Understanding the exposure triangle

exposure triangle

If I take a poll from amateur photographers on what caused them the most frustration, then I can surely bet that they will point their fingers at understanding the exposure triangle.

It is indeed the biggest problem for most people when they start photography. And believe me, it is nothing to be ashamed of, as I got stuck at it as well. So I am making it easier for beginners to understand the exposure triangle by simplifying the terms and clarifying how to use it in the best way possible in this easy-to-understand guide.



Honestly speaking it is a bit complex and complicated, but once you get a hang of it, getting the right exposure will become a piece of cake. It is the basis of photography and obviously takes time to master, but if you go through this article and practice what you have learned, then you can get well-exposed images within no time.

I promise you that with my guidance, you will have the aperture, shutter speed and ISO on your fingertips and would be able to balance them in a blink of an eye.

So let us begin easing the confusion, by just introducing the exposure triangle and its three elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO first. Later on, we will move towards combining the three and some key tips which will ease things for you. So scroll along to learn more:

What is the exposure triangle?

You cannot do much if you only know how to change the camera mode dial from auto to manual mode. A nice start to becoming a proficient photographer would be to truly understand the workings of the exposure triangle.

It is tough but essential as exposure triangle simplifies the relationship between three of the most vital components in a modern digital camera, ISO, shutter speed and aperture. These three elements work together in harmony to create exposure and that is why they are represented by a triangle.

This means that when you adjust one element, you must change other elements in the opposite direction to maintain the same exposure. So you have to learn how to manipulate this exposure triangle and understand this cause and effect relationship as it is paramount to becoming a good photographer.


Simplifying the Exposure Triangle

Simply remember that “exposure” is only the amount of light that hits the camera’s sensor. So if you are able to control it wisely then you can do wonders with your results. It is called exposure because it “exposes” your camera to the light.

It does that in three ways. First by the width of the opening, second by the length of time the shutter remains open and third by the sensitivity of the sensor. All these factors are what eventually controls how much light the final image and they have been defined respectively as:

Aperture – It defines how large the opening of the lens is.

Shutter Speed – It defines how long a time the shutter allows light to pass by remaining open.

ISO – It defines how sensitive sensor is to light.

Let us go into the depth and working of each of these components so that you are able to manipulate them easily…

These three elements are easily described separately and if you combine them effectively you can control all aspects of exposure triangle, as each element interacts with the other to lead to an excellent exposure.

But the trick is to understand that every element has a different way to manipulate light, and impacts exposure differently. Thereby to get good quality exposure you need to grasp the below given concepts tightly:

Aperturewhich is the size of the opening obviously impacts exposure by controlling the amount of light which can enter the lens. So if the opening is large then more light can pass through and if it is small then less light can pass through.

camera aperture

It is measured in “f-stops “and every lens has its own range which. The numbering can confuse you as a smaller f-stop number such as 1.8 refers to a larger opening which leads to a better exposure while a higher number such as 22 it refers to a narrower opening which leads to less exposure.

Shutter speedimpact exposure by controlling the duration of light which is allowed to hit the sensor. This means if the shutter speed is long (the speed is slow) then there will be the more light and if it is short (the speed is fast) there will be less light.

camera shutter

It is measured in seconds. So for more exposure keep the shutter speed slower and for less exposure keep it fast.

ISOimpacts the exposure by controlling the sensitivity of the sensor. If the ISO is low it means that the sensor is the less sensitive so there will be less exposure and if the ISO is high it means that the sensor is more sensitive so there will be more exposure.

camera iso

ISO is a concept which digital photographers use a lot today; they lower the ISO number to achieve cleaner looking photograph and less noise but sometimes for an artistic effect they rise it up.

ELEMENT LESS EXPOSURE MORE EXPOSURE
APERTURE (f-stops) LARGE SMALL
ISO LOWER HIGHER
SHUTTER SPEED (seconds) FASTER SLOWER

Here is a table to further help you connect these elements

Harmonizing the three elements

It is very important to understand that to get perfect exposure, all these three elements have to work together in harmony. They combine to create an exposure value (EV). This means that you can’t always manipulate one setting without having a direct impact on one or both of the other elements of the exposure triangle.

Key tips that will help you out

• Try using the lowest ISO as possible! This way, you achieve the least grainy results with the most color depth and dynamic range. When shooting outdoors, use the range from ISO 100-400, when shooting indoors use the range from ISO400-3200, and when shooting in dark receptions use ISO 1600+. Obviously, these values will slightly vary depending upon the situation as the ambient light differs.

• If you want to capture movement with faster shutter speeds, make use of higher ISO and/or wider apertures.

• If you want to get sharp photos and prevent motion blur then adjust your shutter speed to a minimum 1 with a doubled focal length for full frame sensor and 1 with a 1.5 times focal length for a crop sensor.

In conclusion

If you follow the rules stated above, trust me you can master exposure setting. From how to measure them and what are their functions to how they interact, you will understand everything if you arm yourself with this information.



It will better equip you to manipulate the exposure of your results and will also lead to more artistic presentation of the depth of field, motion, and digital noise. Yes at first it will look like a lot remember, but don’t let this demotivate you as it takes time to become a champion at this but once you are done it will be all worthwhile.

The key is to just keep practicing. So now it’s your turn to go out in the field to click some amazing pictures with just the right amount of exposure!

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Author: condruzmf

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