How to Understand Photography Exposure to Unleash Your Creativity

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You have your subject, you have your digital camera, and you want to take complete control over your photograph with the correct exposure. Whether you’re shooting portrait or landscape photography, understanding exposure is critical in order to get the best in-camera shot possible.

Simply put, exposure is light striking a sensor (or if you’re going old-school, a frame of film). Having good exposure can make or break an image so is critical to get right. You control exposure with three parameters: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. This is what’s called the Exposure Triangle:

By adjusting the exposure settings, we can change our exposure to make the image brighter or darker. It’s important to be in manual mode in order to have more control over these settings (and understand them better). However adjusting any one of these controls not only makes the image brighter or darker, it changes some other aspects of the image as well.

Let’s get into some detail of each:

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the measure of time that a sensor or frame of film is exposed to light. By controlling how long you blast light into your camera, you decide how time is stopped in that final image. The difference between a hundredth of a second and a thousandth of a second can be the difference between getting an epic shot and not getting a usable image at all.

1/2000 sec; f/2.8; ISO 800 Canon 7D; EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM

Your choice of shutter speed comes down to what you want in your picture. Do you want your subject to be frozen so that you can clearly highlight areas of detail? Or do you want something more abstract, where motion blur reveals movement? Remember, fast shutter speeds mean less time for the light meter to hit the sensor, so the faster the shutter speed the less light available for the image. A slow shutter speed or longer shutter speed will have the opposite effect. If fast is necessary, then aperture and ISO are on your (for more on this article click here)

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