Tackle the Exposure Triangle Part 1 Photography Tutorial

I have a secret. Well, after this article it won’t be a secret anymore. But I know I will feel better after sharing this with you all. I know there are going to be some of you that can relate. And then there are going to be some of you that will scratch your head and wonder how I could have been so uneducated.

I had a great Canon Rebel for a few years that took photos of my kids that I would frame proudly. With this Canon Rebel, I had been asked to shoot a friend’s wedding and several friend’s children. I started my business with this same Canon Rebel. I took great photos with it, so why not? I was doing great when I first started. I had a steady stream of clients and I was so happy with how my little business was doing. But then I started noticing that there was something lacking in my work. I was making a huge mistake that many of you are making right now. I know you are making this mistake because I can see it when I look at your work. And it has absolutely nothing to do with my camera body. I was taking photos in AUTO mode and was scared to death to learn MANUAL. I was scared I would forget what to do. I was scared I would mess everything up since I was now in charge. I was scared of failing. After all, AUTO had gotten me by for this long, why switch now? Why? Because if you are not in control of your camera, you need to stop now and learn to be. Only you and your creative eye can and should determine what the final image should look like. And to do that, you need to start with setting it up in camera. In order to start shooting in manual, you must first learn some of the basics. By the way, I didn’t upgrade that Rebel until I mastered manual shooting. I knew it didn’t matter what fancy camera I had if I didn’t know how to use it first. 

The Exposure Triangle

Let’s start first with the Exposure Triangle. 3 simple points that come together to create a properly exposed photo.

Tackle the Exposure Triangle Part 1 Photography Tutorial

1. Higher ISO will bring in more light
2. Lower ISO brings in less light
Shutter Speed
1. Slower (smaller number) brings in more light
2. Faster (larger number) brings in less light
Smaller f/stop number brings in more light
Larger f/stop number brings in less light


Aperture refers to the opening in the lens that lets light in. The amount of light let in is controlled by the f-stops on the lens that you are using. Aperture is measured in f-stops…1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.8, 3.2…. Photos taken with a smaller f-stop (how low it goes will depend on which lens you have) let in more light, allowing you to take pictures in situations where there is not a lot of light (like indoors and at night). A small aperture will also give you a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field is what creates that dreamy background, called bokeh. Depth of Field (DoF) is the distance between the closest objects in focus and the furthest point of focus. The distance can be increased or decreased by changing the aperture of the lens.

For my Canon, I have a small dial on the back of my camera to control the aperture. Changing these f-stops helps you achieve the look you want. Quite often, you can only open your camera up to 3.5 with the standard lens that comes with your camera. I always suggest purchasing a 50mm 1.8 lens to go in any camera bag. It opens up wider than the kit lens and is incredibly affordable (usually around $100.00 for both Nikon and Canon).

Aperture for this photo was 2.0. She’s in focus and the background has that creamy look I like. 

Tackle the Exposure Triangle Part 1 Photography Tutorial

Simple Tip: Keep your aperture set to the same number of people you are shooting. If you are shooting 4 people, keep your f/stop at 4.0 or higher. If you are only shooting one person, I suggest only going as far down as 2.8 when starting out. Just because your lens can go as wide open as 1.8, that doesn’t mean you should shoot that wide open. With the 50mm 1.8 lens, 2.8 tends to be the sweet spot, meaning that’s the f-spot where you will find great clarity. If your lens only goes as low as 3.5, you can easily do that with one person, but it won’t give you that same dreamy background.

That’s it. You’ve just read the basics to understanding aperture. Our next post will be all about Shutter Speed and ISO. Then we’ll be able to put it all together and you can have more confidence shooting in Manual. I promise you that if you aren’t, you need to. And if you are but you just aren’t understanding it, reading through this will help you.

Amy Phipps - Pretty PresetsAmy Phipps is the photographer behind On the Phippside Photography, located in Stockton, California.  Amy has been married for 21 years and has 4 children.  When she’s not trying to decide between which of her 43 black shirts to wear, you can probably find her sipping on a Dr. Pepper and walking around any day of the year in flip flops.

Visit her website.



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