Beginners in photography might have heard the term ‘exposure triangle’ more times than they can count and rightly so. While it may sound like a complex mathematical formula, it is much easier and simpler to work with. It is a concept that most photographers struggle with. However, photographers who have mastered the exposure triangle find half of their work done as they can control the most important element of photography- light. Let’s find out what exactly is the exposure triangle and how can you make it work for you!

exposure triangle

Photo by: Mark Harpur

What is the Exposure Triangle?

Exposure is the amount of light reaching the image sensor of your camera. It can be determined and controlled by the three settings in your camera-shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (film sensitivity to light)- which together form the holy trifecta of photography, better known as the ‘exposure triangle’.

The triangle is essentially the result of how the combination of these three settings creates an exposure. It controls how much light enters (Aperture), for how long it can enter (Shutter Speed), and how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to the light (ISO). All three aspects are measured in stops of light or fractions of stops. Whenever you adjust one it will change your exposure, and so knowing how each affects the light in your photograph is very important in choosing how you make adjustments. It is at this intersection, where these three elements cross paths, that the perfect exposure is found.


Why the Exposure Triangle Is Important?

Mastering the three settings of the exposure triangle and understanding how they are interrelated helps you perfectly expose your photographs. More importantly, it is essential for artistic expression. You may want a creamy bokeh effect, freeze motion, or shoot in low light. Knowing the exposure triangle allows you to achieve your creative expressions while still correctly exposing your photographs.

Let’s understand these settings in detail:


ISO stands for the International Standards Organization and it is the standardized industry scale for measuring sensitivity to light. Now the question is how does it work and how can you leverage it to have good exposure in your photos.

The ISO settings are dependent on the light level that you have while shooting your photo. There is a simple trick to use your ISO. Lower ISO is used in brighter conditions and higher ISO  is used in low light conditions.

ISO is the amount of noise, or graininess, that you will allow in your photo in a trade-off for proper exposure. So the more your ISO, the grainier your photos become.

2. Aperture

Your aperture controls the size of the opening in your lens that allows light to reach your camera’s sensor. Think of this as opening the window in a house. The wider the opening, the more light comes in. Your aperture settings are determined using a series of f-stop values on your camera. The smaller the f-stop, the wider the opening will be –and the more light will be allowed in. So f/2.8 is a wider aperture than f/16.

exposure triangle

Photo by Simon Migaj

The aperture doesn’t just control light. It also adjusts the depth of field in your composition. So for a narrower depth of field, where everything in your image is clear and in-focus, you’ll want to use a smaller aperture (a bigger number) –like f/11. On the other hand, using a wider aperture (smaller number) –like f/2.8 will let more light in; resulting in a more narrow field of focus.

exposure triangle

Photo by: Anton Petrov

3. Shutter Speed

Your shutter speed determines how long your camera’s sensor is exposed to the light. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second for normal photography or seconds for long exposure photography. The fastest DSLR cameras have a fast shutter speed limit of 1/8000th of a second. The longest shutter speed limit, without using a cable release or remote is normally 30 seconds.

exposure triangle

Photo by: Anders Jilden

The light impressions that the camera sensor picks up, during the time where the shutter curtain is open, is what translates into a digital image. If you get too much light to the camera sensor because a slow shutter speed will result in an image that is too bright, and therefore overexposed. If you get too little light, your image will become underexposed.

exposure triangle

Long exposure is used for images like these. Photo by: Robert Lukeman

Shutter speed can be used creatively as well. Landscape photographers use a slow shutter speed as a way to show the movement in waves, clouds or even grass. This is done by using a tripod to ensure that the camera will remain static, so the movement that occurs while the shutter is open only comes from the elements in the scene. With fast shutter speed, you can freeze high motion action while getting sharp images.

exposure triangle

Fast shutter speed is used in fast action photographs. Photo by: Pietro Mattia

The Rule of Equivalent Exposures

The combination of the above settings will set the exposure for your photograph. While there is only one combination for each image, the means to achieve the same exposure might vary. One such way is to follow the rule of equivalent exposures. This rule states that if you cut the light by half in one way, you must double it in another to retain the same level of brightness.

Practice and follow the above rules to get the right exposure for your image! You can upload your images on and win amazing prizes!


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