top of page
Search

# Exposure Triangle EXPLAINED

The Exposure Triangle is made up of 3 elements: Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed.

First, I will talk about what the exposure triangle is.

Second, I will give a quick review on each element of the exposure triangle and how they work together.

And third, I will give what settings I use for different types of photography.

What is the exposure triangle?

You use this triangle to get the correctly exposed image using 3 settings that each control light in a different way.

The triangle consists of ISO ranging from 100 - 6400, aperture ranging from f/1.4 - f/16 and shutter speed ranging from 1/500th of a second to 30 seconds. Those are just typical ranges but some lenses can go above or below these numbers.

Each of these elements controls light as well as other aspects.

Aperture

Controls the amount of light AND depth of field.

Range is generally between f/1.8 - f/22

f/1.8 blurs the background and has only one thing in focus, the large aperture lets more light in.

f/16 allows for more of the image to be in focus and lets less light in.

You want to ask yourself the following questions as it relates to aperture.

Do I want the whole scene in focus or do I want to concentrate on one thing?

Am I doing a portrait, landscape, sports.

What am I shooting, whatâ€™s my subject?

How much light do I have?

Shutter Speed

Controls the speed of the shutter. How long the shutter will be open.

Generally between 1/4000th of a second to 30 seconds

1/4000th of a second freezes the action but it lets less light in

30 seconds lets more light in but blurs anything that is moving

You want to ask yourself the following questions as it relates to shutter speed.

Is my subject going to be moving?

Do I need more light?

Do I have a tripod with me?

Youâ€™ll notice now that these both affect the amount of light so once you have these set then you will set your ISO.

ISO

Controls the brightness of the image.

Generally between 100 - 6400

100 will let the least amount of light in while 6400 will let more light in.

ISO effects the amount of noise or grain in your image. On bright sunny days I will use 100 which has the least amount of noise. When Iâ€™m indoors or dark areas I will use 1200 or so but how much noise do I want in my image? If you go too high then you may introduce more noise than you want.

Based on what I have for my aperture and shutter speed set for, I will adjust my ISO to compensate for more or less light.

You can also do auto ISO if you know the light is going to be changing a lot. So your camera will decide for you.

If you want more detailed information on each of these individually I have the blog articles here: ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

How they work together

Since they all control light you can use any of the settings to adjust the amount of light to get the exposure properly exposed.

Just know what that means for depth of field or speed of your subject when you start adjusting. Once you know how they all work together it will be easier to get the image you want.

If you adjust your shutter speed from 1/250 to 1/1000 you will have to add more light. You can do this by increasing your aperture (which is a smaller number) or you can increase your ISO but you will introduce more noise in your image.

If you adjust your ISO from 6400 to 400 then you will need to add more light in other ways like decreasing your shutter speed or increasing your aperture (smaller number).

If you adjust your aperture from f/11 to f/1.4 then you will need to decrease the amount of light. You can do this by increasing your shutter speed or decreasing your ISO.

As you can see, when you adjust one of the 3 settings you will need to adjust one or both of the other settings. They all work together to get the exposure correct.

They each have positives and negatives as you adjust them though. You will need to consider the amount of noise for ISO, the speed of your subject for shutter speed and what you want in or out of focus for your aperture.

Types of Photography

If Iâ€™m going to do any of the following types of photography I will start with a base setting and then adjust from there. I do mostly portraits and landscape so I will focus on those first.

Portraits

Iâ€™m going to start at

ISO: 100-400 depending on the light

Shutter Speed: 1/125 - 1/200

I would increase this if my subject will be moving like children in family photos (start at 1/400 for families).

I also look at what lens I am using and double the focal length to get the lowest shutter speed to add more light.

For my 85mm I will want to be above 1/160.

Aperture: f/1.8 - f/4

I want my subject to be the only thing in focus with a blurred background. For families I would be around f/4 or f/5.6 for bigger families. I want to make sure everyone is in focus.

Landscapes

Iâ€™m going to start at

ISO: 100 - 200

Depending on time of day and how much light I have (sunny, cloudy, dark, middle day) Usually I like to shoot landscapes one hour before and after the sunrise or sunset. This will give you the best possible light.

Iâ€™ve really come to LOVE blue hour (one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset).

Shutter Speed: 1/125 - 1/400

Based on what lens you are using, double that and start with that like I said earlier.

Aperture: f11 (this is where I like to be for my sweet spot)

Someone told me a while back that my aperture was too large in some of my landscape images and after looking at them I realized they were right. (I was at f/5.6 a lot) Itâ€™s nice to have others look at your images and give you feedback.

In the end it is your decision on what style you like but it doesnâ€™t hurt to listen to the feedback and try their suggestions first. I do tend to like a soft look though so I donâ€™t mind opening my aperture up a bit.

Sports

Iâ€™ve done a lot more with sports since my boys are active athletes.

They play baseball, football and basketball. Lighting can be super tricky because you donâ€™t get to pick the conditions, time of day or location. You are at the mercy of what you are given.

Iâ€™ll talk outdoor sports first

ISO: 400 because I know I will need a fast shutter speed and have less light because of this

Shutter Speed: at least 1/800 - 1/1200

Aperture: f/4 to start, I may adjust this to f/2.8 or f/5.6

I usually have a zoom lens because I wonâ€™t be close to the team. I would recommend having at least an 85 - 200mm lens preferably longer if you can.

Next is indoor sports like basketball or volleyball

I would highly suggest that you have a lens that has a large aperture at least 2.8, bigger if you can.

Shutter Speed: at least 1/800 - 1/1200

This is why you need a large aperture and high ISO because you need to freeze the action in sports

Aperture: f/2.8 which is common for indoor but go as big as you can

Astrophotography

Shutter Speed: 20 seconds and I might adjust to 25 or 30 seconds.

You will need a tripod. It would be helpful to either have a shutter release or set the 2 second self timer.

Aperture: f/2.8 or bigger

Use the largest aperture you can with the widest lens you have.

Long Exposure

Just like with astro you will need a tripod because you are using a slow shutter speed.

I would use ISO 100

Shutter speed would be around 10 seconds to begin with.

You may need to use bulb mode depending on how long you want to have it open. Typically 30 seconds is the most your camera will go then you have to use bulb mode.

If you are doing long exposure during the day you will need a neutral density filter like a 10 stop or 3 or 5 stop.

Sunburst

If I want a sunburst then I would use an aperture of f/22 (remember you would have to change other settings because this will darken your image by quite a lot). So either a high ISO or slower shutter speed.

Know the rules before you can break them.

I just went through all the information regarding the exposure triangle and different scenarios. I feel that you need to know the rules before you can break them.

In the end, Photography is art. YOU get to decide what you want your image to look like. Take these rules, learn them and know them and then decide what you want your image to look like.

You arenâ€™t always going to use a certain setting in every situation but you will need to know what to change to get the desired effect you are looking for.

So go out and start shooting to keep practicing and practicing. The biggest thing you can do to learn photography is go out and practice.

Have a fabulous day!