Aperture Priority Checklist

By January 4, 2016Photography Tips

carmel sunset surfer

Occasionally, I’ll give a photography lesson to a family member or friend. On the last lesson, I came up with a great checklist for any new photographer to go through before any shoot. It’s worth mentioning that I pretty much always shoot in Aperture Priority rather than Manual or other automatic settings. Below are the steps you should take in order to make sure your camera is properly setup to capture the scene.

  1. Focal Length- Select your focal length based on the subject you are shooting. Here’s a general rule of thumb to follow. Widest Focal Length for Landscapes, 35-50mm for taking pictures of people and travel pics, 50-85mm for headshots and 100mm+ for wildlife or other far away shots.
  2. Aperture- After you’ve picked your focal length select your Aperture for the scene. If you are shooting portraits, shoot with the widest aperture your camera will allow. If you are shooting a scene were you want both the foreground and background in focus, such as a landscape, select an aperture around 8-10 or even narrower.
  3. Take a test shot to check Shutter Speed and proper exposure.
  4. ISO-For the most part, you should be ok with always shooting at a low ISO in the 100-200 range. Assuming you’re shooting handheld, you’ll want to adjust your ISO higher if the shutter speed falls below a safe range. I tend to not like shooting at slower than 1/60. A fast enough shutter speed is important for sharp photos. Pay special attention to this in darker environments such as inside, after sunset or in heavily shaded areas.
  5. Exposure Compensation-After getting your ISO locked in, you’ll want to take the final step to assure proper exposures. Sometimes your camera doesn’t always make the proper calculation for exposure. A quick way to adjust the exposure is to use Exposure Compensation. Keep tinkering with in until you have the proper exposure. I always review my photos by shielding the LCD screen on the back of the camera away from light.
  6. White Balance- Adjust White Balance only if you feel it’s necessary. I shoot on AWB 90% of the time and you should too. If you need to change your white balance. I’m a huge fan of using a grey card to get my white balance just right. Shooting inside under multiple lighting sources is when I find AWB to be the least effective so keep an eye out for that.

There’s a lot to photography and making sure your camera is properly setup is a huge part of that. Hopefully this checklist helps you master your camera’s settings and quickly move onto creating and composing your images.


  • Krissy says:

    Really great post, helps a lot to have a checklist. Curious if all this prep work allows you to capture an image that you consider print ready or are you still doing color adjustments,etc. in post processing? Everything on GMG is stunning, just want to be realistic if the bulk of the effort is before or after the shot is taken. Thanks so much for your insight!

    • Thomas says:

      Great question. My goal is always to get the best possible photo in camera. Every photo might need very slight adjustments, your goal should be to spend less than 30 seconds per photo in Lightroom. That’s about the amount of time Julia spends for GMG blog photos. I spend a little longer on landscape photos but not much longer.

      If you have a specific look that you want your photos to have the fastest way to handle them are with saved presets.

  • Lindsay says:

    Loved this post! You take the most amazing photos!

  • Jackie says:

    I love getting your photography tips! Why do you shoot in Aperture Priority rather than Manual? Also, how do you keep you ISO so low? I usually find that the light isn’t sufficient enough for such low ISOs, unless I’m outside in bright daylight.

    • Thomas says:

      On my Leica’s, the shutter speed is adjusted on the top of the camera so I have to stop shooting to Manually adjust the Shutter Speed whereas I can adjust Exposure Compensation with my thumb very quickly. Another reason is that scenes can change quickly. I might miss a shot completely by shooting Manual because the lighting situations could be too different and I might not be able to adjust fast enough. It’s happened too many times to me. ISO is going to be dictated a lot by your Aperture. I always shoot wide open at f/1.4 and f/2.0. This lets in tons of light. If your lenses can’t go that low then you’ll have to adjust to higher ISOs.

  • Christine says:

    Luv luv your pics!!! How do you shoot A-priority and not have your shutter dip too low?
    Every time I shoot A-priority I get blur because my shutter dips down to 1/30 or 1/15 even.

    • Thomas says:

      I just make a conscious effort to either look at the predicted shutter speed or I take a test shot and see what the shutter speed is, then adjust ISO or Aperture accordingly.

  • Gaby says:


    I’m a newer wedding and portrait photographer, and I’ve always loved the shots you take of absolutely everything! Why do you think there seems to be so much debate over professional photographers shooting in full manual, rather than aperture priority which seems to get a bad rap? I was very surprised to read in this article that you shoot in AP, but I actually kind of like that you do!

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