Exposure triangle

What is exposure triangle

Hello my lovely readers, in today’s article I will explain what is exposure triangle.

If you decided to step out of auto mode, or, tried shooting in manual mode and wondered why your photos came out too bright or too dark, this is because of some camera settings incorrectly adjusted.

As a beginner in macro photography or any other genre, you have to know how to master the three crucial settings which form the exposure triangle. These three settings are:



– Shutter speed

This post will cover what each setting is and how to set them to get a proper exposure value.

What is exposure triangle?

As I said above, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the three settings that create the triangle. By adjusting them properly, you will get a well-exposed image.

When you set one of them to a certain stop, you will also have to set the other one or both of them to get the perfect exposure. They work together to counterbalance lighting.

What is exposure triangle
WClarke and Samsara, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note: A stop is when you move between the numbers of the aperture, ISO, or shutter speed.

Firstly, learn and master these three settings when you want to go from auto to manual.


Aperture is the opening in the lens which lets light into the sensor. When you stop down, the wider the aperture will be, meaning that more light will enter into the sensor, and when you increase the number, the narrow the aperture will be, less light enters into the sensor. Just like our pupils.


With aperture, you can also control the depth of field. When you set it to a low number, let’s say f/2.8, you also narrow the focus area, which leads to a shallow depth of field, creating blur in the background. And when you increase the number to f/22, for instance, the focus area will become wider, and the entire image will be in focus.

So, again, a low f/stop number means a wide aperture, which creates a shallow depth of field. And a high f/stop number means a narrow aperture, which creates a wider depth of field.

The only downside of the aperture is the numbers. They’re not nice rounded numbers like ISO and shutter speed numbers. They’re positioned randomly and unequal. And this could be confusing or hard to understand when you start in photography.

If you want to learn more about aperture, read the what is aperture in photography article.


ISO is part of the triangle but does not affect the exposure. It is there only to show you how bright or dark your image will look in the final process.

It is also the culprit for noise in your images. You have to be careful when you increase the ISO number, because, as you increase it, more noise will be visible in your images. And this could ruin your work. Increase ISO only when you want to add noise in purpose in your images.

As the ISO numbers are rounded and equal, you can easily calculate the amount of light captured. The numbers are from 100 to 6400 or even higher.

As you can see in the image above, when you increase ISO by one stop, you double the amount of light each time. The sensor of the camera will be more sensitive to the light.

To learn more about how ISO works read what is ISO in photography.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is measured in seconds. How many seconds the shutter release will stay up and let the sensor exposed to light.

When you increase the shutter speed to 2″, for instance, the shutter will stay open for two seconds, letting more light into the sensor.

When you decrease the number to 1/500 or lower, you are reducing the amount of light hitting the sensor. The shutter will blink fast for 1 of a 500th second, and thus, letting a little amount of light into the sensor.

>>>>Learn more about Shutter Speed<<<<

Balancing the exposure

Now that you know how shutter speed, ISO, and aperture works, you have to know how to balance them to get a well-exposed image.

When you set, let’s say, the aperture to f/8, you will also have to set one or both of the other settings in the opposite direction, for instance, a shutter speed of 15″ to compensate for lighting and get an exposure value of 0.

In the video, we have an ISO of 100, an aperture of f/8, and the shutter is set to compensate for lighting. To know the exposure value, press the shutter button slightly until a dot will blink under the exposure meter.

As you can see in the video, the image will come out underexposed if we take the image as is. So, what we have to do is, slow down the shutter speed with the gear dial near the shutter button until it reaches 0. Here is another video with an overexposed setting.

Here we have an ISO of 200, an aperture of f/5.6, and the shutter speed will be compensated to get the well-exposed image.

Always keep in mind that if you want quality images, keep the ISO low, and adjust aperture or shutter speed to control the light entering into the sensor.

My final words about the exposure triangle

Learn and master the three settings from the triangle, keep practicing, and don’t get disappointed if you don’t nail it from the first try, don’t hesitate to start over, only this way you will get better at creating quality images. Don’t forget that these settings are the dough of your images.

I hope you learned something from this article, and don’t hesitate to drop your questions below, and I will be more than happy to help you.

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  1. I like the theme you covered, I have a camera, but I rarely take pictures in macro mode. I have a canon 1.8 stm 50mm lens, can I take good macro photos with it? And that I have a 600D canon from the camera. I know that it is important that the iso value and exposure are not too dark or light. Is it enough to set the iso value to be 400 shutter speeds as low as possible when shooting a long exposure? For example, if I want to paint silky water. In every part of the choice of topic, I wish you a lot of success in your further work

    1. Thank you Dragan for your kind words. If you want to create long exposure photos, you have to set the shutter speed somewhere between 2″ and 5″ to capture the silky look of the flowing water, and keep the ISO as low as possible. 

      You can take macro photos with the Nifty Fifty, but, you will have to get too close to your subject, and if you want to shoot a bug, It’ll scare away.

  2. Hello there, Thank you for your really informative article. I never really knew that i could ever understand the exposure triangle but I must say that you a good teacher. I have also ever wondered why photos appear too bright and sometimes too dark for sure especially after getting out of auto mode.

    1. Thank you Paul for the comment. Knowing how every element in the triangle works is crucial. Those are the dough of the images. Balancing them you will get a well exposed image. Taking pictures in manual mode, you will get the most out of your camera.

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