Keep scrolling to see the gear and settings used for this shot.

What the heck is this triangle trying to tell me!?

So one of the most crucial things to learn about photography is to learn how to properly expose an image. Of course, there is always auto mode, but you want to learn how to do it manually in order to get the most creative freedom in photography. The sooner you bite the bullet and learn this the sooner you will be on your way to developing and implementing your own style.

There are three settings in manual mode that you'll use to exposure your image. That is the Shutter Speed (SS), Aperture (f/) and ISO. In a nutshell, each of these settings will make the image brighter or darker. In addition to that, each setting provides a different secondary "effect" to each photo. It is your job to find a balance between the three in order to get the image you want. There is no magic combination of settings that will give you a great image every time. Let me give a quick rundown on how each setting works so that you can better understand what is going on. Afterwards I will explain the secondary effects of each setting so you could truly expose for the type of shots that you want.

Part I

The shutter speed controls how long your camera's sensor is exposed to light. This can be as fast as 1/8000s or as long as you wish, really. You camera's dial while probably go up to 30 seconds, though. Basically, the longer that the sensor is exposed to light the brighter the image will be.

The Aperture controls how much light the lens allows to pass through to the sensor. The lower the number is the larger the lens ring opens up, meaning that the image will be brighter. The higher the number, the less light passing through, resulting in a darker image. Each lens has a certain range of aperture that it can go through, and it is usually indicated in the name using a symbol (f/). i.e: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8.

Lastly, the ISO controls the sensor sensitivity to light. It is displayed in numbers like 100, 200 all the way up to 128,000. For the ISO the higher the number the brighter the image, the lower the number the darker the image.

Those are the basics, what I want you to take away from this is that the shutter speed can brighten or darken an image depending on how fast you set it. The aperture can brighten or darken an image depending on how wide the ring opens and the ISO can brighten or darken an image depending on how sensitive the sensor becomes to light. For the shutter speed the faster it is set the darker and image is. For the aperture the higher the number the darker the image. the same is true for the ISO, the higher the number the darker the image. Keep in mind that you have to balance these settings, if you change one of them you'll have to compensate with the other two. For Example, if you find yourself in a situation where you need a faster shutter speed, you have to compensate by lowering the aperture or the ISO or both. The image below could help you learn this.

Now might be a good time to take a break and to try to absorb what you just read. Once you understand it you can read the next section.

Part II

Aside from what I mentioned above, each of the setting will have a secondary effect on your image. It is in the understanding of these effects that dictate how we expose for the images that we want.

The Shutter Speed will also control motion in your image. So using a faster shutter speed (1/400 or above) will freeze all of the action in your image. The slower the shutter speed the more motion blur you will introduce to an image. So you'll have to know that a faster shutter speed will darken an image AND freeze motion. Also, you'll have to keep in mind that you will need to compensate for a faster shutter speed by lowering the aperture or raising the ISO. Inversely, a slower shutter speed will brighten and image AND introduce motion blur to an image, this can sometimes be a desired effect. You'll compensate by raising your aperture and/or lowering your ISO. It might be a good idea to screen shot my cheat sheet below and print it out so that you can read it while on location if need be.

The Aperture will control the depth of field in an image. A shallow depth of field means that what ever is in the same plane as your focus point will be tac sharp. Anything on a different plane (meaning the foreground and background) will be blurred out and provide the bokeh for your image. The lower the number the more extreme the effect is, meaning that the depth of field will be even more shallow and the bokeh would be even more blurry. So to recap, the lower the aperture the brighter the image AND the more shallow the depth of field becomes. You will have to compensate by raising the shutter speed and/or lowering the ISO. The higher the aperture the more elements in the frame would be in focus AND the darker the image will be. Compensate by lowering the Shutter Speed and/or raising the ISO.

Now the ISO also controls the noise in your image. The higher the ISO is set to the more noise introduced to an image. I have found that the ISO is typically my last line of defense in brightening an image since the lower the setting is the less noise introduce I keep it as low as possible. So know that the lower the ISO in image the lower the noise in an image (lowest number = no noise at all) AND the darker an image. Compensate with a slower shutter speed and/or a lower aperture.

Alright, take a break and try to absorb all of that. In the next part I will explain when you would use which setting and provide you with examples.

Part III

Ok then, now that you understand how each setting works, what they do and how they effect your image it is time to put these up with examples in real world situations. I know it may seem like a lot to think about during a shoot, but I promise the more your practice the faster you will get at this and soon you will be able to adapt your exposure in a snap!

For the shutter speed you will find yourself in one of two situations. Either you want to freeze motion, especially true for sports and event photographers. Or, you'll want to introduce some motion blur. This is usually done in a creative aspect and you will typically need to stabilize your camera either with a tripod of just by setting it down on something stable. So you'll have to ask yourself if you want to freeze motion or add motion blur, once you know that you'll have to compensate for that setting by adjusting the aperture and ISO. In this following image I decided to freeze motion, so that the gentleman on the bike was perfectly exposed and not blurry do to his quick movement. So in order to stop his motion I set the shutter speed to 1/400s, and because of this my image was darkened so I compensated by lowering my aperture to it's lowest setting for the lens I have, f/4. Doing this also blurred out the foreground as you can see in the sidewalk, and the background as you can see by the street sign. I kept the ISO at 100 to keep the image as clean from noise as possible.

Aperture and bokeh are synonymous now a days. You will often find yourself trying to get as blurry of a background as possible when starting out, or maybe you're shooting a group of people so you want to make sure every one is in focus. Pro tip if you have two or more people in the frame it is always best to shoot at f/5.6 or higher. I found that f/8 is typically my sweet spot for this. Anyway in the example below I new that I wanted to isolate the red flower as the subject so I decided a shallow depth of field was my best choice. I set my aperture as low as it could go; f/4. because of this I knew I was letting in a lot of light so I compensated with a fast shutter speed at 1/1000 and the lowest ISO option on my camera at 100.

As I mentioned above, it is as a last ditch effort that I raise my ISO. Being that high ISO bring in noise I typically leave it at 100 which is the lowest that my camera can go. However, I found myself on a set of this local show, Inside Monrovia, and the lighting wasn't ideal for photos. To make up for the lack of light I set my aperture at f/4, ,which is the lowest I could go. I brought my shutter speed down to 1/100. This was as slow as I could take it, being that any slower would introduce too much motion blur. Even with both settings like that I still didn't have sufficient light so I found myself bumping up my ISO to 6400. Thanks to lightroom and photoshop I was able to keep the noise down to a minimum, but that cost me some sharpness in the end result. So be careful with ISO! You will have to bump it up at times but make sure you have you aperture and shutter speed set as low as possible so that you don't have to raise your ISO as high.

I apologize if you're feeling a little overwhelmed. This is why photographers laugh when people say that all we do is point and shoot. We have to know how to read a situation, decide how you want to expose(seeing how much bokeh you want or if you want to freeze motion or implement motion blur.), dial in the settings, compose the image, decide on posing, assure the pose and facial expressions are on point and so on and so forth. If you're an event photographer or wedding photographer then you typically have to do all of this in seconds and quickly adapt to new situations as the day unfolds. There are still other factors to consider as well, you may want to implement off camera flash so that is an entire new setting to learn and balance with the exposure triangle. Or you may find yourself using an ND filter which is also a new setting to learn and balance. Anyway, that's not to scare anyone away from photography. I guarantee you that it only sounds like a lot when you first start out, but as your progress you will learn to do this instinctively and will only get quicker and better at it. The key is to understand how to use your camera and practice practice practice!

Cheat Sheet

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