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The basic settings in photography: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO - The exposure triangle

Many people use their camera in automode, but once you know how to master the (semi) manual mode, you’ll get really amazed about what you can get out of your photography. A lot of the configuration might sound scary at first, but once you get to know the composition and influence of the exposure triangle in your work, a whole new world will open up to you. Today I’ll be your guide in all this.

The exposure... what? Indeed, the exposure triangle, or your aperture, together with shutter speed and ISO. These three settings will determine the lighting in your picture, but all in their very own approach. Once you go (semi) manual, these settings will become your true partners in crime. That’s why it’s very important to know each setting’s very own characteristics and their outcome.


Aperture

This one is also often called the f-value. When you go into the semi manual mode of this one, you will set the aperture yourself, while your camera will assist you by setting the shutter speed and ISO itself. When you go fully manual, you’ll have to set all three settings yourself. The same principle applies to the semi manual shutter speed mode, where you set the shutter speed and your camera will take care of aperture and ISO.


But well, let’s assume we go fully manual by starting with the aperture. Every camera displays this value. When you work with lenses, it’s the lens that will determine your f-value, for example F1,4. Every camera or lens has a fixed range. It is perfectly possible that yours only starts at f3,5. This value controls the opening of your lens, like the iris in your eye. The lower the value, the more open your lens will be and the more light that will be captured. The higher this value, the closer it’ll be and the less light your camera will get.


And still there is more to say about what aperture does. The width will also affect the amount of blur around your object, also called bokeh. A low f-value will bring a lot of blur and can make it sometimes a bit difficult to maintain general sharpness on your object, though it certainly just can be part of your personal style. I mostly work between f1,4 and f2,8.

Shutter speed

Next up there is shutter speed. This setting will set the time span in which your picture will be taken, so how long your camera will be opened during the shot. This value can for example look like 1/250, which means your camera will remain open for 250th of a second. A value like 1/2 means half of a second. The value can even be 10, 20 or 30. Once the “1/“ disappears, we talk in effective seconds.


The higher you set this value, the faster your image will be taken, so the less light in your picture but also the more sharpness you might get. When you set a lower value, the camera will open longer, allow more light to enter but it might also capture more movement then and thus less sharpness. As well as with aperture, a too low shutter speed can also just be a part of your style. It is often used for example to catch light trails of moving cars at night. If you want to use this method, a tripod on a steady surface is highly recommended, in combination with a remote trigger or the self timer on your camera.


ISO

And last but not least, there is the ISO. This one will add digital light to your image. The higher this value, the more light and the lower, the less. The only huge disadvantage is that a too high value can add a lot of digital noise. Among professional photographers this is seen as the biggest threat towards quality, however - once again - this can also be a part of your personal style. The lower you can keep this value, the more freedom you’ll have in post processing your pictures.


How I prefer to work?

As said before, the core of my style is based on a low aperture, somewhere between f1,4 and f2,8. That’s why I initially will go semi manual under aperture mode. To avoid that my camera will exaggerate in therms of shutter speed and ISO, my camera is set with a limit for the shutter speed at 1/125 and ISO at 1600. At concert or clublife photography it happens quite often that these settings don’t add enough light. That’s the point where I will go fully manual, now and then together with a remote flash.

Oh, and also this

If you are planning on post processing your work, consider to work in RAW instead of JPEG. RAW will gather deeper details which will give you way more options in post, while JPEG is only a compressed version of your RAW with less data. Before making this decision, also check whether your devices and programs can read RAW.

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Matthias De Boeck

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