The Exposure Triangle

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  • If you missed the Photography series you can start here:

    1. Basics to Photography
    2. Aperture Photography
    3. Learn about your ISO setting
    4. Shutter Speed Photography
    5. The Exposure Triangle
    6. Photo Composition
    7. Capturing the every day moments
    8. 10 Photography tips to help you edit your pictures
    9. Some more  Photography tips
    10. My Photography Tips

    Why hello there lovelies! I’m so excited to be a guest here on Jamielyn’s fabulous blog. I’m Brittany, the gal behind the lens over at Momentology Photography. There has been some awesome information shared thus far to help in your quest to better photos! You’ve learned about the three main elements of a perfectly exposed photo {ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed}…and today, we’re pulling them all together to make sure our exposures are right where we want them. A properly exposed photo has great lighting. It won’t be too dark (blacked out, loss of detail) or too bright (blown out detail). So what is the exposure triangle you ask?

    Well…in plain English, it’s the relationship between the three aspects of exposure. Each corner of a triangle represents one of the three elements {ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed}. Changing one of these elements will make your photo brighter or darker. It will also change the overall look of your photo based on which element you change. In other words, if you use a longer shutter speed, you may get some blurring in your photo from motion, but your photo will also increase in brightness as you are allowing more light to hit your camera’s sensor. If you up the ISO, you will increase the light in your photo…but will also increase the grain in your photo the higher you set it. I think this picture will make it a little easier to understand:

    exposure triangle

    Starting to click? (No pun intended haha). It is at the intersection of ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed that an image’s exposure is decided. If your camera isn’t already turned to the “M” mode…turn that baby over there! This is the end of Auto Mode friends…but trust me, you’ll never look back! When you have your camera set on Auto Mode, it decides what it thinks the ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed should be set at for you… The problem is, it is usually wrong. Thanks to the wonderful previous posts, you now know how each of these elements works, so you can decide for yourself how they should interact. You’ll be able to get more creative, and get the “look” of the photo you want with just a little practice. Here’s a little scenario for you…

    Say you are on vacation in beautiful French Polynesia, and you come across a waterfall. You want the water to be beautiful and smooth in your photo. You know you need to do this with motion blur. So, you put your camera on a tripod (don’t want your hands to shake during your long shutter speed click). Since this is going to bring a lot of light into your photo, you know you need a small aperture, and the lowest ISO. Using the exposure triangle, you’ll see you need a long shutter speed to counter the small aperture and the low ISO…and that’s just what you want. It’s perfect for getting that silky smooth water you had envisioned.

    the exposure trianglephoto credit:

    Pretty neat, huh? Had you decided to snap your photo in Auto Mode, or used a faster shutter speed, you would have ended up with a photo similar to the one on the right (below), instead of the one on the left. This would have caused you to miss out on your silky smooth water effect.

    Photo credit:

    Something to keep in mind though, is that a change to one of the elements will impact the others. This means you have to be aware of all three of them while taking photos. For me, I like to keep my ISO way down when possible. {I don’t like photo grain!!!}  So usually I consider ISO first. After I have considered my ISO, I then look at the other two elements. When I’m photographing a child, I always consider my shutter speed next. Kiddos move FAST at times, so we want to avoid blurry motion when possible! I love crisp, focused photos! However, if I’m going for a great depth of field look and some nice bokeh, I will consider aperture first. It may seem like a lot to think about when you are new to it all, but it truly becomes second nature with practice.

    One more thing to help you understand the exposure triangle. I’ve heard this metaphor a few times and in a few different ways, but for those of you that are still thinking, “Exposure WHAT?!” …This just might seal the deal. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but hey, it’s close! Think of getting your ideal digital camera exposure like getting the perfect tan. The sunbather wants to get just the right amount of sun to get great color, but not so much that he or she burns.

    Some people tan really nice and fast, others not so much. Think of your skin type as the ISO rating. Olive skinned people have better receptors to sunlight than fair skinned people.

    Your shutter speed is going to be the amount of time you spend out in the sun. The longer you spend out there, the better chances of getting enough sun and a tan. However, if you are out there too long, you are going to get burnt…or in the case of your photo, over exposed and blown out.

    Aperture is the sunscreen that you decide to wear. Depending on its SPF, you are going to block the sun (light) at different rates. If you apply a really strong SPF, you decrease the amount of light that gets through to tan you. If you change your SPF (aperture), it changes how long you can be in the sun (shutter speed).

    So if you’re fair skinned and burn easily and decide not to wear much sunscreen, you can only be in the sun for a little bit of time. In photography terms, this means if your aperture is wide open, you can only open the shutter for a tiny bit of time. However, if you’re wearing a strong sunscreen, you can stay out there longer because fewer rays will tan your skin. Meaning, if you make your aperture smaller, you can open your shutter for a longer amount of time, because less light gets through the opening. If you are olive skinned, you can stay out in the sunlight longer…even without sunscreen. So if you shoot at an ISO of 100, you can shoot a longer exposure…even with the aperture more open.

    If you are new to photography, mastering the art of exposure is something that will take some practice. Even the most experienced photographers will tweak their settings as they shoot. The great thing is, that with your digital camera, you can practice as much as you want! You can even start in the semi-automatic modes like shutter priority mode or aperture priority mode…this way, you only have to think about one or two elements of the exposure triangle at first. No matter what though, get out there and practice! Happy snapping!

    Brittany, from Momentology Photography, is a newborn and child photographer in Mesa, AZ. She is a gal who adores her husband, sunshine, and spending time with her family. She really enjoys creating and blogging, and LOVES taking pictures of babies! You can visit her photography blog here [] and can connect on Facebook here [].

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