Photography and the Exposure Triangle


The Exposure Triangle

The exposure triangle may seem like a weird “theory” that isn’t necessary to learn, but if you want to call yourself a photographer and take control over your equipment this should be second nature to you. The exposure triangle is the fundamentals of photography. Just like the name implies, it is a triangle with: Aperture (F/stops), ISO and shutter speed. You can take the same exact picture with different setting inputs and come out with completely different images.  Aperture, Iso and shutter speed work together to gather the amount of light needed for a correctly exposed photograph. If one variable changes, at least one of the others must also change to maintain the “correct exposure”.


Shutter speed

Shutter speed refers to the length of time the light is allowed to hit the sensor, which is measured in seconds.Each element in the exposure triangle target a specific area. When talking about shutter speed, it involves movement. Do you want motion blur or do you want to essentially freeze time? You would manipulate your shutter speed to help you achieve any of those looks.  Now when it comes to shooting in Manual mode, you cannot just focus on one element. I am simply isolating the three to give in depth knowledge.



Put simply, Aperture is the opening in the lens. When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole. The larger the hole the more light that gets in – the smaller the hole the less light. Since I said earlier that shutter speed went hand and hand with motion, Aperture refers to Depth of Field (DOF). Aperture is what usually confuses beginners due to the fact that it seems backwards. A f/stop of 2.8 is much larger than a f/22.


As you can see from the above chart, a larger f/stop will give you a shallow DOF.


In very basic terms, ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera.The component within your camera that can change sensitivity is called “image sensor”.With increased sensitivity, your camera sensor can capture images in low-light environments without having to use a flash. But higher sensitivity comes at an expense – it adds grain or “noise” to the pictures. Here’s a simple chart to help you understand (don’t you just love charts)


You might be asking, what is noise? I know when I first started in photography, hearing people say “noise” was confusing. How can you have a noise in a still photo.Well noise is very important because it can come out in your photo and ruin it if it wasn’t wanted.


There you go. The right side of this image has those little grainy dots all over which is what photographers call “Noise. Granted, you might want to have that in a photo, but most of the time we want crisp photos that are clean.

Now put it all together

Creating a perfect exposure using the aperture, shutter speed and ISO is a juggling act. As soon as you make a decision about one element, you’ll need to compromise with another.Don’t panic, it can take a while to understand how one effects the other but if you really keep studying the three elements you will find your own balance that you like the most.

Now that you have a glimpse of the exposure triangle (which applies to any type of photography) we can move on to the different types of digital cameras and their differences. There are three popular categories which are: Compact digital cameras, bridge cameras, and DSLR cameras. 

Compact cameras are the most widely used and the simplest cameras to be ever seen. They are used for ordinary purposes and are thus called “point and shoot cameras”. They are extremely portable due to the fact that they are small in size. They are also cheaper than a DSLR. Bridge cameras are a general name for digital cameras that have some degree of manual control, a long range zoom lens and a viewfinder – but usually not interchangeable lenses. They are somewhere between a point and shoot camera and a full DSLR, hence the name bridge camera. Finally, a DSLR is just a camera that uses mirrors and interchangeable lenses. You might wonder which is best for you, which can be figured out easily. Compact cameras are mostly used by “amateurs”. Someone who isn’t trying to be a professional photographer but want nice shots of important moments like birthdays can benefit from a compact camera. Now when it comes to Bridge cameras, those are used by amateurs as well, but the ones who have more of an interest in photography and who will most likely one day upgrade. And finally a DSLR is used by hobbyist and professionals. A DSLR has many benefits like the interchangeable lens and great image quality. So where do you see yourself in the photography world? Want something light to carry around that takes better photos than a smart phone? Compact cameras. Want to dip your toes in a bit? Bridge cameras. Want to be a professional photographer or even a “professional” hobbyist? DSLR.

So far you learned about the exposure triangle and then learned about some of the different types of cameras you can get. Just like a cell phone has accessories, so does a camera. There are many things you can buy to assist you. Here are some ideas:

  • Camera bag
  • Tripod
  • Reflectors
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Neck strap
  • Speedlight Flashes

These are just the beginning. A camera bag is especially benefiting if you have an expensive DSLR. You want something thats going to hold it in place and protect it. Tripods are also very helpful. Remember when we talked about shutter speed? Slow shutter speeds need tripods to keep your image from being blurry. Believe it or not we all shake, and if you want to keep your shutter open for a long time you should definitely use one. Reflectors can help you bounce light from whatever light source you are using, so it can fill in some shadows. When I first started I never cared for reflectors, but when you use it correctly you see how you can make your image look way better. Cleaning cloths and neck straps are also very handy for cleaning your lens and for having a strap to hold your camera. Some DSLRs are extremely heavy and if you are somewhat lazy like me, you’ll love your neck strap. Speed light flashes are also great for enhancing your photo. You can do a lot with speed light flashes and I recommend you invest in one as soon as you can.

You now have a foundation that can help you become the photographer you’ve always wanted to be. You know about the exposure triangle and what each element target and its purpose. You were able to find out which type of camera is suitable for your needs and you see some of the essential things you will want to buy. The technical side of photography seems like a whole new language but once mastered you can then put that with your creative drive and come out with some of the best images you’ve ever taken. I can’t wait to see what you make of it!

Photo by: Jackob Owens ….


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