What is Exposure? A Beginner’s Guide

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Every advanced and professional photographer today absolutely needs to learn how to use exposure in photography. When your first start taking pictures, you might be confused by the countless buttons, menus, and setting options on your camera. However, there is no excuse for using bad in-camera exposure. By understanding how to expose an image properly, you will be able to capture photographs of the ideal rightness, including high levels of detail in both the shadows an highlight areas. This post explains in detail, as well as helping you to understand the three most important camera settings of all: shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

What is exposure in cameras?

In photography, exposure is the amount of light which reaches your camera sensor or film. It is a crucial part of how bright or dark your pictures appear.

There are only two camera settings that affect the actual “luminous exposure” of an image: shutter speed and aperture. The third setting, camera ISO, also affects the brightness of your photos, and it is equally important to understand. Also, you can brighten or darken a photo by editing it in post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom on your computer.

It sounds basic, but exposure is a topic which confuses even advanced photographers. The reason is simple: For every scene, a wide range of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings will result in a photo of the proper brightness. You haven’t “mastered exposure” once you can take a photo that’s the right brightness. Even your camera’s Auto mode will do that most of the time. Instead, getting the proper exposure for a photo is about balancing those three settings so the rest of the photo looks good, from depth of field to sharpness.

If you really want to master exposure, reading about it isn’t enough. You also need to go out into the field and practice what you’ve learned. There’s no quick-and-dirty way to pick up a skill like this. But if you can lay a solid groundwork, you’ll be at a huge advantage when you go out and practice it for yourself. The goal of this series of comprehensive posts are to teach you all the basics that you need to know about exposure. Stay tuned for a post about Shutter Speed.


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