What is Exposure?

Light meter to create proper exposure

Exposure sounds like this great big term in photography that you just have to understand in order to get amazing photos but really all exposure means is an image!

Exposure really isn’t hard to understand in terms of photography the Exposure Triangle on the other hand can be a little difficult to master. 

The exposure triangle is the foundation of understanding photography. Every camera (even your camera phone) utilizes three elements – Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO – and balances them to create an “exposure” aka image. 

When you shoot in auto mode your camera makes the decisions for you to balance the three elements of the exposure triangle based on the scene you are photographing and the available light. 

When learning how to shoot in manual mode  you use – Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO – to get your light meter to be at O, aka proper exposure.

What is a light meter?

To find your light meter look through your viewfinder.  It should be that little line graph at the bottom that looks a little like this: – 2 . . . 1 . . . 0 . . .1 . . .2 + (there should be a little flashing vertical line or “ticker” underneath the graph, this is what you are adjusting) **Please make sure you check on your light meter which side the + and – signs are on. My example is for Canons. Nikons look like this + 2 . . . 1 . . . 0 . . . 1 . . . 2 – **

Light meter to create proper exposure

Using aperture, shutter speed and ISO there are many different ways to achieve proper exposure. And because the settings are different each photo taken will have a slightly different look or style.  The degree of lightness will be the same, but there might be more or less background blur, motion blur, or noise, depending on the settings you used.

When shooting in manual mode, you will set exposure by taking your first photo, assessing its exposure & adjusting your settings from there. Starting with the meter at 0 is where we generally shoot at the beginning of our lives on manual.

Your Goal when taking a Picture is to get your Light Meter to Read 0.

And with enough practice, you’ll realize that you end up adjusting exposure one way or the other more often than not. For me I like to shoot “one stop over” making my pictures a little brighter. This is a personal preference that you will develop over time. 

exposure example 2
exposure example 3
exposure example 1

Note that I kept aperture and shutter speed consistent for each photo above. I used ISO to change the exposure by different degrees above and below 0 on the meter. This only works because I was in good light – I hadn’t reached my maximum ISO yet. If I had already been shooting at my maximum ISO, I would have needed to adjust exposure using either Aperture or Shutter Speed.

To See How Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO work to create an Exposure Check out My Exposure Cheat Sheets!

Exposure Triangle & Metering
Exposure Triangle Explained

That’s it! Of course, you will want to expand your knowledge and learn everything you can to help you take great photos. Check out Understanding Aperture, Understanding Shutter Speed or Understanding ISO to learn how to adjust each of these settings to create a perfect exposure. Enjoy your camera and get out there and practice!

You can check out what gear I use daily by visiting My Equipment Page.

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