Last updated on January 31, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, travelling and making photos for 20 years. Read more Ideas

Are you new to Photography? Is it too confusing to set up your camera? Automatic will sure do better than me, isn’t it?

These are all interesting questions and that is why we have decided to draw a simple Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card.

Table of Contents

Now you have a foldable reference guide to keep in your bag in case you do not remember what the setting does. Print it, fold it and open it when you need

Foldable Cheat Sheet
Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card

Download it here with other free material that will help you during your travel and photography life

Understanding Exposure

Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card - Your travel reference
Exposure meter

If you leave your camera at standard setting you will see a value of “0” in your viewfinder.

Usually, you can move this up to +2 or -2.

But why do you want to do that?

It may happen that the light meter of your camera is not able to properly read the external light.

This can occur in extreme conditions like when you have sun and shadow areas in a summer day at 12pm.

Suggestion: if unsure do not touch this setting. Moreover, if you forget it you will have the remaining photos either over or underexposed.

This is not really a setting you want to start playing with.

The Photography Cheat Sheet shows the scale as real black, for underexposed (+3) to almost white (-3) for overexposed


Aperture setting

Fantastic! So you decided to move on from the Automatic setting.


Most probably because you want to add something to the photo, your interpretation.

When do you use this setting?

When you want to control the depth of field.

That means that you want to focus only on a small area and leave the background/foreground blurred or you want to have the whole image, or most of it, in focus, typical of a landscape photo.

The smaller is the f-number you use (f/1.4, f/1.8 and so on) the smaller is the area in focus.

You may want to use this setting for portraits, food or details photography

The higher the f-number is (f/11, f/18 etc) the bigger is the area in focus. Landscape photography is a typical example

As simple as that.

Meanwhile, you change the Aperture setting, the camera will automatically calculate the Shutter speed and the ISO (if in Auto)

Suggestion: familiarize with this setting leaving ISO in auto mode. Than play setting ISO at your choice

The Cheat Sheet Pocket Card shows the scale from a large lens aperture, that is low f value, for shallow depth of field, to small lens aperture, that is high f value, for wide depth of field

Shutter Speed

Shutter priority

This is the second decision you can make for your photo, the shutter speed.

Do you want to freeze the action in front of you and therefore you use a very low shutter speed (1/4000 of sec, 1/500sec etc) or you want to give a sense of movement (1/2sec, 2sec etc) and in this case, you most probably need to use a tripod?

Meanwhile, you change the Shutter setting, the camera will automatically calculate the Aperture and the ISO (if in Auto)

Familiarize with this setting leaving ISO in auto.

Than play setting ISO at your choice

The Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card (download here) shows the scale from very long Shutter speed (1sec and more) with almost static objects, this can be a landscape, to very short Shutter speed (1/2000sec or less) with super quick-moving objects as aeroplanes.

ISO Setting

This is the third decision you can take for your photo, the ISO setting.

ISO Setting

The lower the ISO the cleaner the photo, the higher the ISO the noisier becomes the image.

So why anybody would choose to use the higher ISO?

Because the higher the ISO the more space you will have to play with either Aperture or Shutter speed.

I will add more in the next paragraph, The If World

When you increase the ISO setting, the camera will automatically decrease the Aperture f value (if the setting is in A/Av) or decrease the Shutter Speed (if the setting is in S/Tv)

Suggestion: start leaving ISO in auto mode. One thing less to worry about, next step take control of it.

The Photography Cheat Sheet shows the scale from the lowest ISO, usually 100, without any noise, to the highest ISO (6400 or more) with an emphasized high noise.

If you are doing street photography or portrait in the night without flash use a high ISO value.

If you are making landscape photography with a tripod use always ISO 100, even in the night (the shutter speed will be long, but that’s ok because your camera will be stable on a tripod)

The If World

So what IF I change this setting or IF I change that setting? What will happen IF….? Lots of information, now let’s see the practice

If I go for landscape photography with a tripod I use a standard setting of ISO 100 and Aperture mode between f/8 and f/16.

I do not care about the shutter speed. It can be as long as 30sec but that’s ok because I have a stable tripod where I leave my camera. Easy setting

If I go for food photography in a bar, restaurant or cafe I expect lower light. I set the ISO to 400 (the quality is still very good) and the lowest Aperture mode (ideally f/2.8 or f/4).

I would expect the shutter speed to be low enough to have a sharp photo.

If I go for market/street photography and I want to freeze the action I go for ISO 400 and shutter speed of 1/100 or lower if you use a zoom lens.

If you are more after the depth of field than play with the Aperture value as we did with food photography

If I go for portrait photography I set the ISO to 200-400 (the quality is still very good) and a low Aperture mode (ideally f/2.8 or f/4).

I would expect the shutter speed to be enough low to have a sharp photo.

How can I understand if my photo will be sharp?

Rule of thumb is that the photo will be sharp if the denominator in the Shutter Speed is equal or higher in value than the zoom you are using.

If you are taking a photo with a 50mm lens you need to have a shutter speed of 1/50 or lower, if the zoom is 200mm than the shutter speed should be 1/200 or lower.

I would not personally go at a higher value than 1/50 without the tripod.

If you are worried about sharpness because the Shutter Speed is too long than increase the ISO (that will help to decrease the Shutter Speed value till 1/80).

It is better to have a noisy, however sharp photo, than a blurry photo.

There are extreme conditions. If you need to go with a shutter speed slower than 1/80 try to lean with your camera on a pole/wall. It will give more stability.

Shutter Speed and Aperture

Once you feel more confident you can try to go in full Manual mode.

Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card - Your travel reference
Manual mode

You can control at the same time both the Aperture and the Shutter speed.

You can start making the photo in either Aperture or Shutter Speed mode.

You see the camera values.

You change to Manual mode and you start tuning the setting from the automatic ones detected by the camera.

What about the other camera brands

All the images here refer to either Canon or Nikon. What about the other brands?

Sony and Olympus are very similar to Nikon although A and S are inverted.

Pentax is instead similar to Canon

Either way, they all work as described above, just naming convention

Remember to download the Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card with other free material that will help you during your travel and photography life.

If you think that this post has helped and you want to know much more about travel photography then you should read and download the FREE Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography (no emails required), a 70 pages PDF file.

Download the FREE Travel Photography guide

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Stefano Ferro - Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

5 thoughts on “Photography Cheat Sheet Pocket Card, 7 powerful strategies to follow”

  1. Loved your post, it resumes everything us, amateur photographs need to know. Thank You.
    Will be awaiting more tips from your blog 🙂


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