The Exposure Triangle in Photography: A Beginner’s Guide

If there’s anything that most beginner photographers looking to hone their craft get confused about, it’s the exposure triangle. In fact, the exposure triangle, or the combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, is one of the most complicated concepts photographers have to master before they can consider themselves an expert.

The exposure triangle is amazing when all three variables work together seamlessly to produce flawless photos. But the problem is if even just one of the three exposure variables is off, it won’t matter how beautiful your subject is, your photo will be either incorrectly exposed or simply out of focus.

In today’s post, we’re going to take a closer look at the exposure triangle in simple terms so that you can have a better understanding of this crucial photography concept.

What is the Exposure Triangle?

In photography, exposure is the amount of light that is captured when a photo is taken.

After that, you have the exposure triangle, which is made up of three parts:

  1. Aperture
  2. Shutter speed
  3. ISO

They work together to produce a photo that is properly exposed. When one variable changes, at least one of the other variables must change, too, in order to maintain the correct exposure.

If the exposure of a photo is off, you’ll notice the image is either underexposed, i.e. too dark; or overexposed — in other words, far too bright.

Before diving into the exposure triangle, it’s important to understand what the term stop of light refers to:

Stop of Light: a stop of light in photography refers to the halving or doubling of the amount of light that makes up an exposure. Each photo you take requires a certain quality and amount of light to be exposed correctly. Adding a stop of light by doubling the exposure will brighten an underexposed image. On the other hand, decreasing the exposure by one stop of light (and thus halving the exposure) will darken an overexposed image.

So, how do you add or take away a stop of light while taking photos? The answer is change the exposure triangle variables. In other words, adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and/or ISO.

Now let’s take a look at each part of the exposure triangle to see how they all work together to produce perfectly exposed photographs.

First Variable: Aperture


Aperture is the measure of how far open or closed the lens iris (the circular hole in the lens) on your camera is.

  • Wide Aperture: the bigger the hole, the more light that comes in.
  • Narrow Aperture: the smaller the hole, the less light that comes in.

If you double the area of your lens opening, you double the amount of light that comes into your camera. This is also equal to increasing the exposure by one stop of light.

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If you halve the area of your lens opening, you halve the amount of light that comes into your camera. This is also equal to decreasing the exposure by one stop of light.

Why control aperture on your camera?

The reason you would want to control the amount of light that comes into your camera and hits the sensor inside is that doing this helps control the depth of field. The depth of field is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects and the acceptable amount of sharpness within a photo that is in focus.

Let’s look at some examples to make this clearer.

Wide apertures create a narrow depth of field, which isolates a subject that is close and causes the rest of the photo to be out of focus. A great example of this is in portraits, where the person is clear as can be and the background is blurred out of focus.

A wide aperture puts your closest subject into focus and blurs the rest.

Narrow apertures create a greater depth of field, which allows more of the photo to be in focus. A great example of this is in landscape photography, where more the entirety of the image is in focus and every detail can be seen.

A narrow aperture allows the objects in your image that are farther away to remain in focus.

Second Variable: Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the measure of how long (in seconds) the shutter on your camera remains open and how long the sensor inside your camera is exposed to light.

Fast shutter speed gives the camera’s sensor less time to collect light and results in a lower exposure. They can stop motion, such as a camera shake or subject that is physically moving, without sacrificing details.

Fast shutter speeds can capture movement and maintain the details.

On the other hand, slower shutter speeds allow more time for the sensor to collect light and results in higher exposure. They can record images as the shots are snapped for a longer period of time resulting in a fluid, or sometimes blurry, effect.

In fact, if you have the right exposure triangle settings, slow shutter speed has the potential to give your moving subject matter a unique look and feel, such as a motion blur.

A slow shutter speed still captures movement but blurs it in a unique way.

Why control shutter speed on your camera?

The reason you would want to control the amount of light that hits the sensor on your camera is to ensure the subject matter of your photo stays sharp and the details are not lost. Of course, unless that’s your goal. Then, by all means, slow those shutter speeds down.

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Third Variable: ISO


The last variable of the exposure triangle is ISO. This is the most complicated of the three variables. That’s why for beginner photographers it’s easiest to think of ISO as the sensitivity of the digital sensor in your camera. If you want to dive even deeper, you can read more about what is ISO in photography.

  • High ISO values mean the sensor needs to collect less light to make a correct exposure.
  • Low ISO values mean the sensor needs to collect more light to make a correct exposure.

Adding to that, it’s good to know that doubling the ISO means an increase by one stop of light. Conversely, halving the ISO means a decrease by one stop of light.

Why control the ISO on your camera?

Increasing the ISO allows you to work with less light and still shoot amazing photos. After all, there comes a point when the aperture is as wide as possible and the shutter speed is as slow as possible to stop the action and capture a still shot, without any blurring.

That means the only thing left to do is adjust the ISO. However, the trade-off is more noise and less detail when you increase the ISO.

Noise in photography happens because there are random fluctuations in the electrical signal while you’re taking pictures. In less technical terms, noise is when the pixels in your photo turn funky and your images look grainy.

(Image Source)

Because of this trade-off, it’s important you evaluate a shot before adjusting the exposure triangle. If you’re okay with a little noise, so long as the subject matter remains relatively clear, keep the ISO high. If you want to eliminate the noise, and are okay with a softer, less detailed subject matter, then lower the ISO.

Use Modula to Display Your Best Work

Now that you know the ins and outs of the exposure triangle and how it can help you become a better photographer, it’s time to think about how to best display your amazing photographs using Modula Gallery.

Modula Gallery is the best image and video gallery plugin for WordPress. It’s highly customizable and doesn’t require you to have any coding skills, which makes it very user-friendly. Plus, it opens plenty of opportunities for you to make money as a photographer.

With Modula, you can:

  • Take advantage of the built-in image optimization features and speed up WordPress;
  • Build image and video galleries with a few clicks thanks to the drag and drop interface;
  • Protect your work by watermarking or password protecting images;
  • Embed videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or any self-hosted galleries;
  • Organize your work into albums so customers can easily find the photographs they’re looking for;
  • Add zoom functionality to images when they open in a lightbox for an up-close and personal look;
  • Create fully customizable gallery sliders and slideshows, complete with auto-play;
  • And so much more.

Ready to create your first image gallery? Check out this step-by-step guide for creating an image gallery in WordPress using Modula.

The Exposure Triangle: Conclusion

Understanding the exposure triangle is an important part of becoming a better photographer. If anything, knowing how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together will help you learn how to use your camera more effectively.

So, if you’re ready to take your photography skills to the next level, make sure to include learning about the exposure triangle so you get the best photos possible every time you shoot your camera.

Make sure to check out the best places on the internet to learn photography. And while you’re at it, don’t forget, once you’re ready to start making money off your newfound photography skills, be sure to check out our guide to becoming a successful freelance photographer to help you out.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started with the best image and video gallery plugin today.

What are your best tips for balancing the exposure triangle while taking photographs? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

1 thought on “The Exposure Triangle in Photography: A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. High ISO means you need less light plus wide aperture plus slow shutter speed will produce still picture without any blurry details.
    Thank you for this training.


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