture your kiddos’ personalities!  I think the moral of the story is to not take things too seriously and have fun with it.  The days of stuffy studio shots with everyone looking at the camera are over!  And if your child is going through a phase *ahem – 18 months old* when they refuse to look at the camera, they’ll come around 🙂

My LAST bit of advice?  Learn how to use your fancy camera on manual mode.  You are smarter than your camera and can learn how to tell your camera exactly what to do to achieve the final result you want.  You can read more about that here:



Shutter Speed

How to Find Good Light

If you live in the Charleston area I offer one-on-one photo lessons.  If you have a fancy camera and want to know how to use all of those buttons please click here to see details!  I can also help you with white balance if you’re struggling with that.  Email me at info@melissagriffinphotography to customize a lesson for you!