Gear Guide

Basic settings of Photography and the Exposure triangle

Investing in a good DSLR camera is only a small step to start taking better photos, but if you limit your self and shot only in “Auto mode”, then you just waste your money that you paid for it.

Understanding the basic parameters that affect your exposure is the biggest part of photography knowledge without any doubt. Once you got it, you will open a completely other world of photography to your self. Just forget the Auto Mode and start learn to use Manual Mode like all professionals do. Instead of letting the camera decide what settings are best for your shot, in manual mode you tell your camera how to take a shot and what effect you want to achieve . Controlling your exposure and achieving the creativity that you want on a photograph is much more simple than you think, all you have to learn is what every of the bellow 3 parameters do and how they affect the exposure and your final photograph.

Exposure Triangle: I will try to keep the explanation of these parameters as simple as i can.

Shutter Speed (ex. 30sec or 1/500sec etc.) – Controls the motion of your scene. Use higher speed to stop the motion (think Sports), and slower speed to trace the subject movement (think smoothed ocean waves or car light traces in the night). The image left shows how different shutter speed affect the blurriness of the image. 

Aperture (ex. f1.8 or f8.0 etc.) – Control over the depth of field. Narrower apertures (higher f-numbers) give a greater depth of field, allowing more of a scene to be in focus (think landscapes). Wider apertures (lower f-numbers) create a narrow depth of field, which can help isolate a subject and is one of the greatest composition tools at your disposal (think portraiture). Below you can see how the DoF changes while we use bigger aperture numbers for our exposure.

Aperture: f/5.6
Aperture: f/11
Aperture: f/22

ISO (ex. ISO 100 or 6400 etc.)  – Camera sensor sensitivity. Usable In lower light condition, where you are using the widest possible aperture and the slowest shutter speed you can to stop action, at this point have to increase the ISO number to get proper exposure. The lens cannot physically open itself any wider and sacrificing sharpness for a slower shutter speed is not advisable at all. It is better to have a grainy image that shows a well-defined subject than a smoother image with a blurry subject. However i suggest to keep the ISO as low as you can, especially if you are use dslr with crop sensors, but that is a completely other story that i will explain on later tutorials, for now just keep in mind that ISO is the sensitivity of your camera sensor and as long you keep it at low numbers you will have nice smooth images, but if you are in really tough light conditions where the shutter speed and aperture can’t be changed any lower then cranking  up ISO is the only way to keep the exposure at the right levels.

Now where you know the functions of shutter speed, aperture and ISO parameters you are good to go, to play with them and start being more familiar with those settings. As last but not less important, you have to learn how to add light or subtracted it from your composition by changing these settings.

The combination of the 3 above parameters is what we call exposure value (EV) and often refer to a change that either doubles of halves the amount of light reaching the camera sensoras a light stop. Shutter speeds and ISO respond numerically how you would expect:  

  • Changing ISO from 200 to 400 you add 1 stop of light to your composition
  • Changing shutter speed of 1/30s to 1/60s decrease 1 stop.
  • Changing the Aperture from f1.4 to f2.0 decrease 1 stop.
    *Aperture roughly approximates powers of the square root of 2: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22 etc Unfortunately these numbers you have to memorize unless you are a mathematics genius . Don’t worry, after some time of using and playing with these numbers you will remember them  and you’ll have no problem jumping between stops and understanding exactly how many stops you’ve added or subtracted to your exposure.

Personally to set up these settings i do the following steps:

  • Setting my shutter speed to necessary speed. For example when i shoting a portrait handheld, i try to keep the speed above the focal length, that means if i have a 50mm lens, then shutter speed have to be faster than 1/50sec.
  • decide if how wide DoF do i need for my current shot and set the aperture to the proper value, usually f1.8 – f4 for portraiture to isolate the person from the background and f8 – f11 for landscapes to have the most background in focus (do not go way to high numbers, cause you risk to lose the sharpness on most lenses)
  • Once i did set those two parameters i throw a look at my cameras EV meter indicator, to see whether my composition need any stop of light more or less, which i add or reduce by changing the ISO.

My final advise: Forget the auto mode of your camera and start shorting in manual mode. Yes your first shots will be not perfect but believe me very soon you will be glad you learn to use your camera as it supposed to be used.


For any kind of questions leave a comment bellow or contact me direct via email

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