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The Exposure Triangle

Exposure Triangle Image

Start Shooting In Manual Mode

One of the challenges to overcome once you get a DSLR is learning to shoot in manual mode. Once you learn the exposure triangle, you will be well on your way to shooting comfortably in manual mode. When explaining exposure, things can get complex but I will keep it as simple as I can. Exposure is how dark or bright your photos are. A photo that is too dark is underexposed, and a photo that is too bright is overexposed. A properly exposed photo has a good balance of bright and dark without loss of detail. The exposure triangle consists of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. These are the three elements that you have to work with in order to get the correct exposure. Let’s look at each element one by one to give you a better understanding.  Make sure that you download The Exposure Triangle PDF to use as a guide will you journey down the manual mode path.

Aperture (f-stop)

Dealing with aperture means controlling the depth of field. For example, if you were taking a portrait of someone and you wanted the background to be blurred, you would have to find the right aperture. A wider aperture (lower number) gives you a shallow depth of field, meaning that whatever is not in focus will be more blurred. A wider aperture also allows more light into the camera. A more narrow aperture (higher number) gives you a deeper depth of field, meaning that everything is more in focus. Aperture is usually the first setting that I configure because I like to get my depth of field set as a starting point and then work from there.

Aperture image

A wide aperture (lower number) equals a more shallow depth of field. A more narrow aperture (higher number) equals a more deep depth of field.

ISO

ISO is the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera is to light. This means that if you are in a low light situation you want to use a higher ISO to make your camera more sensitive to light or else your photo will come out underexposed. Try starting with an ISO of 400 when shooting indoors, and increase it if necessary. Another thing to keep in mind is that the higher the ISO, the more noise/grain in the photo. The goal is to be able to get a good exposure without any grain/noise. This doesn’t mean that you should always stay away from high ISO though, because depending on the type of shot you are going for, noise/grain can look cool. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the camera is to light. This means that if you are in a well lit area, you will want the camera to be less sensitive to light or else your photo will come out overexposed. If you are outside on a bright day, you can use the lowest ISO setting and get a good exposure.

ISO image

A low ISO results in a smooth image that is less sensitive to light. A high ISO results in a noisy/grainy image with more sensitivity to light

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed image

A slow shutter speed causes motion blur. A fast shutter speed freezes motion.

The shutter speed deals with action. In other words, shutter speed is the setting you would configure when you want to take a photo of a subject in motion. A long shutter speed (lower number) blurs motion and lets more light into the camera. A short shutter speed freezes motion and allows less light into the camera. Think about taking a photo of a car passing by. If you take the photo set at long shutter speed, there will be motion blur, which actually shows that the car is moving. If you take the photo set at a short shutter speed, the car will look as if it is sitting still.

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