Exposure: Have Fun Taking Pictures

Exposure: Have Fun Taking Pictures

I’ve noticed that when I’m out at a photo or video shoot or when I’m just snapping pictures for B-roll is that other people (read: clients) want to talk about their photography. If there’s one way to get me sucked into a conversation, this is it.

It usually starts with questions about my camera (a Nikon D3200 Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, that allows me to shoot pretty pictures, video at 1920×1080 resolution with progressive frame presentation at 23.98 frames per second). Inevitably, I get asked questions about their camera, their photos and how they can make their photos look better.

All else being equal (e.g. lighting, composition, and lenses), the conversation always comes back to exposure. I’m using my blog space today to shed some light on the subject.

Exposure—the degree to which light is exposed to the film or image sensor—is the key to taking great photos (or video). Whether your goal is to expose properly, to overexpose a certain part of your image, or to underexpose something: understanding goal-based exposure means you’ll have more fun while taking better pictures.

Exposure has three major components which, when manipulated, produce the final image.

Commonly referred to as “The Exposure Triangle,” the three components are ISO, aperture and shutter speed. It’s no surprise that all three components have a critical relationship with light. Adjust these three things based on your lighting situation in order to capture the type of image you want.*

ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor to the light that’s being allowed in through the lens. An ISO set at 100 is less sensitive than an ISO set at 1600 or 3200. If you’re using film, the film has a predetermined speed or sensitivity; 800, for example. In digital photography, users are able to adjust the ISO to meet their lighting needs.

Shooting on a bright day? Lower your ISO because you don’t need the camera to be so light sensitive. At night? Kick up your ISO a bit because you may want to accentuate the little light that is available to you.

Like the pupil in your eye, aperture in photography is the amount of light that travels through a hole to reach the image sensor. Different lenses have different aperture ranges (adjusted in f-stops—the ratio of the lens’s focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil), meaning that the hole can be closed or opened to meet lighting needs. Larger f-stop numbers mean smaller aperture sizes, and vice-versa.

Shooting on a bright day? Try a larger f-stop (say, f/8); it lets in less light because it’s a smaller pupil size. Shooting at night? Knock your aperture down (say, f/2-f/4).

Shutter Speed
Like your eyelids, the speed of the shutter also determines how much light is allowed to reach the image sensor. Measured in fractions of a second, a slow shutter speed (1/20, for example) allows in more light—it’s open for a longer period of time. A fast shutter speed (1/1000, for example) allows for less light.

Shooting on a bright day? A fast shutter speed could do the trick. Shooting at night? Go for a slower shutter speed.

Get all of this? Now here comes the fun: adjust your Triangle to achieve your goal-based exposure. Let’s face it, even as you get better with experience, you never really know what your lighting situation is going to be—or it may quickly change. The sun passes overhead, clouds move in, it’s darker than you thought, you don’t have a professional lighting kit, etc. Use your newfound knowledge of the Exposure Triangle to help you out. Create more depth, create less depth, overexpose, underexpose…so many possibilities! Check out these examples:


ISO 800, Aperture f18, Shutter 1/100



ISO 800, Aperture f5.6, Shutter 1/640



ISO 200, Aperture f8, Shutter 1/800



ISO 6400, Aperture f8, Shutter 1/800

New to photography? Did you just learn something about exposure? I’d love to see some of your photos! Post them here or post a link.
Most importantly, have fun taking pictures!

*It’s important to note that these settings are typically only available to adjust when you are shooting in manual mode. More on shooting modes in a future post.

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