Photography 101: Exposure

Photography 101 Back to Basics is a series of posts I’ve wanted to do for some time. Whether you’re a professional photographer, a photography enthusiast, or simply own a camera, we all play by the same basic photography principles.

For the next twelve months, I will address twelve photography basics – one a month – in addition to my other biweekly posts. So let’s kick off this series by looking at that most basic of photography building blocks – exposure.

The truth is some of you purchased your camera for the very reason of not having to worry about exposure; and there is nothing wrong with that. Somewhere amidst the knobs, buttons, and dials on your digital camera is one that will allow you to shoot your photographs in automatic mode. In other words, you press the button, and your camera does the rest.

However, you don’t have to shoot many pictures to realize that the “right” settings aren’t always the “best” settings in order to capture the picture you desire.

The two photos below were taken within seconds of each other at North Carolina’s National Seashore, Cape Lookout. The photo on the top was made using the “right” exposure settings as determined by my Nikon D90 in automatic mode. For the photo below it, however, I simply adjusted the exposure to better capture the photo I had in my mind’s eye. While both photos are acceptable, they are completely different in their effect.

Photography 101: Exposure

Photography 101: Exposure

Exposure is simply how much light you permit to reach your photograph when making it; it is how light or dark your picture is. If you allow too much light it will wash out the highlight details and be overly bright (over exposed). If you allow too little light it will muddy the shadow details and be overly dark (under exposed).

Fortunately, most of our cameras these days are amazing at determining the “correct” exposure when set on automatic mode. But even more fortunately, a good DSLR camera will allow us to manipulate the exposure to better balance the technical and the creative.

The best way to control the exposure in a photograph is to understand, and adjust accordingly, the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Beginning next month, we’ll tackle each of these in a separate post.