Tag Archives: photography basics

Building Your Photography Skills: The Exposure Triangle

There are three major concepts that you’ll need to develop or build upon; technical skills, artistic skills, and personality. Today, we’ll discuss the technical skills you’ll need as a photographer.

There isn’t very much to the technical skills needed of a photographer, it simply revolves around what settings you choose on your camera when you’re about to create a photograph or a series of photographs. That includes: being familiar with your layout of your camera and changing settings for the correct exposure, focusing a sharp photograph, getting the right color of the screen… etc. These are the things you need to understand in order to make your images sharp and properly exposed.

Understanding The Exposure Triangle

The exposure triangle is made up of three components, hence the name. These three components are; aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Learning to control these three camera settings is vital to producing high quality photographs.

photography exposure triangle

Diagram from Photography Life


The aperture is simply how big or small the opening of your lens is going to be. It works similar to the pupil of your own eyes. The aperture will open and close to adjust the amount of light you want or need to come through the lens and hitting the sensor when you’re taking your shot. If your scene is dark you’ll need to open the aperture up so more light comes through the lens. When your scene is bright you’ll need to make the aperture smaller in order to reduce the light pass through to the sensor of your camera.

The aperture controls two things; first the amount of light. The aperture also affects the DOF (depth of field) this is the amount of your photograph that is in sharp focus. We’ll discuss DOF in depth later in another posts.


Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is just like it sounds, it’s the speed that the shutter will remain open in order to let the image be recorded. Typically the shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. For example, 1/200th,  1/100th or 1/8th  of a second and so on. However, there will be times when you may want to allow your shutter to be open for seconds or even minutes at a time…this is called long exposure. Extremely low light photography, shooting light trails, making object blur (motion photography), or capturing photos of the stars are just a few examples of where this might need a long exposure.


The third component of the exposure triangle is often the most frustrating to new photographers primarily because it’s easy to visualize like the other two components. With aperture, you can imagine an opening of the lens and with shutter speed, you can visualize it moving faster or slower. ISO on the other hand is a measure of sensitivity of your sensor is to the light.

When you increase the ISO setting on your camera what essentially you’re doing is you’re telling the sensor of your camera that it needs to be more sensitive to light. That means that for the same size opening (aperture), and the same amount of exposure time (shutter speed), you capture more light, and thus achieve a brighter image.

One of the down sides to a higher ISO is that with the higher sensitivity to light you also have a chance of generating what is called digital noise (unwanted grain or speckles of color) in your photographs. Camera manufacturers have greatly improved on this and many new cameras are capable of shooting at very high ISOs with minimal noise, however it is still worth mentioning.

It’s easy to talk about each of these three components of the exposure triangle individually, but when you’re out on location taking your photographs, it’s not good enough to only know or think about just one of them. The key is to learn how each one affects the other two and how to balance out all three at the same time in order to create the exact photograph you envisioned.

One thing that I found helpful while out shooting are these reference cards, they came in especially handy when I couldn’t get a WIFI signal in whatever location I was photographing.

There are also a few other key technical settings you’ll need to know and understand before heading out to go shooting. In the next article we will discuss White Balance and why it is so important.


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Photography 101: Create Visual Energy

Create Visual Energy

Look for ways to convey a sense of energy in your photographs otherwise your images will be flat and boring. There are many ways to invoke a sense of energy in you photographs. You could use lines or shapes of the scene that tilt or point in opposite directions.  This method gives the eyes multiple paths to follow through the image; for example branches of trees going in different directions.

Lines and Shapes

Shimmering Orange is a tranquil nature photograph of a tall Maple Tree in bold orange autumn coloring against a solid blue sky at Battery Park in New Castle, Delaware. This photograph was created from a resting position underneath the tree to capture the glow of the leaves in the sunlight and the strong details of the bark of the tree. Title: Shimmering Orange Photographer: Melissa Fague Genre: Nature Photography This image can only be licensed through Getty Images; for more info please visit: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/shimmering-orange-royalty-free-image/503844495


You could use movement that is going on in your scene such as the soft flowing water meandering through a river and over rocks. This doesn’t just apply for nature and landscape photography but all types of photography.

Hoope's Falls in the Autumn is a landscape photograph of the little waterfall on the Brandywine River in front of Hoope's Reservoir in Wilmington, Delaware and a array of colorful leaves lining the river banks. Title: Hoope's Falls in the Autumn Photographer: Melissa Fague Genre: Landscape Photography


Humans are drawn to light. Our eyes naturally seek out the brightest spots of a scene, the same thing applies when we view photographs. Most people do not realize they do this, so using the light of your scene can give your photograph a sense of inspiration and joy instantly to the viewer with minimum effort on the photographers part.

Sun Rays Through Treetops is a beautifully inspiring landscape photograph that was created in the wooded area of Iron Hill Park located in Newark, Delaware. Title: Sun Rays Through Treetops Photographer: Melissa Fague Genre: Landscape Photography


Just like light most people to not realize that the colors they see effect their feelings about things. With photography colors can energize a scene, soften a scene, darken a scene…so on an so forth. To energize a scene use warmer tones that you find in nature such as sunset.

Sunset on the Marsh 2 is a dreamy landscape photograph created to artistically document the subtle movements of the marsh grasses in the breeze at sunset. Title: Sunset on the Marsh 2 Photographer: Melissa Fague Genre: Landscape Photography

Because nature is an array of shapes, colors, and features most of the elements are visible in all nature and landscape photographs, it’s the photographers job to figure out what the emphasis should be focused on from the scene in each photograph. Because photography is so subjective there is no right or wrong answer, it is completely up to the creative vision of the photographer. So play with all of them and have fun while doing it :).


ISO One of the three Elements for Exposure in Photography

With film photography, ISO was the indication of how sensitive a film was to light. If you remember going to buy film, you had your choice of different sensitivities. There was one for shooting outdoors (100), one for indoors (400), one that was indoor/outdoor (200), and one for shooting in low light (800). The lower the number was the lower the sensitivity of the film was and the finer the grain was in your photograph.

In Digital Photography, ISO is the measured sensitivity of the image sensor, just like film sensitivity. So the same principles apply as in film photography. The lower the ISO number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain.

In Digital Photography, an ISO of 100 is generally accepted as ‘normal’ and will give you crisp shots with minimal noise or grain. However, each camera manufacturer actually has a native ISO setting that produces the best quality exposure. One way to find your native ISO is to set up your camera and take multiple shots; with each shot only change your ISO level, and then compare your images.

Auto setting

Digital cameras have an auto ISO setting, this feature allows the camera to calculate the scene and make the best decision for what the camera thinks will produce the best exposure. This is a great feature if you are just documenting what is going on in a scene. However the feature will hinder you if you are trying to be creative. The second downfall to the “Auto” setting is it can easily be tricked, this usually happens when you have a scene with very strong contrast between highlighted areas and shadows.

Taking control

Almost all cameras, including camera phones, will allow you to select your own ISO setting. This is helpful and most effective when you want to use different aperture and shutter speed settings to create your photographs. Taking the controls over also allows for more creativity in your photographs and gives you a wider range of subjects to shoot. For example, say you wanted to photograph a moving car, or a bird flying. The ISO only judges the light; it does not take into account what the subject is or is doing. So the auto setting will give its best guess on how much light should be in the scene. By having control over the settings, you can do multiple things with your image…here are a few examples and explanations.

What to think about

When choosing the ISO setting there are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Lighting – Is the subject well lit in the scene or is there little light?
  • How do I want the light to affect the overall image?
  • Grain – Do I want a grainy shot to give an aged look or one without noise?
  • Stability – Is a tripod needed?
  • Subject – Is my subject moving or stationary?
  • How fast is the subject moving?
  • How would you like the movement to be displayed?

If there is plenty of light, the subject is stationary, and you want crisp image with very little grain keep your ISO low. However, if it’s dark or the subject is moving at a fairly rapid rate, consider increasing the ISO so a faster shutter speed can be used. ISO is an important aspect of digital photography and exposure. Take your time exploring the setting so you can gain more control of your digital camera and your creativity.

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