[FINAL Part] Photography Basics – Understanding Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

Did You Find This Article Useful? Why Not Share It Then?Share on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook

We have come to the final part of this 9-part series discussing Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. I hope you have read all the previous 8-parts and have understood the concepts. If you haven’t, then I recommend you to go through each part one by one. Understanding Exposure will open up whole new possibilities in your photographic career. Here is the link to past-8 parts for ease of navigation:

  1. Part-I – Basics of Exposure
  2. Part-II – How to achieve optimum Exposure for different scenes
  3. Part-III – Effects of filters on Exposure
  4. Part-IV – Exposure Triangle
  5. Part-V – Aperture
  6. Part-VI – Depth-of-Field (DOF)
  7. Part-VII – Shutter Speed
  8. Part-VIII – ISO

Let us wrap up this long series by looking at how to use three pillars of Photographic Exposure – Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO to achieve the optimum exposure and aesthetically pleasing photographs. Let us recap the most important aspect of photographic exposure – exposure triangle.

Exposure Triangle

Exposure is a combination of 3 important elements, namely – Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. This is usually represented in a form of a Triangle: Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Exposure Triangle. It can also be represented with a simple equation like this: Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure, Shutter Speed, and ISO. If we look at the Exposure Triangle or the simple equation, we understand that any changes made to the Aperture, Shutter Speed or ISO results in change in Exposure. Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO have the predefined standard values that are used by all the manufacturers. Aperture is represented in f-stops and the standard values are:

f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32 …

Each Aperture value allows

  • Double the light compared to next Aperture value, and
  • Half the light compared to previous Aperture value

Shutter Speed is depicted in seconds or fraction of a second, and the standard values are:

30 sec, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1, ½, ¼, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 …

Each Shutter Speed value allows

  • Double the light compared to next Shutter speed value, and
  • Half the light compared to previous Shutter speed value

Standard ISO values are:

ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 …

Each ISO value

  • Doubles the sensitivity of the Sensor compared to its previous value, and
  • Halves the sensitivity of the Sensor compared to its next value

Understanding the doubling and halving of light is the most important aspect in understanding Exposure. Below diagram summarizes the doubling and halving effect of each of these three parameters. Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO.

Effects of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

Aperture affects the Depth of Field (DOF) in a photograph. If you want deeper DOF, you will choose smaller Aperture settings like f/11, f/16, f/22, etc. On the other hand, if you need Shallower DOF (or Bokeh) you have to choose larger Aperture settings like f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.8, etc. Shutter Speed helps to either freeze the action or blur the action. Freezing or blurring the action depends on the speed at which the action takes place. For instance, you can freeze the current in the water by choosing a shutter speed of 1/25 and above. To freeze the action of bird in flight you may need 1/500 and above. ISO helps to either choose the required Aperture or the Shutter Speed setting depending on the scene.

Which Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Setting is Best for Your Photography?

Well, it depends on the scene! Let us take a look at different possibilities and the recommended settings that you can choose for your photography needs.

Settings for Landscape Photography

If you need Deep DOF in your landscape photographs, then choose:

  • Smaller Apertures like f/11, f/16, f/22 (remember that smallest apertures tend to introduce diffraction and soft effect)
  • Shutter Speed based on the Aperture setting and the available light
  • Low ISO like 100, 200
  • Use Tripod

You must use tripod if you aim to take sharper images.

Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure. Deep Depth of Field. Autumn road to Agate Falls in Upper Peninsula.

I have achieved Deep Depth of Field (DOF) using small Aperture value of f/9, Shutter speed of 1/25, and ISO 100. I have used Tripod to keep get sharper image from foreground till background

If you need Shallow DOF in your landscape photographs (mostly close-ups), then choose:

  • Larger Apertures like f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.8
  • Shutter Speed based on the Aperture setting and the available light
  • Low ISO like 100, 200
Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure. Shallow Depth of Field, DOF.

Here I have achieved Shallow Depth of Field (DOF) by using Aperture value of f/4, Shutter speed of 1/1000, and ISO 100.
Observe that the blade of grass in the bottom is out of focus though it was only few cms from the Dragonfly!

Note: In Landscape Photography, generally the choice of Aperture drives the exposure.

Settings for Wildlife/Bird Photography

To freeze the birds in action, choose:

  • Higher Shutter Speeds like 1/500 , 1/1000, etc to avoid any camera shake and/or motion blur
  • Larger Apertures like f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.8 to enable faster shutter speeds
  • Lowest possible ISO to accommodate the required aperture and shutter speed setting

You may use tripod to avoid camera shake or flash to gain more shutter speed or fill flash to cut down the unwanted shadows.

Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure. Using Shutter Speed to freeze the action.

Freezing the action is the most challenging and rewarding task in action photography. Aperture of f/4 and ISO of 320 helped me to gain on the Shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second to freeze the landing action of this Bald Eagle

Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure. Shutter Speed to freeze the action.

In this early morning photograph of a Common Raven perching on a high tension electric wire, I have used a higher Shutter speed of 1/2500th of a second to freeze the action.
Since Sun was low in the horizon and was soft, I chose larger Aperture value f/2.8 and higher ISO value of 640 in order to get Shutter speed of 1/2500

To blur the birds in action, choose:

  • Slower Shutter Speeds like 1/60 , 1/125, etc to avoid any camera shake but introduce motion blur
  • Middle Apertures like f/5.6, f/8, etc to enable slower shutter speeds
  • Lowest possible ISO to accommodate the required aperture and shutter speed setting

You may use tripod with Gimbal head to avoid camera shake while tracking the subject, since the slower shutter speeds generally yield to camera shake.

Settings for Waterfall/Cloudscape/Seascape Photography

Waterfalls, Cloudscapes, and Seascapes generally require Deep DOF clubbed with slower Shutter Speeds. It is a common technique to blur the action in the photograph to create a surrealistic effect. You can choose the below settings:

  • Slower Shutter Speeds, usually less than a Second
  • Smaller Apertures like f/11, f/16, etc to enable slower shutter speeds and to get deep DOF
  • Low ISO like 100, 200

Tripod is a must for long exposure photography.

Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure. Slower Shutter Speed and Long Exposure photography.

Waterfalls and Seascapes are probably most favorite subjects for Landscape Photographers. They generally look pretty or surrealistic when they are captured with long exposures.
In this photograph of Indiana Dunes beach, I have used a slower Shutter speed of 2 second, Aperture value of f/11, and ISO 100.
Shutter speeds of 8 or 15 seconds would have cut down all the ripples in the water making it surrealistic

Conclusion

Understanding photographic exposure requires you to understand all the concepts described in each part. As always you need to practice.

Unless you practice, any amount of reading will be waste of time and energy. Try manipulating the exposure just by changing the Aperture and see how it affects the final result. Repeat the same thing with Shutter Speed and ISO. Once you are able to change Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO independently then it is not tough to change them together to achieve the required exposure.

Make mistakes! Learn by mistakes. Don’t stick to optimum exposure alone. Try intentional underexposure, overexposure, multiple exposure, long exposure, etc. You will be stunned with the resulting images.

You will enjoy it for sure. So, we came to an end of a very long series over a lengthy period of time! I hope you enjoyed the series.

Nature Photography Simplified. Understanding Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO eBook. Written by Prathap.

Buy Printable version of Understanding Exposure (9-Part Series) for $1.99 USD only! Contact prathapdk@gmail.com for payment details.

 

 

Did You Find This Article Useful? Why Not Share It Then?Share on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook

, , , , , ,

6 Responses to [FINAL Part] Photography Basics – Understanding Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

  1. Suresh July 12, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    In this article, while summarising shutter speed – I feel double the light is a typo. Should it not be Double the Duration?

    • Prathap July 12, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

      Dear Suresh, In this article I have used slightly different context. I am explaining it in terms of allowed light instead of duration. I wanted to bring out the similarities between Aperture and Shutter speed doubling and halving mechanisms.
      Double the duration of Shutter speed is tuned such a way that it allows double the light on to the Sensor.
      So, both explanations hold true. I hope it is clear now.

  2. Mohan Kumar K August 8, 2014 at 4:33 am #

    Hii Prathap,

    Fell in love with photography around a year back. Have been going through couples of photography related sites. By far, this is one of the best I’ve come across. Don’t know why, but comfotable to read & simple to understand. Eventhough few topics go above my head, but still love this blog. Thank you.

    Mohan Kumar

    • Prathap August 8, 2014 at 11:21 am #

      Dear Mohan Kumar…Thanks a lot for your kind words! I really appreciate for taking time to write your feedback. It definitely fuels my passion.

  3. suresh raut June 3, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

    I would like to buy or book on photography specially the arrival category u mention. I am Mumbai residing. Tell me the Rs among I will transfer money to or account. Because roller payment bitt difficult.

    • Prathap June 4, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

      Hi Suresh, I have sent the details to your mail. Please check and reply. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Download our Bird Photography FREE eBook Today!

x