The Perfect Exposure

Hey Guys! Freddy here with some tips on how capture a photo with good exposure with your DSLR.

Getting the correct exposure is definitely a tricky thing to grasp. Even after you understand all the parts that affect exposure it is only with a lot of practice that you can become more comfortable and fluid with it while you shoot. Exposure depends a lot on the environment you are shooting in. Are you outside, inside, is it cloudy, direct sun, do you have incandescent lighting, LED lights illuminating the area you want to shoot? You could have your setting set for the perfect exposure on a nice sunny day and all of the sudden one cloud could make all of your images too dark to use. So while I can’t explain what to do in every kind of scenario I can give you the information to reference so that you can figure your way out of any lighting situation to  get the perfect exposure.

So what is exposure? Essentially exposure is the amount of light you let into the sensor of your camera. So, the more light you let in the brighter the photo and the less light you let in the darker the photo. With a DSLR there are three main parts that affect exposure. They are: shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO


Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter stays open to let in light to the sensor. Shutter speed is commonly shown in fractions of a second on your camera. For example if you see a setting on your camera that says 1/500, 1/250, 1/15, etc. this is your shutter speed.

Since shutter speed is shown as a fraction that means that the smaller the denominator the longer the exposure. For example a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second is a much shorter amount of time than 1/30th of a second. So, 1/500th of a second will let in much less light and produce a much darker image than 1/30th of a second. With that being said it is also important to remember that the longer the exposure time, the blurrier the image will be. Especially if the subject is moving in any way. Other photographers have told me not to shoot under 1/60th because anything below that and you will see blurriness and shake caused by your body's natural movement. As my own personal rule, I try to not go lower than 1/250 unless I have a tripod or I can set the camera on something stable.

Below is a graphic you can reference when you need to determine what shutter speed is right for you.




The exact definition of aperture, according to google, is: a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera. The aperture setting on your camera controls how much light is let in by varying the size of the opening of the lens after it passes through the glass. Aperture is expressed in terms of focal length (f/x). The smaller the number the larger the opening of the aperture resulting in a brighter image because more light is entering the camera.

Its is also very important to remember that the smaller the number the shallower the depth of field will be. That means that at f/11 and higher the area of the photo that is in focus is fairly large and lower at f/4 and below.

The graphic below can give you a visual and help you determine what aperture setting will give you the final images you want.




Lets not forget ISO. This is one of the settings that a lot of beginning photographers forget about. Also, depending on your camera this could be a setting that you have to search for within a menu in your camera settings or a combination of two or more buttons on the body of the camera.

The ISO will affect the brightness of your images while also directly affecting the quality. Like many of the other settings on your camera, we could go very in depth to explain ISO but for the purposes of this being a quick reference let's just keep it simple. The higher the ISO the brighter the resulting image will be. Unfortunately, as the ISO increases so will the noise and bring the quality of your images down. Noise is that grainy, pixelated look you have probably see in some night time photography. I am in no way saying that it's an awful thing because we done right it can give the image an interesting effect and for a lot of images it works. However this is usually not the case.

I try to keep my ISO settings below 800. Anything above that and you will start to see significant amounts of noise. In general the lower the ISO the sharper the images will be. I usually alter my ISO last, when I have already set my aperture and shutter speed to the brightness options (while still keeping the subject in focus and not blurry), and take a few test shots as I increase my ISO to make sure the quality is still good.

Take a look below for a visual of what I mean.


Ok, so now you might be wondering how do even know where to start? Do I just keep shooting and changing my settings until I get a good exposure? Well lucky for us, most if not all new DSLR cameras have an internal light meter that you can see while looking through the viewfinder. Look through the viewfinder and push down the shutter like you are about to take a photo but hold it half way. This will activate the camera's internal light meter and show you if the image you are about to take is over, under, or properly exposed. This is just a guess of what your camera thinks should be the correct exposure. At this point it is a good idea to take a few test shots and look at the images you are creating. From here you decised what looks best. Just because a photo is perfectly exposed doesn't mean that it's an amazing photo. Depending on what you are shooting and in what environment you are shooting in, it will be up to you to decide what you want to show us and adjust your settings so that you show us what is important in that image.

Now, go out and start shooting! The more you do it the more comfortable you will become. You will even get to a point where you can just look at a scenario and without using your camera or a light meter, determine what the perfect exposure will be.

Good luck and have fun shooting!

By: Freddy Cisneros