Learn Exposure Triangle: Creative photography

Exposure Triangle

Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO

Most budding photographers freak out at the mention of aperture priority or shutter priority modes. They simply cannot come to terms with the fact that in order to take a picture they have to turn a bunch of dials and press a few buttons.

The decision to switch from a Point & Shoot camera to a DSLR all of a sudden seems such a horrible one.

Well, I can guarantee you this. Once you have read through these few paragraphs, you would not only be able to make great quality images using any of the priority modes but also be able to get the necessary confidence to finally step up to full manual shooting.

Yes, manual shooting, something you thought is only reserved for pro shooters, people with big cameras and thousand dollar lenses.

Well, there is no such thing as a tip for pros only. Everything that I am going to tell you is fundamental to all types of photography and apply to your humble DSLR camera as much as it does to a pro DSLR.

First let’s answer a not so simple question: “Why do I need to learn how to shoot in one of the priority modes?”

The thing is your DSLR camera wasn’t meant to shoot only in auto mode or program mode or whatever they call it these days. The thing is these ‘dumb’ modes are only for those who are lazy enough to treat their DSLRs as point and shoot cameras. It’s like buying a corvette and driving it five miles to work every day.

Basically, what I am trying to say is until and unless you know how to use these two modes and then finally graduate on to full manual shooting, you will never realize the true potential that your camera has to offer you.

It’s like buying a corvette and driving it five miles to work every day. Basically, what I am trying to say is until and unless you know how to use these two modes and then finally graduate on to full manual shooting, you will never realize the true potential that your camera has to offer you.

Canon EOS 1200D by Kārlis Dambrāns

Canon EOS 1200D by Kārlis Dambrāns

Shutter priority and aperture priority are two of the most used shooting modes on a camera. They probably cover 60-70% of the shooting requirements for most photographers. You need to not only learn how to shoot in these two modes but also understand why you are choosing either of them over the auto mode.

1. Exposure Triangle: Shutter priority

The shutter priority mode is labeled on most cameras with either an S or a Tv symbol. Tv stands for Time Value. This mode allows you the freedom to choose the extent of time for which the lens aperture remains open and collect light. As you probably know by now, more light is better than less light. The shutter priority mode is used primarily in situations where you have less light.

Fantasy stream bottom of Inglis Falls by Gem Webb

Fantasy stream bottom of Inglis Falls by Gem Webb

Having said that, shutter priority mode is good for another reason and that is to create motion blur. Is motion blur good? Yes, it is. You have probably seen images of waterfalls or seascapes or fireworks or people moving in the streets or things like light trails. All of these are shot using a longer shutter speed than you would probably use in normal circumstances.

You have probably seen images of waterfalls or seascapes or fireworks or people moving in the streets or things like light trails. All of these are shot using a longer shutter speed than you would probably use in normal circumstances. Obviously, a longer shutter speed can be used when you have control over the shutter speed. In other

Obviously, a longer shutter speed can be used when you have control over the shutter speed. In other words, you are shooting in shutter priority mode.
When you set your camera on shutter priority mode and select a shutter speed that you want to shoot with, your camera automatically selects the right aperture that matches with it. I use the word matches but the more apt word is ‘balances’.

‘Balancing’ or rather ‘balancing an exposure’ is the term used when either you or the camera finds the right aperture and shutter speed combination in a given ISO to give you an exposure that is average.

Hang on a second what’s average? Well to understand that you need to understand something else –how does a camera meter a scene? That is something that I have already discussed elsewhere on this website. Take a look at that article before going any forward.

Ok, with the camera set to shutter priority you can thus decide how much of motion blur you want to capture in your images or in a low light situation manage to capture enough light over a really long exposure to make a proper exposure of a scene without having to jack up the ISO.

Jacking up the ISO is a bad thing because it induces noise. I will come to it shortly. But before that, I will explain why you need to shoot in aperture priority mode at certain times.

2. Exposure Triangle: Aperture priority

Aperture priority mode, as you may have guessed it by now is when you set your camera so that you can select the aperture you need. When you do so the camera automatically selects the ‘matching’ shutter speed. Aperture priority mode is denoted by the letter A or Av (Aperture Value) on most cameras.

portrait @ The High Line by Jason Eppink

portrait @ The High Line by Jason Eppink

Aperture priority is mostly used when the photographer wants to be able to control the depth of field. The depth of field is the extent of the image that is acceptably sharp. He can entrust the shutter speed aspect to be controlled by the camera. Having said that in manual mode you can control both aspects which

Having said that in manual mode you can control both aspects which is considered as the best mode for shooting creative photography.

Related Post: How to create a Bokeh (Blurred Background)

Shutter speed and aperture have an inverse relationship between them. When you increase aperture, I mean use a smaller f-stop, you will need to speed up the shutter speed to be able to balance the exposure. If you decrease the aperture (use a bigger f-stop) you will need to slow down the shutter speed.

When you understand how this combination works you can easily make balanced exposures in most lighting conditions.

At times, however, you will feel the need to shoot in manual mode which is the only mode that gives you the greatest creative freedom. E.g., you can capture both motion blur and a bigger depth of field at the same time by choosing a long shutter speed and bigger f-stop combination.

Additionally, you can bring in tools such as a neutral density filter which allows you to slow down the shutter speed even more. Slower a shutter speed, the more ‘movement’ you can capture.

This results in even more motion blur. You can shoot with a smaller f-stop in broad daylight or shoot long exposures in broad daylight that allows you to make unique images of common events.

3. Exposure Triangle: ISO

ISO is the last peg in the wheel that is called exposure. Though everybody recommends shooting at the lowest possible ISO, sometimes cranking the ISO isn’t such a bad thing.

ISO denotes how sensitive your sensor is. When you crank it up the sensitivity of your sensor does not go up, per se. What happens is that the camera amplifies the signals and boost it up.

For every stop of increase in ISO the requirement for light is halved. This is why higher ISO numbers are used mainly in low light conditions, night time photography, indoor photography and when shooting the Milky Way.

The bad thing about ISO is that when you crank it up, you also crank up noise. Noise or in this case digital noise is always present in photos. All sensors are affected by it. However, the worse affected are the smaller sensors especially when you use a higher ISO number.

Photographers have always looked for a balance between the right combination of ISO and the resulting noise. Needless to say, ISO gives them the option to shoot with a faster shutter speed or larger f-stop. But the resulting noise is a deal breaker at times.

Modern cameras come with extremely good noise handling capabilities. Backlight illumination technology e.g. ensures that smaller cameras perform equally well as larger full-frame cameras in low light technology.

Hope the above information have helped you grasp a good deal of information about the three basic elements of exposure. Now is the time to put that knowledge into action. Happy clicking!

Related Post: Understanding the Exposure Triangle

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Rajib

Rajib's love for the road is second only to his love for photography.
Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.

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Rajib

Rajib's love for the road is second only to his love for photography.
Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.

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