Exposure Triangle - What Shape is Yours?

Exposure Triangle – What Shape is Yours?

The exposure triangle is the most important consideration you will make when controlling your camera to shoot in manual. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with it yet, take a look at this great intro by Darren Rowse.

If you’re already there and a pro with the triangle or just starting out, let’s talk about it! Of the three settings for perfect exposure – aperture, ISO and shutter speed – what do you personally feel is the most essential and important one to you? When you start to dial in your settings, which do you always think of first?

I’d say for me, control of ISO is probably the most important first step in my exposure triangle. I hate shooting at high ISOs (I’m a pixel peeper) so the most important thing to me is keeping that as low as possible.

After that, I consider shutter speed. Because I mostly shoot kids – and kids move fast – I have to keep my shutter speed above 100.

And this leaves me with aperture. Unless I’m purposefully going for a certain look which requires me to pay special consideration to my aperture, this usually ends up being whatever it needs to be to complete a perfect exposure.

What about you? What order do you dial in your triangle?

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Ricky January 27, 2013 04:31 pm

    I like to have my cake and eat it too. I like lowering the AV to get a darker image which seems a small price to pay for beefing up my triangle. (have I turned it into a rectangle?) That said, I have an irrational obsession with keeping my ISO ridiculously low.

  • KenP November 17, 2010 11:29 am

    My preference is to go with Aperture priority because that defines what I want to "see" in the picture (other than framing, of course.)

    Then, if the shutter speed my camera (Olympus E-510) is reporting for the given light condition is too slow, I boost up the ISO. This is also to a point for reasons mentioned by several posters above.

    The last resort is to use a tripod to keep ISO low, Shutter speed slow and aperture small :)

  • Lisa June 1, 2010 03:10 am

    Aperture is usually what I consider first. I like a nice blurred background. Then I adjust the shutter speed until the light meter indicates correct exposure. If I my shutter speed needs to be below 25 then I adjust the ISO but not above 400. I have found with my camera that I need to keep the ISO above 400 it at all possible.

  • Lewis May 26, 2010 07:26 am

    First is aperture because this controls the DOF which in many cases has a drastic affect on the mood of an image. Next is ISO, then shutter speed. Of course in low light without a tripod I trade noise for sharpness. The only exception to this order is when I know the shutter speed is critical.

  • Mary K May 22, 2010 05:11 am

    I start out with ISO as well. I shoot a lot of indoor pictures in situations where flash is not good, so I pick a high ISO that is the lowest I can use for the available light. If I can take good shots with 1600, I use that rather than 3200. But in many situations, I need to use the 3200 to have more flexibility with shutter & f/stop. I show pedigree cats as a hobby on most weekends, and that's my primary subject. Flash just doesn't work for their eyes, and they really don't react well to flash. I went from the Nikon D90 to the Nikon D700 just so I could use the hither ISO range without too much noise, and I'm very happy with the results.

    What I set next always depends on the scene. Most of the time, I pick the aperture first because I so rarely shoot subjects in motion. When I'm shooting cats as a subject, I like to put the emphasis of the photo on the cat, but I have to be careful that the DOF is not so narrow that I can't get both of their eyes in focus. Yes, the cats are in motion, but the picture I try to take is when they are still for that split second with just the look I want.

  • Khalik Aziz May 22, 2010 12:38 am

    I suppose it all depends on the subject and location. But generally I would keep my ISO as low as possible, between 100 and 200. I don't like noise. That would be the first thing I would attend to. Secondly, I set my apeture. Thirdly, it's the shutter speed. I think composition is also important.

  • ninad May 21, 2010 02:42 pm

    I generally don't play with ISO. For correct exposure i play with aperture.Mostly I work in studios. Its very easy to manipulate exposure in controlled environment. For product photography I try to shoot on max aperture but if i'm shooting outdoors(candid) I like to shoot on open aperture(shallow DOF) and play with depth. I usually keep ISO in the range of 100 -400. Shutter speed anything more than 1/8 is fine for me if I'm shooting handheld ... And I choose according to subject.

  • Shelley J May 21, 2010 02:18 pm

    Great question.. it leaves you thinking and funny I never thought of it before as it came to me naturally. I was a photojournalist and now am more of an art photographer. To me aperture has come first always as it 's how I want to see my picture. If it 's landscape sports or portrait I feel you need to work on your DOF first

  • dblayn May 21, 2010 07:39 am

    Wow, great article EH. I've never really thought about this as a group discussion, but you may be able to tell a lot about a person in how they approach making a photo, yes? What you prioritize when you make a photo may be how one approaches situations in like? Just a thought. When I take candids in available light for me, generally prefer shallow dof and don't mind a little noise if it can't be avoided. (No pixel peaking here - I can live with a little noise. ha!) Aperture is king and shutter speed/iso share the number 2a and 2b spot interchanging depending upon the situation.

  • Indigo May 21, 2010 07:28 am

    I mainly shoot kids and flowers. If I am shooting kids, shutter speed comes first. If I am shooting flowers, aperture comes first. I almost never change the ISO, I usually leave it at 200-400.

  • SD (Aspherical) May 21, 2010 04:10 am

    For me, it's an iterative process.

    I set the ISO first, usually at 200, my camera's lowest setting because I hate noise. Next I pick an aperature, usually 5.6 or larger because I like blur. In general, the shutter speed falls where it may. If it's too low, I increase the ISO, or, rarely, increase aperature.

    An exception is when I'm using the Lensbaby Composer with the Zone Plate Optic, I start off with a high ISO so I can hand hold it and since the aperature is fixed, I adjust shutter speed to control the exposure.

  • Don Peterson May 21, 2010 03:25 am

    dawnwithcamera - if you are using a digital camera, a trick I have used with limited success because of my often unstable stance is to set the camera for continuos exposure. My thinking is that at least one exposure will fire when I'm between "vibrations" and will be sharp and you can just trash the ones that are not. Also I keep the VR (vibration reduction) setting on - just a thought.

  • Rob May 21, 2010 03:14 am

    I use the lowest ISO and smallest aperture as a rule. Though circumstances will dictate of course.

  • Dawnwithacamera May 21, 2010 03:10 am

    Because I have muscle damage to my arm, I have found that shooting a faster shutter speeds keeps my pictures sharp. Using apperature priority usually creates fuzzy pictures because I cannot hold the camera steady. I only use apperature priority when I have my camera on a tripod.

  • Michelle May 21, 2010 02:52 am

    Questions I ask myself before every shot:

    1. Aperture - What's needed to make this shot artful?
    2. Shutter speed - What's necessary to stop any action in this shot?
    3. ISO - How low can I keep it, given the above?

    What's a kazillion pixels per inch if it ain't art?

  • Ron Palmer May 21, 2010 02:37 am

    For me it depends on the circumstances. Usually i have my XTI set for 100 or 200 ISO, then set my aperture but if I am shooting wildlife that I know is going to be moving I use manual and set the shutter speed and AP, but for the most part I will let the camera set the shutter speed. So far have ahd good luck with that.

    But there is no one way that I follow.

  • Don Peterson May 21, 2010 02:21 am

    I rarely switch to manual unless I can't get what I want in aperture priority. I too like to shoot at low ISO and I shoot all my images in RAW format because I want to have the most information to work with in Photoshop and Lightroom. I shoot mostly landscapes, architecture, and details of each of them. I also like to shoot candid portraits. I use mostly aperture priority because I want to control depth of field, although for action shots I will change to shutter priority.

  • Patch May 21, 2010 02:07 am

    For me it depends on the shot. Speed and Aperture take precedence, depending on what i'm looking for. If i'm shooting action , i set a high shutter priority, if i'm going for a narrow depth of field, Aperture priority. After all that, if i remember to check it (My worst sin) i'll look at ISO. I typically set it to the lowest possible ISO in order to achieve the results i need based on lens, light and priority. More often, however, i forget to check y ISO and end up with grainy images, or an angry dSLR because it cant shoot faster then 1/4000 at f/24 because its high noon, and i'm still on ISO 1600 from the night before.

  • Tomas Sobek May 19, 2010 06:53 pm

    I like to keep ISO at the lowest most of the time to keep the noise low, not thinking about it except for night-time shots or flash photography with not enough power to spare. About 70-80% of my shots are taken with aperture priority, the rest on manual, and very rarely shutter priority or auto. I try to keep the aperture in the mid-range for best sharpness, taking desired depth of field and corresponding shutter speed into account of course.

  • Robertv May 19, 2010 07:55 am

    I expose using Aperture then Shutter speed. The ISO is set to whatever is required for the exposure.
    Having said that, I will try to work a combination that keeps the ISO as low as possible, but I will not compromise DOF or movement blur to keep noise low.

    I'd rather have a sharp and effective shot with noise, than a blurry one nobody looks at.
    Noise is the least important issue.

  • Juan May 19, 2010 06:42 am

    When shooting, I think most times of sharpness. That said, it is dependant upon available light. I usually try to balance everything as far as I can go: lowest possible ISO, not so fast but fast enough shutter speed, and convinient DOF. However, I have shot images in very tough conditions in which I do not mind raising the ISO (my camera's top ISO is 1600) and managed to get 'interesting images', though sometimes ISO 1600 has turned very noisy.

  • Anner May 19, 2010 03:37 am

    The first setting I think about is shutter speed, because I usually shoot without a tripod, then is the ISO, because a have a compact camera and using more than iso 400 goes ugly, and last one is aperture. There are exceptions of course, such when I want to priorize depth of field or if it too dark to avoid using high iso.

  • Ashvary May 19, 2010 02:09 am

    For me Aperture is on top of the list... Most of the time I work on Aperture priority mode...

    Seconds comes is ISO.. whenever on smaller aperture size, ISO needs to be bumped...

    Lastly shutter speed.. even at low Light I m happy with slow shutter in interiors and boost it up bit with features like IS and mirror lockup..

  • ashwini_tank May 18, 2010 04:55 pm

    I usually go for the aperture first, since DOF is very important for me. Recently I bought Canon 24-70mm F/2.8 over 24-105 F/4 IS only for that extra one stop of shallow DOF, though giving up IS on my good old 28-135 was not easy. I love Canon IS.

    Now that you have put up this post, I guess, shutter is going to be my next priority (probably even first in low light) since I dont have IS anymore on my walk-around lens.

    This was a good post. Simple and useful especially if you frequently find yourself missing that perfect settings for a perfect but fleeting moment. :)

  • Nitin Malapally May 18, 2010 01:24 pm

    I always use ISO 100. That's for the best quality, so why change it, ever? I just meddle with the shutterspeed and f-number to get my fairly decent exposures, though i have a tendency to overexpose, which is mostly not a problem, considering i'll tweak it with photoshop later.

  • joe May 18, 2010 09:21 am

    I look at a scene, decide what I want, in terms of the finished product, then adjust accordingly. But all three take a 1/3 responsibility in the finished product. In my opinion, not one has weight over the other. You need the perfect combination of the three to achieve the image as you see it in your mind.

  • paige whitley May 18, 2010 09:10 am

    If I'm shooting something fairly still (as in, NOT kids playing out of doors) I think of aperature first, then shutter, then ISO. If I'm shooting something FAST moving, I start w/ shutter speed, then make the aperature and ISO work w/ it.
    Very often I will be walking towards what I want to shoot, and I'll be dialing in the right shutter speed, iso , aperature and lighting. Today for example was a cloudy day and the boys were on the porch blowing bubbles. The dog was chasing the bubbles. I wanted to see if I could get the dog, sort of mid jump and with his mouth wide open to eat a bubble. The first thing I did was put it on a fast shutter speed, then I upped the ISO to 800, and dialed in "cloudy" on the light balance. I tried the shot with a 5.6 ap, and kept missing it. I finally gave up. But I KNEW what i was going for, and what I'd have to do to get it. It's not my fault the dog kept jumping away from me...

  • PotatoEYE May 18, 2010 03:45 am

    for pixel peepers: start printing more, you'll see it won't matter that much anymore

  • D. Travis North May 18, 2010 03:35 am

    I shot film for many years, so I don't tinker with the ISO much - purely just a habit. When I'm shooting in bright sunlight, or if I'm shooting with a tripod - I dial in ISO of 100. Hand-held, I'm usually using ISO 200 or ISO 400 depending on whether I'm indoors or out. I don't shoot much over ISO 400.

    With the type of subjects I'm shooting, I dial in Aperture second - depending on what depth of field I want. I only dial in to a few favorites. Shutter speed tends to fall wherever it falls. Rarely will I dial in shutter speed first - but again, that's simply because of the subjects I'm shooting (architecture, landscapes, close-up, etc). The exception - when I'm photographing children at play.

  • Jake Markland May 18, 2010 02:55 am

    mine is apeture, iso, shutterspeed. enough said lol

  • Bridget Casas May 18, 2010 02:47 am

    ISO is the first thing that needs to be decided. Then I normally select aperture. I like to select my depth of field, depending on what I am photographing. The shutter speed follows to give me the exposure I want. Sometimes the shutter speed needs to be selected second if I am shooting something that is moving. This is not an exact science. Nothing is written in stone.

  • Ariana Murphy May 18, 2010 02:24 am

    I like to shoot birds, often in woodland, so I need fast shutter speed, as fast as I can make it and shallow DOF, usually 5.6. I keep the ISO at 800 on my Nikon D60, and that gives me some acceptable photos, and occasionally by luck some great ones. (Shooting birds isn't easy!) I adjust the shutter speed up and down as I pass in and out of light and shadow. I'm sure there are better ways to do it, but I'm still a beginner, and have only just jumped onto the Manual bandwagon. Suggestions are always welcome.

  • Hansi May 18, 2010 02:21 am

    To me it's an impossible question to answer. It all depends on the situation.
    When I shoot actions then the shutter speed (high or low) is important at the best aperture at the lowest ISO setting.
    When I shoot portraits it's the best aperture and speed with the lowest ISO setting and sometimes at the highest ISO.
    So I always loose when I'm not in control of the situation (controlling the light).
    The only thing I can conclude is never delete a picture until I'm sure it's no good.
    Pictures in high ISO can be very exciting it all depends of my mood and It's what I want to express in the picture.
    My conclusion is when you gain something, you loose something, just get the best out of it.

  • Jerod May 18, 2010 01:40 am

    I am relatively new to the DSLR environment having gained most of my experience with film and fixed-lens or PAS (point and shoot) cameras so I don't think about ISO as much as I should. Admittedly, I am not even sure at what my ISO is set! =s That being said, I will certainly give it much more consideration as I move forward. In general I use Aperture Priority mode and switch to Shutter Priority when the situation calls for it.

    Thanks for the article and the reminder of the importance of remembering ISO in the exposure triangle!

    My primary camera: Nikon D5000, Nikkor AF-S VR DX 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G & 55-200mm 1.4:5.6G ED

  • dan May 18, 2010 01:09 am

    I actually don't shoot much digital these days, so I'm very used to a fixed ISO... typically 400. I imagine when I pick up my digital again, I'll be moving that off the "auto" setting.

    Depending on the shot I need, I'll choose aperture or shutter priority mode. If I'm walking about town, motion blur could be a problem. I'll set my shutter speed at a hair faster than the reciprocal of the focal length and forget about it, unless it's too bright out, in which case I'll set a middle-of-the-road aperture. If I'm after a shallow depth of field, I'll set it on f/1.4 or something.

  • Jerome Paladino May 18, 2010 01:06 am

    Each image has it's own requirements and adjusting the balance of the exposure triangle for me starts out with what is most important for that image. Shutter speed for action, aperture for depth, and I suppose ISO is what I would push to achieve the other two unless print size was a given and Image quality dictated a low ISO. Then I guess ISO would be determined first...
    Maybe because I am a Libra, I think in terms of balance instead of 1,2,3?

  • Chris Breidenbaugh May 18, 2010 12:55 am

    As someone who is still very new to DSLR photography, very rearely do I change ISO. Unless it's an extremely low light situation, I'm on ISO 200. Typically my first thought is Aperature. Since I'm usually in Aperature Priorty, speed is a camera function. The only time I really give speed it's due is shooting sporting events. Then I will set speed first to stop action. Depending on the lighting, I will frequently have to increase the ISO to get the required exposure.

  • Matt Needham May 18, 2010 12:30 am

    I tend to worry about DOF before exposure so my aperture is set first. Next I usually consider shutter for subject and/or camera movement. I agree that given the choice I'll take a lower ISO, but the cameras I'm using these days make fantastic large prints at high ISOs I didn't even dream about 15 years ago. If I desire a sharp looking photo I'll be much more annoyed with camera shake than a bit of noise.

    All of my cameras show aperture, shutter, ISO, and the meter scale even in the auto settings. I tend to shoot in M and Av, but I could control the camera just as well in P: exposure comp, meter lock, etc... If the photographer is just zeroing out the meter every time in M the only difference between that and P is whether meaty fingers or electronic switches are zeroing out the meter. For me running in auto or manual has more to do with what's going on in the photog's head than how the dials are getting turned.

  • Ken May 18, 2010 12:07 am

    Control of depth of field is usually a big thing for me. Of course it depends on the subject. When it comes to flowers and buds, I really like to focus on one flower and let the rest just go soft. With portraits again, I like a very shallow DOF. So I am always concerned with ISO first, then aperture and the corresponding shutter speed...+ and -. And last......where the heck is that tripod!

  • Peter May 17, 2010 11:57 pm

    Usually: shutter speed, then ISO, then aperture.

  • Paul Pacurar May 17, 2010 11:50 pm

    You have all the rights to disagree... However, I argue my point with these: the EXPOSURE itself is crucial in a photograph. And if at least one parameter is automatically set by the camera, then the exposure is not manually set. Think of the stupidly exposed pics with brightly white snow, on aperture priority... You've got the point. Next, as a graduate in Computer Science, I know that nowadays cameras have more and more sophisticated processors that recognize many tricky lightning situations.. But.. photography loses all it's charm and creativity when manual is left for auto. What's next? Designing a robot to handle the camera and go to different location and take photos... I'm stuck now to full manual mode, and I'm getting more and more in love with it. I'm even considering mattering the light without any light meter...

  • Dave Hodgkinson May 17, 2010 11:43 pm

    Rob: not necessarily true. With digital, we can let ISO run free, within limits. Lock all three down and then you're in manual. Lock two down, and one roams free. Lock one down, then the camera gets to decide what it thinks is a "good" exposure using the other two. It may or may not be what you want.

    And by the time you've finished arsing around with all three, the decisive moment has packed its bags and gone.

  • Rob May 17, 2010 11:40 pm

    I disagree Paul. in Av mode the only thing that is auto (compared to M mode) is the shutter speed, and most cameras these days have very good metering. If your camera consistently under or over exposes (or on particularly difficult scenes), you can use exposure compensation to address this.

  • kfcath May 17, 2010 11:34 pm

    It's always good to read another way of thinking about this relationship - everyone conceptualizes these things differently, so it's good to have lots of ways of describing it.

    I photograph a lot of indoor ferrets and underwater spearfishing - i.e. action shots in low light, so I am constantly battling ISO speed vs. shutter speed.
    Here's a rare shot where I was able to capture my ferret in natural light with a relatively low ISO (200), and hand held:
    exposure time: 1/5 sec.
    focal length 55mm (Canon Rebel XSi, kit lens)
    [eimg url='http://ferretexpert.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ferret-paper-bin.jpg' title='ferret-paper-bin.jpg']

  • Paul Pacurar May 17, 2010 11:23 pm

    I wouldn't recommend aperture priority mode (or other priority), as it is still an AUTO mode. I recommend using MANUAL or program. Give your brain a chance, don't let it atrophy! If any automatic mode is used, we cannot talk about a triangle, but a... point

  • phil May 17, 2010 11:15 pm

    When I started out with my Minolta SRT-202 with match needle metering, I would randomly adjust either aperture or shutter speed to get the right exposure. ISO was determined by the film I would use - either kodachrome 64 or ektachrome 200.
    When I got my Minolta XD-11with automatic metering, I would always use aperture priority - even to adjust the shutter speed when needed. The beauty of that camera was if I was in aperture priority and the lighting of the shot called for a faster or slower shutter speed than whatever aperture I chose would dictate, it would adjust the aperture to as close as possible to what I wanted, but preventing an over or under exposure.
    Now with my Canon Digital Rebel - I find myself still using aperture priority to control to look I want in my photo while being aware of not letting the shutter speed drop too low for hand held use. I automatically open the aperture to the max when I need the highest shutter speed I can get for a particular situation.

  • VENOM May 17, 2010 10:59 pm

    for me first of all i chech my aperture and am thinking what kind of shot i will get, then i consider if my shutter speed is enough and last my ISO just to balance everything

  • Karen Stuebing May 17, 2010 10:22 pm

    I agree that shooting at the lowest ISO is important. There are some cameras where you can bump up the ISO without getting noise. Mine isn't one of them.

    After that there are so many variables, it's hard to say.

    What lens should I use? Am I shooting indoors hand held without a flash? Am I going for shallow depth of field? Am I trying to capture motion or blur it?

    I almost always shoot in manual mode so I control both aperture and shutter speed.

  • P May 17, 2010 09:49 pm

    would someone explain the ISO in greater detail. I have a Canon Sx 5 Is

  • Paul Pacurar May 17, 2010 09:13 pm

    I find a little bit silly this question, as it should be not a matter of preference, but an optimal choice, carefully determined and selected by the condition in which the photograph is taken. Of course the lower the ISO is better, of course the lowest the shutter speed, the lower the blur, the larger the aperture, the more the light is caught by the sensor and so the better the quality of the final image will be, but in most of the cases a TRADE has to be made. So it's not about the preference, but it's about having good experience, and maximizing the quality of light...

  • SexyNinjaMonkey May 17, 2010 07:22 pm

    Aperture first, cause i'm usually in low light situations i find it easiest to start from. Then shutter speed to catch whatever i'm trying to get. Then finally ISO to compensate for the other 2 settings and the available light.

  • zach May 17, 2010 05:48 pm

    for the first year of having a DSLR, I shot exclusively in Manual mode. I was always confused as to why my exposure compensation button didn't do anything. I put it all over the place, then would try to experiment with A or S modes, and the exposure would be so weird, it would discourage further attempts. I thought my camera's metering was WAY off. Then I put 2 and 2 together, and started shooting in A when using ambient light. I focus mainly on DOF and shoot with a 50mm f1.4 most of the time, so A just makes sense. Unless I'm using my strobes/studio stuff, then it's all Manual, all the time! ISO is decided on amount of ambient light/indoors/outdoors decisions. ISO 1600 works well on my D80 as long as i get enough light. Shutter speed is long enough to get enough light, but short enough to not have a lot of motion blur, unless that's what I want.

  • Mikko May 17, 2010 05:03 pm

    For me, ISO is the least important: I set it to auto with max limit of either 400 or 800.

    I always shoot with aperture priority, so it is the most important setting for me. I then let the camera do the math to select the appropriate shutter speed (and ISO). I do keep an eye on the speed as the camera body seems to be quite happy with selecting 1/30 sec before bumping up the ISO - which is a bit risky with moving objects. In such cases, I then manually set ISO to 400/800 and then use aperture priority again.

    I admit, I am very sensitive about the DoF - that's why I use aperture priority. For people, I like to use f/1.4, and for landscape and such, f/8 or f/11.

  • Abhishek May 17, 2010 03:14 pm

    I leave my ISO setting on Auto with a max of 400 for daytime shots. I like shooting with a Bokeh and am experimenting with that a lot so I usually dial in the f-stop first.
    I look at the shutter speed and see if it is OK for hand holding and if not look at increasing the ISO speed unless of course I am on a tripod

  • J M May 17, 2010 02:58 pm

    I generally shoot with 50mm lenses that sharpen up nicely at f/4 and above, but I usually try not to drop below f/2.0 as that would mean I'm shooting pretty much wide open and I really dislike the softening and chromatic aberration that tends to show up at those apertures. I'll tolerate up to ISO 400 if it means I can stop down the lens, but to echo another post, this is generally determined by the stock I'm shooting as I've started to shoot digital less and less (pretty much only for paying gigs). I mostly shoot inanimate objects, so the movement isn't as much of a concern for me and I can get a consistently sharp shot down to 1/45 shutter, hand-held (I haven't got the steadiest hand, but I continue to improve). Below that, it's sort of hit or miss.

    The exception to my Don't-shoot-wide-open rule is my Pentax 645. The the resolution offered by medium format film, I've found that I can get away with shooting wide open much more often. The shot below is on Fuji Pro 400H, shot wide-open at f/2.8 and with a shutter speed of 1/45.[eimg url='http://www.flickr.com/photos/43473567@N05/4614517650' title='4614517650']

  • J M May 17, 2010 02:54 pm

    I generally shoot with 50mm lenses that sharpen up nicely at f/4 and above, but I usually try not to drop below f/2.0 as that would mean I'm shooting pretty much wide open and I really dislike the softening and chromatic aberration that tends to show up at those apertures. I'll tolerate up to ISO 400 if it means I can stop down the lens, but to echo another post, this is generally determined by the stock I'm shooting as I've started to shoot digital less and less (pretty much only for paying gigs). I mostly shoot inanimate objects, so the movement isn't as much of a concern for me and I can get a consistently sharp shot down to 1/45 shutter, hand-held (I haven't got the steadiest hand, but I continue to improve). Below that, it's sort of hit or miss.

    The exception to my Don't-shoot-wide-open rule is my Pentax 645. The the resolution offered by medium format film, I've found that I can get away with shooting wide open much more often. The shot below is on Fuji Pro 400H, shot wide-open at f/2.8 and with a shutter speed of 1/45.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/43473567@N05/4614517650/' title='' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4010/4614517650_241de567ab_o.jpg']

  • DJHuber May 17, 2010 02:07 pm

    Aperture first, as I like to vary it for various DOF effects. Either very shallow (macro work), or all nice and sharp (much of my street and some of my BW work).

    Next, ISO. I don't like to go above 400 unless I absolutely must.

    So, shutter is last. Since I shoot a Sony with built in steady shot, I can get away with fairly low shutter speed, unless the subject is in motion. And, in that case, it's a whole new ball game.

  • Jason Collin Photography May 17, 2010 01:54 pm

    I am the opposite of the author of the article as I put aperture as the foundation for all my other settings, and I recommend setting aperture first to all of my photography students too. ISO can be assessed pretty much instantly in a high majority of situations by an experienced photography I believe, so I just set that next. Often I shoot in aperture priority, so I only note shutter speed when I am shooting at 200mm in non-bright Florida light to make sure it is fast enough.

    The main time I really dial all three in is when I am doing indoor flash or sunset flash photography, then I use manual mode and take control of everything.

  • Dave Hodgkinson May 17, 2010 01:53 pm

    It's not a triangle. It's 3 independent variables so it's a 3D space.

    Sheesh guys, maths ain't hard.

  • Ronnie Henry May 17, 2010 01:49 pm

    I usually consider the ISO value first, and then aperture value next. Lastly, I vary the shutter speed to make the correct exposure.

    I use a Canon 450D, and during manual mode, to set the aperture corrcetly I have to hold one button while turning the dial, much like a shift key on a computer (shutter speed is the default setting for the dial). That led me to consider aperture setting before shutter speed setting.

  • Allen Ross Thomas May 17, 2010 12:49 pm

    Shooting mostly live music photography I live my life above 1600ISO and often into 12,800 or more. I am nearly always at my maximum aperture (2.8 or occasionally 1.8 with primes). The next consideration is keeping shutter above 1/200 if at all possible to stop the action.


  • johnp May 17, 2010 12:48 pm

    I'm also shooting mainly landscapes at the moment so first is ISO then aperture.

  • Richard Siggins May 17, 2010 12:35 pm

    Being a landscape guy I shoot in Aperture priority most of the time. I also pay close attention to the ISO, and will sacrifice shutter speed to keep the ISO low and just right DOF. I carry and shoot with a tripod most of the time.

  • Fiona May 17, 2010 11:45 am

    I think about ISO, then aperture, then use whatever shutter speed works .... but I'm normally shooting landscapes or stationary objects. Aways have to think really hard when I'm shooting a moving subject!!!

  • NickM May 17, 2010 11:11 am

    My first consideration is shutter speed, but since I shoot available light and do a lot of indoor shooting of my kids the need for a fast shutter speed actually makes me take ISO into consideration first. I have no problem shooting at ISO 3200 or even Hi 1 setting (with exposure compensation set +2/3 stops, which helps cut down on the banding that the 50D is prone to in the Hi 1 and Hi 2 settings), but that's because I don't have fast glass, and I'm more concerned with composition at the moment. When I get my hands on some nice glass I'll worry more about sharpness. :)

  • Jeffrey Byrnes May 17, 2010 10:47 am

    It is so comical how these quirky little faux photo terms are invented. Having been in 3 schools for photography and have obtained two degrees, I have never heard this term before. What settings you use, depend on what you're shooting, when you're shooting and how you're shooting. Its things like this that really confuse the hell out of people who are trying to learn what photography is, how to use their cameras, and get the most out of it. Again, this is a brilliant article that does not explain what the three listed terms are and how they are applied to making photographs and how to use them on your camera. Of course no mention is made of what ISO means or how it is a decidedly important factor in making photographs. I say learn the basics, before discussing the basics.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever May 17, 2010 10:43 am

    I think of ISO first and then aperture. Much of my photos are landscapes so I despise pixels and love large apertures. Shutter speed is last. I often use my tripod just because of my setting preferences. I am not above a 1 second exposure if that is what is needed to use the aperture and ISO I like.

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  • Joseph May 17, 2010 10:36 am

    Metering mode first. How you meter and what you meter have pretty good influence on the exposure of the scene - I tend to think about how I meter before I balance my exposure triangle. When I get there - it`s Aperture first - Aperture lets me set depth of field, which is an important image element. This is followed by shutter speed - If I need to stop motion or want it, that`s going to be far more visible than noise in most of my prints.

    If stuff is moving or I am on a tripod - the order of ISO and Shutter speed sometimes change.

  • Mei Teng May 17, 2010 10:34 am

    It's always aperture first and then shutter speed for me. If I am shooting with a tripod, I just keep the ISO at the lowest possible.

  • Woody May 17, 2010 10:19 am

    What gets priority is based on what the shot is about and what variables you have under your control. There's no hard and fast rule for all shots. You make the call as you shoot and adjust to get the exposure you want.

  • junglebear May 17, 2010 10:07 am

    I shoot mainly static scenes, so for me aperture is the most important, I like to be able to control my depth of field.
    ISO and shutterspeed are very important, but generally I rarely stray from 100 ISO (lowest possible), and a shutterspeed fast enough to eliminate camera shake while still giving me some moving room on aperture.
    It all depends on what, where and when I'm shooting though. Sometimes I need to freeze action with a high shutterspeed, or low light conditions may force me to use a higher ISO (and most likely convert to 'artistic' grainy B&W later)

    I think the important thing is to know how they affect your shot and which one to adjust in each different condition.

  • Dev Wijewardane May 17, 2010 10:00 am

    I try to think of ISO as a constant at 100 (sometimes I do have to bump it up but rarely do I go above 640)

    I shoot wildlife and landscape so I tend to think of aperture first as it has a direct impact on the image (depth of field)

  • Darryl May 17, 2010 09:50 am

    Like many here. ISO is only changed in response to not being able to get the aperture/shutter combination I want. Also in regards to ISO, to me it has no creative effect to a photo. Aperture effects DOF and shutter effect blurring for effects like milky waterfalls.

  • Robert May 17, 2010 09:35 am

    For all the same reasons as the writer, I usually set up manually in order of: ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture. Beyond that I use an expodisk for white balance and a sekonic L358 for metering.

  • Sharon May 17, 2010 09:13 am

    I always shoot manual with mostly prime lens. I tend to forget about ISO completely unless I'm shooting at night. I like shooting wide open, so shutter speed is my biggest variable.

    Shutter speed

  • Idowu May 17, 2010 08:37 am

    Hi All,

    Hmm! this is interesting. Now, i must say, i'm a total amateur with a Nikon D40 + a Nikkor 18-200mm Lens.

    To me, two things r crucial, (1) a noiseless shot and a suitably exposed shot. i achieve this with low ISO's i.e. 200/400, and a fast shutter speed. i shoot in full manual (maybe i should try Aperture priority sometime). My Aperture is left at its minimal per time. i rarely tinker with it. However, seeing all the experts laying priority on Aperture, then i guess i need to look more at it then. .... guess its bcos i'm still an complete armature.

  • Major Bokeh May 17, 2010 08:30 am

    I use AV mode on my 5D Mark II with ISO on either auto or I will try to use 50 ISO in daylight or pick something much higher for low light. Shutter is usually only a consideration for me if I am shooting to control motion, in manual mode or using my 100-400mm zoom. Even though it's image stabilized I like to keep the shutter speed fast for those long focal lengths.

    I guess the bottom line is I do think of all three depending on circumstance, but aperture is probably the one I think of most. Heck, with the handle, Major Bokeh, what did you expect?

  • Rob May 17, 2010 08:28 am

    I also to shoot in aperture priority mode.

    * aperture wide open unless it's a scene with depth in which case stop down put no further than f/8.0 or so.
    * iso auto / base unless it's night time in which case go to the cameras upper "acceptable iso".
    * Leave shutter up to the cameras metering - use exposure compensation to keep shutter at 1/60 or faster.

    I do it in this order because:
    * as aperture is optical to me it's like a few "free" stops because the only significant compromise is depth of field, and I like bokeh on most scenes.
    * ISO second priority because noise is better than blur.
    * Above all, shutter has to be fast enough to avoid motion blur.

  • Mike May 17, 2010 08:23 am

    Like the author, I'm a pixel snob and almost exclusively shoot with ISO 100. Aperture and shutter speed tend to vary due to this, since a lot of my shooting occurs in low-light settings unless I'm doing portraits, then aperture first, shutter speed second.

  • FrancesA May 17, 2010 08:17 am

    Aperture priority is my usual mode then the other two depending on the situation.

  • William B May 17, 2010 08:03 am

    Aperture, then speed. I change the ISO only when I have to (it pretty much stays at 100). If I have a noise problem I use Topaz DeNoise 4 software it still beats out the new CS5 noise filter.

  • JamesC May 17, 2010 07:41 am

    I'll usually go for aperture priority. If I'm in low light, no flash, I'll set it wide open. Then, I'll step up my ISO from 100 until I get a workable shutter speed.

    Of course, this depends on what I'm shooting. Of course, for sports, I'll always set shutter priority and auto ISO so I never miss a shot.

  • michael murphy May 17, 2010 07:40 am

    Since I like to do more creatively lit, off camera flash photography, I tend to go in a different order. First, and I agree, I like to keep my ISO way down. I know the feeling of being a pixel peeper. One of my slightly OCD issues. My high ISO shots end up being my Black and Whites, since I find noise in those more acceptable. Second, I focus on getting the aperture correct since I usually sync to my flashes at 1/250.

  • Scottyea May 17, 2010 07:35 am

    I use Av setting for my manual lenses on EOS 10D, and usually forget entirely about ISO. Thanks for the tip.

  • Felipe Arruda May 17, 2010 07:27 am

    Aperture equals the inportance of Shutter Speed on my triangle, then ISO helps the balance.
    Low noise High ISO are a Gift. I'm only a pixel peeper on a studio. In the Studio i want the sharpest aperture and the lowest noise.
    Shooting people I just get a fast (read: PRIME) lens and do the job. Exposure and freezing action is more valuable than noise.
    If you can't wait for LR3 (I HATE Betas), go for Genuine Fractals plugin.

  • Erik Unger May 17, 2010 06:47 am

    It all depends on what I am shooting. If it is an outdoor shot shot and I have no worry about shutter speed, then aperture is always first. If it is something that involves action, then of course shutter speed is always the priority. I try to keep the ISO as low as possible that will allow me to get the shot I want, but if I have to, I am not afraid to raise the ISO to get the aperture/shutter speed I am looking for.

  • JF Machado May 17, 2010 06:44 am

    I "zero-out" my D80 at ISO 200, f8, A mode. (Not going into the rest right now)
    Usually, I can allow long shutter drags 'cause never leave w/o SB units, so aperture is, by far, the most important "corner" for me.

  • Kevin May 17, 2010 06:40 am

    for me, it is mostly about the aperture because of the look I am going for with each picture. After that I make sure I have the shutter speed to make you shot and ISO is last. I usually just leave my ISO at either 200 or 400, only changing it depending on how sunny it is.

  • Matt Mathai May 17, 2010 06:40 am

    I shoot sports, pro soccer in particular. To freeze the action, I start with a minimum shutter speed of 1/1250 sec, but might drop down to 1/1000 sec if the light is really bad. I like to shoot at f/4 since that's where my long lens produces the sharpest images, so I set my aperture there. It also blurs out backgrounds enough to make for decent shots.

    The rest is easy. I let ISO vary as it has to to give me a proper exposure. With the Nikon D3s body, I can get usable shots with amazingly high ISO .

    Here's an example shot at 1/1000, f/4.0, ISO 5600


  • joewatch May 17, 2010 06:28 am

    Okay, this is coming from a total amateur, and is a consequence of the camera I have, the Canon 30D. I use aperture priority the majority of the time.

    First, I set the aperture I need based on the composition. Portrait? 1.4-4. Goup shot 4-8. Landscape 8-12. Then I think about what shutter speed I need to capture the shot. Moving kids, 1/150-1/250. Groups of adults who will stay still (mostly), 1/100-1/200. Still-life, landscapes, at least 1/60 if I have IS and am shooting handheld. Then I adjust the ISO until I get the shutter speed in the range I want.

    As a fourth element of setting exposure, I always think about if adding light with my on-camera flash will improve the strength of the composition, and adjust the flash expsure compensation appropriately.

    What do you think?

  • Andrew May 17, 2010 06:21 am

    Personally, I think about ISO and aperture first, shutter speed later. I like to keep my ISO as low as possible, to reduce the amount of chromatic noise. As for aperture, I like to use a wider aperture, to try to simulate the kind of DOF the human eye can see (sometimes a DOF when necessary), and for this I'm in aperture priority or manual modes most of the time.

  • Techpriester May 17, 2010 06:20 am

    Well, if you ask what shape my exposure triangle is: It's most likely a triangle ;)

    Ok, seriously now: When shooting in sufficient light conditions, aperture is the first thought to make sure the depth of field is the way i want it.

    When light becomes lower I pay more attention to keep my shutter speed short enough to avoid uwanted motion blur and I'm often willing to sacrifice my preferred aperture setting to accomplish that.

    ISO is mostly a technical compromise to me. I raise it if I need to and if I'm not willing to give up the wanted shutter speed and aperture for a shot.

  • Silver Snapper May 17, 2010 06:19 am

    For me aperture come first. If I'm shooting sports I usually have the lens fully open to give a shallow DOF to minimise distracting backgrounds. If I'm shooting macro, I usually have the lens stopped down to give as much DOF as possible whilst bluring the background.

    Next I adjust the ISO to get the shutter speed that I need.

  • Brice B May 17, 2010 06:15 am

    ISO is first for the same reason stated above. the other 2 all depend really on my creative approach to the photo (whether that be a burred background, if im shooting with strobes, if i want to show motion, etc...)

  • Jessica May 17, 2010 06:13 am

    I'd say for me it's aperture first because I shoot in a lot of low light situations without a tripod, and then shutter speed. I hate using a high ISO but if I have to in order to get the shot, that's what I'll do.

  • Kaue May 17, 2010 06:13 am

    Almost like you, but i think shutter speed comes first for me.... since i have a flimsy point and shoot (SX200IS) I tend to keep my iso fixed at the lowest levels, cause everything above 400 iso becomes unusable =( So ISO is not much of a priority since it's always fixed =P

  • David N May 17, 2010 06:07 am

    For me ISO is a 'given' - just a mind-set, I guess. I still use a lot of film, where changing the ISO is very much something exceptional.
    After that, I go for aperture first. In fact, even my dSLR is normally set to automatic aperture-priority. Don't know why. You've got me thinking, now. Which is good, as long as I can stop in time to go to sleep ;)

  • Orson Kent May 17, 2010 06:07 am

    One thing to remember is that it's only a triangle if you're working with ambient light - if you control the light (strobes or hotlights) and don't care about balancing against the ambient, their power becomes a fourth aspect to consider and include in the weighting.