When it comes to photography, understanding exposure is vital to capturing the perfect shot. Think of it like painting with light; knowing how to use the exposure triangle to your advantage can help you create a masterpiece. This beginner’s guide will explore the exposure triangle’s importance and show you how to master it to improve your photography skills.

What is the Exposure Triangle?

The exposure triangle is a fundamental concept in photography that refers to the relationship between three key elements that control the amount of light captured by the camera sensor. These elements are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Together, they form a triangle of variables that interact with each other to create the desired exposure.

Why is it important to understand the exposure triangle?

Understanding how to use the exposure triangle gives photographers precise control over their images. It helps you to:

    • Achieve proper exposure for the subject
    • Create specific artistic effects such as motion blur or depth of field
    • Adapt to various lighting conditions
    • Enhance the overall quality of photographs

How do you balance exposure in photography?

Balancing exposure in photography means finding the right combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to create the desired effect. Achieving this balance can be a creative and exciting process, but it requires understanding how to use the exposure triangle – so let’s explore that further.

How does an exposure triangle work?

As we’ve touched on, the exposure triangle works by creating a delicate balance between the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, where each element affects the others.

Understanding how to use the exposure triangle to balance these three elements is crucial in achieving your photography’s desired exposure and artistic effects.

Here’s a deeper look into how this balance is achieved using the three pillars of exposure:


By manipulating the aperture, you control the amount of light entering the camera and the depth of field, which affects how much of the scene is in sharp focus. It’s a powerful tool in portrait photography, where a wide aperture can isolate the subject from the background.
The aperture is the opening in the lens that allows light to pass through to the camera sensor. A wider aperture lets more light in, creating a brighter image, while a smaller aperture restricts the light, creating a darker image.

It’s important to remember that aperture also affects depth of field; a wider aperture will blur the background more, while a smaller aperture keeps more of the scene in focus.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera’s sensor is exposed to light, and it is used to capture motion. A fast shutter speed (e.g., 1/1000 of a second) can freeze a fast-moving sports car in its tracks, while a slow shutter speed can create a dreamy effect with flowing water.

It goes beyond simply capturing movement; it’s also about expressing how that movement feels. Learning how to use the exposure triangle with shutter speed allows for creative interpretation of movement.


In a nutshell, ISO is the sensitivity setting for the camera sensor, and it’s a real balancing act.

Adjusting the ISO allows you to shoot in various lighting conditions without altering your chosen aperture or shutter speed. However, it’s important to remember that it is a trade-off.

A higher ISO will make the sensor more sensitive to light, enabling photography in darker conditions without using a flash. However, the increased sensitivity can introduce noise or lead to graininess in the image.

On the other hand, lower ISO settings result in a cleaner, crisper image but require more light and may force your hand into using a wider aperture or slower shutter speed.

How to use the exposure triangle

Mastering how to use the exposure triangle is a gradual process. Here’s a more detailed approach:

Step 1: Adjust the ISO

Begin with the ISO, considering the light that is currently available to you:

    • If you’re shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, a lower ISO (e.g., 100) is ideal
    • For indoor or low-light scenes, you might need a higher ISO (e.g., 800 or more)

Step 2: Set your aperture

Next, decide on the aperture based on the depth of field you desire:

    • Do you want a sharp focus on your subject with a blurred background?
    • Or do you prefer everything in the scene to be in focus?

This decision will guide your aperture setting.

Step 3: Select the shutter speed

    • Choose the shutter speed to capture motion as you envision.
    • Experiment with different speeds to create various effects, from freezing motion to enhancing it.

Step 4: Experiment to get the perfect settings

    • Take test shots with different combinations
    • Review the results and see how changes in one element affect the others
    • Continue to experiment, learn, and refine your technique

Experimentation is the key to success

As a master photographer, believe me when I say that practice makes perfect. The more you learn how to use the exposure triangle, the more intuitive it becomes. By following these guidelines, you will develop a keen sense of how each element interacts, leading to more creative control, which will inevitably make you a better photographer.

If you have any questions about photography in general or about my workshops, (which are designed to accommodate photographers of any skill level or stage), feel free to reach out to me.