Thursday Tips: The Exposure Triangle

Friends and clients frequently tell me that they’d love to learn to use their cameras better and I want to help.

Welcome to a weekly series full of camera tips and behind the scenes tricks from a professional photographer.

Let’s take better pictures!

How do you get your camera off Auto mode and start taking better pictures?

You’ll need to be able to answer this question: What the heck is the exposure triangle?

Your camera is a light capturing machine. You can manipulate three different features to get the desired amount of light: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. And these three things make up the “Exposure Triangle.”

exposure triangle, aperture, iso, shutter speed, beginner camera lessons
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You can let more or less light into your camera by changing the amount of time the lens is open (shutter speed), how wide the lens opens (aperture), or how sensitive the sensor is (ISO). Each of these features has a trade off, and can impact the final appearance of the image. I’ll go much more in depth about each of these in a later post.

But the most important thing to know right now, is that each of these points is connected to the other two. So if one feature changes, another one has to change in order to keep letting the right amount of light into your camera.

Here’s one example:

earth tones, rocks, waterfall, running water, motion blur, slow shutter speed, camera lessons, basics, nature, river, waterfall, side by side, editing

In this photo, I knew I wanted the water to appear blurry with motion, so it was important to let my lens stay open for a little extra time — I needed a slow shutter speed to allow time for the image to blur.

However, it was midday and there was plenty of sun. So leaving my lens open meant letting in too much light. See how bright the image on the left is? How you can’t see any of the color or detail in the rocks? Yuck!

I had to balance all that extra light coming in by letting in as little light as possible with the other points on my triangle. I had to make my lens opening smaller (aperture) and my sensor less sensitive (ISO). And I was able to get back all that color and detail and dappled light I could see in real life!

You can’t do a lot with this lesson just yet, but I promise, the exposure triangle is the foundation on which you will learn to master the rest of your camera settings. Stick with it!

Want to learn how to take better pictures? Follow me on Instagram for updates about my latest posts or come back next Thursdays for more tips!

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