Disney Photography Blog

Exposure Basics

By Cory Disbrow on June 26th, 2014   |    Posted in:  Photography 101   |    3 Comments

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written here. Part of that is due to a lack of creativity, and the other part is due to life being far too busy. But, I had an interesting chat with a coworker the other day who is getting into photography, and it really made me want to get back to the basics. So, for today, we’ll be discussing the basics of exposure. This is one of the biggest hurdles new photographers never get past. But, when you can get past this, it opens up so much for you. You’ll get sharper shots, you’ll open up more creativity, and you’ll also be able to get out of the dreaded Auto mode on your camera. The way I learned all of this was through what we call the Exposure Triangle. I apologize for my quick mockup of this triangle, but I think you’ll get the point.

Exposure Triangle

There it is. The most basic of photographic concepts, but one that is the key to everything. These three components are all things that you can manually change on your camera. But, they all work together, and compromises must be made in order to achieve what you are looking for in terms of exposure. Once you get out of Auto, the most that I believe most people use is Aperture Priority mode. When you are in Aperture Priority, you adjust the aperture, and the camera will adjust the shutter speed accordingly. Most modern camera also have an Auto ISO function which will change that for you as well. So, say you want to take a photo with everything in sharp focus, at something like f/8. When you do that, your shutter speed is going to be slower than if you are shooting at a lower f-stop, like f/4 or f/2.8. When you want to use f/8, it is critical to check your shutter speed to make sure that the speed is not too slow. If it is, you will get a blurry photo due to camera shake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you are shooting at f/8 and you find that your shutter speed is too slow, you can make it faster by adjusting the ISO. Going higher with your ISO will make your shutter speed faster, but it will also lead to grainy and noisier shots once you get up in the ISO 3200 and above realm. This tends to happen in lower light situations, and creates the opportunity where using a tripod would be beneficial for proper exposure. That way, camera shake isn’t a worry and you can keep the ISO down. For example, this photo was taken in the evening. I wanted to keep the entire frame sharp, so I was at an aperture of f/9, but I wanted the cleanest shot possible, so I stayed down at ISO 100. Since I did that, the shutter speed needed to be at least 30 seconds to properly expose the photo.

_DSC4816

Having an understanding of this Exposure Triangle can help make or break a shot. Say for example, you are indoors and in low light. You don’t have the luxury of having a super fast shutter speed that you normally would from being outside in the sun. Knowing your threshold in terms of what shutter speed you can use before the shot being blurry can come into play. Perhaps 1/100 of a second is that place for you. Knowing that, you can set your shutter speed at 1/100 in either Shutter Priority or Manual Mode, and then go to a lower aperture, like f/2.8 or f/1.4. That way you can keep your ISO as low as possible to get a nice and clean shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I know that for someone just getting into photography, this can be a lot of information, and the temptation to just stay in Auto mode will definitely be there. But, if you can study this triangle and the way Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO interact, you can get out of Auto mode and really start digging into your photography. You’ll see less photos headed to the trash can since more and more of them are sharp. You’ll also see the benefit of exposing properly in camera, as it will make your work in editing the photos far easier as well.

For continued reading on this, I suggest the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson, which is available at our Amazon link. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading!!

3 Comments

  1. Laura B.   |   Jun 26, 2014

    I wish I’d had an explanation this simple when I first starting getting serious about photography! Unfortunately, for years, I shot for a company that simple handed out the gear, and gave us our settings. By the time I decided to ask “Why?” when looking at their settings, my brain had already created a block. After floundering for awhile, I picked up a copy of Understanding Exposure. It took reading through it twice to even start to make sense, and then it wasn’t until I was out playing around with my camera one day that the lightbulb truly went on.
    To anyone who finds themselves in the same quandary as me, just not “getting” the settings, I HIGHLY recommend Bryan Peterson’s books – and lots of time experimenting. One day, it will make sense!

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