Photography lighting & DSLR basics by RuthAnn Rafiq

There are a few things I'm good at. Facebook marketing, making homemade curries and dancing to Beyonce (just ask my wedding guests, yes I did single ladies in a floor length gown and might have hitched it up into my knickers for full effect.....ahem). But I know zip, zilch, nada about photography. So that's why I called in the very generous and talented RuthAnn Rafiq from R Artspace to explain how to take better product photographs at home. Even if you don't have a DSLR you can still learn SO much from this post and apply to your iphone/digital camera (although after reading this I think a DSLR would be a very smart investment for your biz!). Over to you RuthAnn! 

Photography is one of those things that seems so easy, but when you’re handed a DSLR it can get confusing fast.

It’s easy to want to jump to level 10 when you’re at level 1, but taking the time to learn the basics of your DSLR will make your life so much easier and will cut back on the overwhelm of starting all together.

Today I want to share the 3 things you need to know when shooting in manual mode. We’ll also talk about lighting and how to get your photos looking great when you’re DIYing your own product shots.

Let’s get started with the DSLR basics.

There are 3 main things you need to know when shooting in manual with your DSLR.



First though, let’s get the camera into manual mode. You can do this by finding the top left button on the camera body, pressing down on the middle center button and turning the knob to where “M” is selected.

Shooting in manual is tough to do in the beginning but it gives you so much more control over the look of your images as opposed to shooting in automatic.

The 3 key areas you need to know when shooting in manual are the shutter speed, the aperture (also known as the F-stop) and ISO.


1. Shutter


Let’s start off with the shutter speed. The shutter is the speed of time your camera takes a photo. The faster the shutter speed the more action it can capture, the slower the shutter speed the more time for your camera to let in motion and light so you can get a lighter photo and a more blurry photo depending on what action you’re shooting.

When shooting action, such as a soccer game, you’ll want to shoot at a very high shutter speed so you can catch the action, so the players aren’t blurry. In this instance probably a shutter speed of 8000 or higher would be perfect. That means your camera is taking photos at 1/8000 of a sec. Phew! Makes me tired just thinking of it.

On the opposite end, when you’re shooting with a slow shutter speed, you will be letting more light into your camera.

Slowing down the shutter speed is awesome for still life shots and it allows for the most light to come into the lens.

Something about shutter:

When you shoot with a really low shutter, you have to keep the camera perfectly still so it doesn’t catch the movement of you clicking the button. If it catches movement while you’re snapping a photo, the photo can look blurry.

This is why having a tripod is super helpful when shooting with slow shutter speeds. You can set up your camera, select a timer for the photo, and then let the camera do the work without worrying about getting a blurry image.

NOTE: A shutter speed of 1/160 or lower will give you a blurry image if you’re photographing people.

2. Aperture (or F-stop)

Your Aperture controls the depth of field in a shot, in other words, that fuzzy background. The lower the aperture the fuzzier the background. Your lens is what controls this.

Something about the aperture you should know, the higher the aperture, the darker your photo. When the F-stop is on a low setting such as 1.8-2.8, it allows for more light to come in and gives you that fuzzy background.

When you have a higher F-stop such as 5 or higher, you will get a greater depth of field so you can get multiple elements in different depths of field in clear focus.

This first photo was taken at a 1.8 F-stop. This allows you to focus on the front plant as the main subject and allows the background plant to be secondary because you can’t see the details.

The middle photo is shot at a 2.8 F-stop. The background is still fuzzy but you can see a little more detail in that background plant.

The photo on the far right is shot with an F-stop of 5. You can see that the plan in the background is the most clear out of these 3 images.

Something about aperture:

The thing to know about aperture is you need to know where you want people’s eyes to focus when they view your photo and use the depth of field to your advantage.


3. ISO

The ISO is the sensitivity of your sensor to light. The ISO is dependent on the amount of light you have when photographing.

If you’re in a room with low light, your ISO will need to be set relatively high such as 2500+, if you’re outside on a sunny day your ISO will be low, such as 125. The camera body is what contains the ISO.


Something to note about ISO is that when you shoot with a high ISO (or in a low light setting) the image can look grainy, depending on the type of camera you have. That’s why it’s always better to shoot with a lower ISO and play with the shutter speed to get higher quality images with low light.

Something about ISO:

The way for a photo to NOT look grainy is to have a high megapixel count. DSLRs can range from 18 to 50.6 megapixels. The more megapixels the clearer your image. To give you a reference point, the iPhone 7 has a megapixel count of 12. A beginner’s DSLR will likely have a megapixel count of 19 and camera bodies in the $2500 range will have a megapixel count of 22-24.

When shooting in manual mode with your DSLR

Unfortunately, the shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO cannot work independent from one another. You can’t really work one of them by itself. The 3 elements work in harmony and if you make significant adjustments to one, you’ll most likely need to make adjustments to another or both of the other settings.

That’s why practice makes perfect when it comes to shooting in manual.

If you’re in a low light setting, you’ll be adjusting very differently than if you were outside on a sunny day. It’s important to practice when you’re new to your camera and get familiar with making adjustments and in different lighting situations.

Something about white balance:

And… here’s another curveball to throw at you when shooting in manual. It’s important to adjust your white balance according to what indoor lights you have on, or what time of day you’re shooting.

For instance, if you’re shooting in the evening, the hue will be a little more blue than if you shoot in the morning, which tends to be a little more yellow.

White balance is adjusting the settings so you get an even tone when you’re shooting.

You’ve seen photos that have a yellow tone to them? Let me just show you one of my earlier photos so you have an idea.


My white balance was WAY off. And not only that, I tried to fix the white balance with a filter… not a good look.

You can adjust the white balance in your camera settings. Keeping within a range of 5100-5300 is pretty standard. Think of it as the higher the number (K 6000 or more) the warmer or more yellow the image, the lower the number (K 4200) the cooler or more blue the image.

Lighting Basics

It’s SUPER important to find a well-lit area to shoot in. I recommend shooting indoors for the most control over your lighting situation.

I’ve found that shooting next to a window with a sheet of foam core (which is just a few dollars at Hobby Lobby) is one of the best ways to get a lot of natural light and will give you a great home studio for shooting your products.

Shooting on a white background will naturally reflect the light coming in and is SO much better than shooting with the overhead lights on.

TIP: NEVER shoot with the overhead lights on.


Remember that you can adjust the light coming into your camera lens with a higher ISO, or with a slower shutter speed or a low aperture.

You have a lot of ways to work your camera to give you a light, bright shot.


When shooting product shots I recommend focusing on the main subject, such as a necklace phrase or the details on a product. If you have a larger product, you can shoot from high up and make sure to get the whole product in the frame with some room around the edge.

I believe your products will look the most professional when you have a solid white background.

After snapping the photo

After you take the photos you want, I recommend making additional adjusts with a photo editor.

Sometimes, even when you think you have a bright photo, after you look at it on your computer, it can look a little dark.

Here are some photo editors that I recommend: Photoshop, Lightroom, PicTapGo, Preview, Planoly and Later and even in your iPhoto settings if you have an iPhone.

Photoshop and Lightroom are made for photo editing and I highly recommend both of them. I also wrote a post on the basics of Photoshop and how you can fix your photos with a few easy steps.

PicTapGo is a $2 app you can get on your SmartPhone and it has a lot of the tools you can get from Photoshop right there on your phone.

Preview, Planoly and Later are all apps for Instagram but are great for editing your photos and arranging them so your feed looks on-point.

The most important piece of advice

I mentioned this earlier, but to truly get comfortable using your DSLR you need to practice. I know it’s easier said than done, but keep at it and don’t give up.

Practice shooting outdoors, inside and experiment with different settings and different lightings. Soon you’ll find a rhythm of how you like to shoot and in what setting. Keep practicing and soon enough you’ll feel confident in your photo skills! (I promise :)

I know we covered a lot in this post but I hope you find these tips helpful as you use your DSLR.

I would love to hear what questions you have about anything we discussed or what you think of this post!

Ruthann Rafiq

RuthAnn Rafiq is the brand designer and photographer behind R Artspace, an all-inclusive branding studio that offers brand identity, brand photography and web design for creatives and makers. She thrives on genuine connections and encouraging others. Some of her favorites include stove-cooked popcorn, the cool autumn weather, a good book and going on adventures with her husband.


Click here to find out about her DIY Photography course.