Beginner’s Guide to Photography: Exposure

Photography is a great outlet to let your creativity flow and unfold. It also allows us to capture and preserve the important moments and people in our lives. A perfect picture allows you to notice things you would not in everyday life. It allows you to re-live that moment and have a deeper presence of mind because you can see the details that you overlook. Photography, in a historical sense, have been critical in documenting human experiences and they shape our perception of reality. While the world of photography is an exciting one, there are certain technical aspects that need to be mastered in order to optimize the craft and experience. By learning about these, you can turn good photographs into great ones.

The Perfect Picture

There are many critical elements that go into snapping the perfect picture. One of the most important ones is exposure, which refers to controlling lightness and darkness of an image. When there is too much light, it can result in overexposure, when there is too little light, it can result in under-exposure. It can manipulated with three camera settings, the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A Camera’s Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed settings control exposure levels and what the image will look like. While they impact exposure, these three elements are really the foundations of photography. They work in conjunction with one another and as technology continues to improve on SLR and DSLR cameras, they are highly customizable and can be configured to your exact liking and are instrumental in helping you take the perfect photo!

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Shutter Speed


The shutter speed setting controls the duration of how long the light is permitted to hit the camera sensor

The shutter speed is the amount of time in which a shutter opens for incoming light. The shutter speed setting controls the duration of how long the light is permitted to hit the camera sensor, which collects the light. A slower shutter speed means more exposure to light. The longer a camera shutter is opened, the more light it absorbs and the more light your image will have. Both shutter speed and exposure time refer to the same thing in the wonderful world of photography. Shutter speed is a critical tool for freezing or blurring the subject in the image. When you have fast-moving subjects, such as a bird, blurring your images and exaggerating the movement is often appropriate. Shutter speed is measured in a fractions of a second or in second and typically ranges from 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second to 30 seconds.

▸1, ▸1/2, ▸1/4, ▸1/8, ▸1/15, ▸1/30, ▸1/60, ▸1/125, ▸1/250, ▸1/500

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and expressed through fractions. For example, 1/500 is a much faster shutter speed than say, 1/60. The standard speed time usually means 1/60 or faster. There is an important reason why shutter speed matters. Shutter speed is not only about exposing the image to the light so that the image has the right amount of light, it affects the camera movement and subject movement. If the shutter speed is set at a slower setting (say 1/4), then there is a good chance there might be a blur if the subject is moving or the camera has moved in this process. The camera shakes when taking an image. If you are using a slow shutter speed, it is a good idea to have your camera stabilized on something that does not move, such as a tripod or an unshakable and flat surface. There are now built-in vibration reduction technologies that aim to help with this.

  • 1/4000: It can freeze real fast-movement such as a free-flowing river.
  • 1/1000: You want this setting if you want your moving subject(s) to freeze and have no blurred aspects.
  • 1/500: The middle ground allows you to have a freeze to your subject even when they are in movement. If for example, you are shooting a 100m sprinter, then you can use the 1/500 shutter speed to make sure that they catch the right moment.
  • 1/250: Freeze slow movement like a cyclists riding their bicycle.
  • 1/4: To add motion to the subject movement, such as a river flowing.
  • 1: This setting also can be used in dim environments and is often used for landscape images. For rivers, for example, it results in a “milky” affect because it captures some movement.


ISO is essentially a camera’s sensitivity light or the film’s sensitivity to light. It measures the sensitivity of the image sensor.

ISO is the baseline platform that we can start talking about in familiarizing yourself with taking the perfect photo. ISO is essentially a camera’s sensitivity light or the film’s sensitivity to light. It measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive it is to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain. As today’s camera’s become more technologically advanced and powerful, you can go to very low ISO levels. A high ISO will produce a brighter picture than a lower ISO but the downside to increasing ISO levels is that the image will be visibly nosier and grainier.

ISO Range: ◦100 | ◦200 | ◦400 | ◦800 | ◦1600 | ◦3200 | ◦6400 | ◦12800

There are numerous reasons why the ISO number is important. Firstly, it sets the light for good exposure. If you’re taking a photograph and there is a super amount of light, then the ISO level should be on the lower side. This also affects the shutter speed. If you are taking a photographic image of a landscape on a bright, sunny day, then the shutter speed should be lower. If you are taking a photograph of the indoors, the opposite holds true where the ISO levels should be higher.

In SLR digital cameras, when you increase ISO level it has a compromising effect on quality by increasing the noise of the image. Another important factor in controlling noise in your images is controlling the size of pixels. Large pixels will help you decrease the noise levels, while smaller pixels results in more pixilation. High-performing SLR cameras have a distinct technological edge over compact cameras in this respect. SLR cameras are equipped with larger pixels and can thus help reduce the noisiness of an image. The newer the technologies in SLR camera has made way for less noise, even by using the same ISO levels with the same line of camera from an earlier generation. The latest paradigm shifts in technology has resulted in significant improvements.

ISO Settings

• ISO 100 – 1 second
• ISO 200 – 1/2 of a second
• ISO 400 – 1/4 of a second
• ISO 800 – 1/8 of a second
• ISO 1600 – 1/16 of a second
• ISO 3200 – 1/32 of a second

*In the above ISO settings, the difference between the numbers double the sensor sensitivity. For example, ISO 1600 is twice more sensitive than ISO 800. The lower the ISO number, the faster you’re able to capture the image. This makes a world of difference when it comes to lighting and freezing/blurred motion.

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ISO is essentially a camera’s sensitivity light or the film’s sensitivity to light. It measures the sensitivity of the image sensor.

Aperture refers to the opening of a lens diaphragm, which is adjusted to control the amount of lighting that travels to the film/image sensor. The opening or diaphragm controls the amount of incoming light. The easiest way to understand aperture is to think of it as the pupil of an eye: the smaller it gets, the less light gets in and vice-versa. Aperture is calibrated and represented by f/stops. On the camera, you will see an “F” that is attached to different numbers. These f-numbers describe the size of the aperture. Counter-intuitively, the higher the f-stop, the smaller the aperture and the lower the f-stop the larger the aperture. For example, f/2.0 is much larger than f/5.6. As the image below shows, these are the aperture numbers. If an aperture is narrow, it results in a sharper focus on the subject.

The most obvious function of an aperture is to limit the amount of light that is captured by the image. This clearly affects the exposure of the film and must be carefully configured to optimize the image. The aperture works in conjunction of the shutter speed, which both work together to manage the exposure of light that is coming is managed by the apparatuses. They both are integral for the formation of exposure. Like the iris of your eye, the diaphragm or opening is the aperture stop as it controls the diameter of the lens opening.

Aperture is critical for the depth of field of your images. Depth of field is contrasting the different zones of your photograph. The subject is one zone and the background is another zone. For example, if the main subject of your image, a cardinal bird, in this case, is sitting on a branch and the background is a forest, then the subject needs the attention and the furthest zone (the trees) needs to be differentiated.

ISO Settings

• f/ 16
• f/ 11
• f/ 8
• f/ 5.6
• f/ 4
• f/ 2.8
• f/ 2
• f/ 1.4

*In photography and in optics, an aperture is an opening that allows light to pass through. The lower the f-number, the more light is allowed to travel through the aperture, which results in blurred images. The higher the f-number, the higher the focus.

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