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Camera Basics 101: The Exposure Triangle


One of the first things you will want to get your head around in photography is understanding exposure. To do that you will need to learn some camera basics and master:

The Exposure Triangle

If this term has of yet eluded you, or you’re not quite ready to claim full mastery, here are three video tutorials to help you understand the basics of the exposure triangle including:

In this first video the host Mark Wallace (with Adorama TV) goes through all three of these elements and explains each briefly, and how they work together:

Mark also mentions this book in the video, as a good starting point for learning more about exposure.

Next up is Shoot in Manual Mode Pt. 1 – Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO – by photographer Sean von Tagen

Lastly is this video by a host whose name I couldn’t find. If you can get past his really monotone voice, the information is really good and should be easy to understand and follow.

If you want more reading, try these:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is the Managing Editor of dPS. She is also an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles, online photography classes, and travel tours. Get her free ebook 10 Photography Challenges to help you take better pictures or save $50 OFF on her Photo tour to Nicaragua (Nov. 26th - Dec. 9th) - by using the discount code: dps50nica and join her on an adventure!

  • dantefrizzoli

    Okay, something to think about. Thank you

  • Jesus Christ, would it kill the dPS MANAGING EDITOR to pay a TINY BIT of attention to grammar and punctuation?

  • We do not appreciate the use of such language on our site. If you have a comment or wish to tell me about something please do so in a manner this a bit more considerate. I am the editor. I do the best I can but I am not a writer or English major. If you see something that needs correcting just tell me and I will look at it. No need for such language and shouting please. Thank you.

  • Sorry Patrick I’ve taken another read of it and I can’t see any glaring errors.

  • Jenny

    If you can’t handle negative feedback, you should probably reconsider your line of work because like or not, publishing is one arena where freedom of expression still very much applies. Moreover, it would behoove you to remember that you’re the editor of what I can only presume to be an audited publication, not a personal blog or tumblr page where you can block or remove ‘offensive remarks’ whose “tone [you] don’t appreciate.” It’s your duty as an editor to adjudicate—impartially—and facilitate, a productive discussion of your editorial, both in terms of content and style, including syntax and grammar. Telling your reader that he or she is not allowed to critique your omission is akin to a chef throwing out his diners for giving a negative review of his cuisine. Or blaming poor execution of his dishes on his having never gone to culinary school or learned classical French techniques. It still doesn’t absolve him of his responsibility, which is to produce quality food; similarly an editor’s job is to proofread and vet an article before it goes to publication. You can respectfully disagree with your readers, but you should at least be open to honest feedback.

  • what a nice Piece of blog….
    good… keep it up.

    Paper Writing Service

  • Jason

    It’s the way he critiqued it. I don’t think she minds being corrected, but it should have been done in a nicer manner. Your post seems a bit much also. This is a place where people learn. There isn’t a need for people to get angry over Grammer mistakes. This site provides a lot of free information, who cares about Grammer mistakes.

  • Ndoloh

    Critiquing is allowed, however the way Patrick did it takes our focus from the usefulness of the content in this blog to something else more distasteful.
    Thank you Darlene for great content on photography.

  • Rob

    Thank you Darlene, I have read much but never really got a grip on the triangle. Those three videos really explained it.

  • Santosh Kumar Singh

    Patrick and Jenny…really?? Are the grammar errors in the post so glaring that it affected your ability to see past it and appreciate the tips. NEWS FLASH!!! People don’t come to this site to correct the grammar and punctuation but to learn about photography. So just limit your feedback to the tips and say it without yelling or being sarcastic.

  • Grammar mistakes??? Come on!! Your brain must be wired by now to skip those and pick up the useful facts.. This site is just awesome and no where can I find such useful tips. The articles are well written and easy to understand. Keep up the good work @darlenehildebrandt:disqus and team!!

  • Thanks for that.

  • Exactly! Do not curse at me and use all caps, just tell me the errors and I will fix them. Simple. I even asked and now he’s not replying. What am I missing here?

  • awesome!

  • Thanks Jenny, but go read my reply to Patrick again. I never said I wasn’t open just not to use that language and shout at me like I’m an idiot. It’s not pleasant to receive.

  • And just FYI the only comments we usually delete or moderate are:
    – ones that use profanities
    – ones that link to spammy things and products
    – ones that insult or are rude to another reader
    – ones that are inappropriate or belittle another person

  • asim khattak
  • asim khattak
  • Alan-James Hendry

    You lot are in the wrong discussion try one for the English language that should make you happy. This is for photographers who have a passion for what they do not English !!!!!

  • Jacinta

    Really enjoyed the videos here. Found the second one particularly useful given where I am at. Thanks!

  • yoinks

    I found this page to be incredibly helpful. I have been trying to figure out the relationships and trade-offs among aperture/shutter/ISO, and the videos explained this very well. Thanks!

  • yoinks


  • Donald Mesei

    Well done Sean…I enjoyed your video and it was very helpful.

  • Pavel Lukovic

    Thank You. Very nicely explained and useful for me. Now it is clear for me how it works.

  • Annie Honjo

    Excellent explanation of the most basic rules that have always confused me – I found these videos extremely helpful, thank you Darlene!

  • Betty Joh

    i follow Darlene before she began as editor of DPS because of photography not of english grammar… always was very clear and good articles …i am a foreigner living in usa…for me is very important that english is very clear and simple… if i want perfect grammar i will not go to a web site about photography … thank you Darlene and Darren Rose… i love and need your articles!!!

  • Glad you all found so much value here, even around my apparently glaring grammar mistakes which have yet to be pointed out. I’ll happily correct them if I only knew what mistakes we’re talking about. And thanks to those who backed me on up this. Nice to see we’re still interested in photography here!

  • Tracey

    This has been extremely helpful for me! Excellent explanations. Thank you so much.

  • jon

    Fantastic tutorial , have been trying to get my head around this for longitudinal……time now , wee much appreciate this lession and kep positiveivley aand futurelistically going in ONE DIRECTION as they sound as great as u dooo.
    Heep it up as weed knee as mulch elp as possilllbee out ear, 10 4 ovao,

  • mcl

    Jenny, if you want to rip somebody, at least do it in such a way that nobody can come along and point out that you do not use perfect grammar or syntax yourself. Your rant isn’t particularly instructive or helpful, but most of all it is just plain rude. The point here is not to rip apart somebody’s short introduction to some videos for personal ego-basking and personal gratification which you seem to be enjoying. Trolls belong under a bridge and you seem to be identifying yourself as a first-rate troll. This happens to be on Disqus and she and DPS have all rights in world to block such rudeness and should. Identifying a correction may be in order, but it is also in order to do it in a civil manner. This is not a morgue to dissect and abuse an editor.

  • mcl

    I watched 2nd, but stopped it when he began speaking about individual subjects such as portrait. The reason is that he didn’t have a concrete example to display. People get caught up on terms. If you shoot insect or plants, you soon learn that something might have 32 scientific and common names. Simply because you do not recognize the term, does not mean you do not know the subject. This is also true in photography. There are those very geeky and technical people who love intimidating others with their flashy knowledge and then there are those who are peasants out in the fields getting work done. I’ve never used automated settings and rarely auto-focus. 99% time inappropriate to what I shoot.

    I started with manual. I actually didn’t know what “P” was and I get tired of people yelling at me that I am doing everything wrong because I am not using “p” or “Av” or their favorite recourse. I didn’t know this term “Exposure Triangle” but it doesn’t necessarily reflect on my skills or knowledge. What would be useful is a set of studies demonstrating the difference in DOF or effects of different settings with the same subject.

    I initially gave myself problems to shoot and then I shot it repeatedly with different settings to study the effect. I still do it. It’s a continual process of learning and gaining skills. Sometimes, we make false assumptions based on terminology. I think the second video would have been far more useful had he shown examples with their settings. Talking about a portrait with F/1.9 – 2.5 doesn’t much mean anything outside its environment. It’s not just the factors inside the camera, but those outside the camera which actually define the settings.

    I meet people with cameras but they are intimidated by their cameras because they’ve been told that they must use automatic presets. They want a photo in front of the castle or in a park, lacrosse field, wherever and they give me their camera and I mess it up. I put it on manual because I don’t know anything else and I shoot. Then I let them review and shoot again for better images. Usually they are in shock or ask me how I did it, so I show them not to be afraid of their little boxes or lenses. I give them a short tutorial and tell them that with manual, they can get out of jail and have freedom to shoot better images. They’re shocked because they’ve been led to believe that they have to be black-belt international level gurus to shoot manual; but then they see how easy it really is. They’re really stunned that they have the power to do it for themselves. It seems to be big business to brainwash people into thinking that they have to buy a camera or use a camera for its presets/ modes rather than handing somebody a camera and saying, “you can shoot manually, you can control your camera.” I started by using manual and raw. People think I must be some genius simply because the dial points at “M”. It doesn’t take any genius to turn a dial; but it gives a person a lot of freedom and probably a lot better images overall.

  • Deborah

    I’m taking my third digital photography course now and need all the help I can get, as the aperature, shutter priority, exposure, depth of field relationships are overwhelming.

    As far as Jenny and Patrick are concerned, I would attribute their ridiculous criticism of your presentation to rudeness, immaturity, pettiness and their egotistical need to disrupt the focus of a valuable website on photography to their own eccentric needs which have nothing to do with photography.

    To jenny and Patrick, take a hike. No one cares what you think

  • hannahlucy07
  • Guy McKeon

    Geez first time here and for the record, as an editor you are responsible for your articles content which includes the skill sets needed for good photography and the basic use of the English language. I am new to photography and by no means am I any where near an expert on the English langue. However, that said you could easily purchase a program for both spell and grammar check. Seriously I wanted a little knowledge on photography and found out that my 6th grade English teacher (Mrs. Crank) was right about needing to know correct grammar and punctuation some 45 years later I now discover she was a genius. Best of luck to you in the future I hope my photography skills accede your English skill set by just a little and I will be fine. Lol no tone! ( that’s laugh out loud )

  • Rocky Perez

    I came to this site to look up some fundamentals and get some ideas for my art class. I won’t be pointing this site to my students since some argument could be made about the lack of boundaries that some people have exhibited here. Trolls abound everywhere sadly. I found the first and last video to be very effective at explaining the exposure triangle. It is a very difficult concept for some people to grasp. I find that different perspectives helps with understanding it. I don’t particularly like Sean’s teaching style since I have to have some visual aids/examples to keep my attention. I watched the entire thing and Sean has all the right terms and content needed to get the idea, but again, his lecture might reach more people with visual examples. I find that the third video is probably the simplest for me to understand. Yes, his voice was a bit monotone and distracting at times, but the manner in which he unfolded the content was excellent. Kudos unknown photographer dude! As for grammar and spelling errors, who cares. In an international setting like the internet, I don’t feel arrogant enough to expect everyone to have a high scholastic aptitude in grammar and spelling. You don’t need a degree to make beautiful images, or even a lens for that matter. I prefer plastic cameras and pinhole cameras to digital any day, so with that said, go look up how to properly conduct a critique for all you who insist on proper grammar. Here’ an example: “Btw Darlene, I noticed there were a few grammar and spelling errors which distracted me from focusing on photography. I would be glad to point them out to you if you like. Keep up the good work on this site. Thanks!” See? That wasn’t so bad was it?

  • Nidhi Balachandran

    I am a journalist working for a leading Russian daily in Moscow. Russian orthodox Christmas is celebrated today on January 7 and I have stumbled upon this contest. I decided to enter because this seems like the perfect Christmas miracle to me. A versatile zoom lens is the quintessential “objet de désir” for someone like me in this beautiful city.
    Moscow is an assault on the senses, with its beautiful people in embrace on the streets and parks inviting to be surreptitiously photographed; its colourful buildings bursting with life against this winter buried in stark white snow begging to be photographed; teasing tiny snowflakes in mesmerizingly symmetrical shapes that settle on furs everywhere daring to be macro-photographed before they vanish; its lush green X’mas trees and tall leafless snow clad birch trees worthy of sweeping panoramic shots, its stunning sunrises and sunsets and vivid skies, its palatial metro stations, rich Tsarian interiors, street concerts, opulent theatres, colorful festivals… everything about Moscow is a photograph waiting to happen. I am petite and lugging around so many things: my camera, a change of lenses, my manfrotto tripod, without which shake does not seem entirely unavoidable – becomes a bit of a drag and keeps me from luxuriating in the pleasure that is photography. I have been contemplating acquiring a versatile lense and the Tamron 16-300 Macro with its all-in-one features seems to be a great fit for my immediate photography needs.
    My heart beats excitedly as I think that it is no coincidence that 14h January, when the dPS team will choose its winners, is the day the Traditional Russian New Year is celebrated and I may be the one beginning the year with a beautiful Tamaron gift. This site has always been my guiding star and helped me acquire a better understanding of my digital camera. Thank you, team dPS!

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