banner I am so excited to be a part of Kensie's series! I hope that something I say can teach someone something :)

I was asked to talk about exposure. When I was learning how to use my camera in manual mode, exposure was the first concept I mastered. I spent countless hours on the internet looking up ways to teach myself how to properly expose a photo, and the best way I found to learn exposure is the exposure triangle. The exposure triangle consists of three elements: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. I am going to go over what each one means, and then I will talk about how to apply them and make them work together!

First of all, why is it so important to shoot in manual? Auto-mode will just do all the work for you, right? Right! Why do you want your camera to do all the work?? You're smarter than your equipment! There is no point in spending hundreds of dollars on camera equipment if you aren't going to use it to it's full potential! In my opinion, right when your camera comes out of the box, it should be in manual mode. It's scary at first, and there are so many dials and buttons on the back of your camera, and you feel like you'll never get it figured out, but with time and practice you won't even have to look at the buttons and dials. Your fingers will just know what to do! AND your photos will be infinitely better, I promise.

Ok, the most important thing you need to know about photography--LIGHT! Light is everything! Once you know how to make light work for you, everything else will just fall into place. It's a difficult thing to master (I sure haven't mastered it yet), but with practice, you will become more and more comfortable with it and be able to step outside your comfort zone and shoot in difficult lighting situations.

Alright, let's talk about the different parts of the exposure triangle:


ISO is the hardest concept for me to get because it's more abstract than the other two. So, here's how it was explained to me that made the most sense. ISO refers to how sensitive your cameras sensor is to light. Back in the days when there was no such thing as digital photography, they used to make different types of film with different sensitivities to light. So in order to get different ISO settings with a film camera, you would have to buy different strips of film. Your digital camera has a sensor in it that becomes more or less sensitive to light as you change your ISO setting. The higher your setting, the more sensitive to light. You have to be careful, though because the higher you raise your ISO, the more grainy your photos will look. Grain isn't always a bad thing, but it makes the photos look less sharp. It's kind of a difficult concept, but when you combine it with the other two parts of the exposure triangle, it makes more sense.


Aperture refers to the widening and closing of the blades inside your lens to let the light in to the sensor. It is also referred to as the "f-stop." The lower the f-stop, the wider the blades open, letting in more light. The higher the number the smaller the blades close, letting in less light. So, if you have a 50mm f/1.8 lens, 1.8 is the widest it can go, and when you have your aperture set at 1.8, you are letting in the most light. You have to be careful with aperture, though, because the wider your aperture (lower number) the smaller your depth of field. That means, when you are shooting wide open, it can be hard to get your subject in focus. It takes A LOT of practice to get sharp photos while shooting at a 1.8 or lower. If you are shooting a family or even just two people who aren't in the same focal plane (standing side by side) it's usually not a good idea to shoot with a wide open aperture because someone is going to be out of focus. The nice thing about having a lens with the capability to open up wide is you can get that dreamy bokeh (blur) in the background of your photos. The smaller your depth of field (low aperture) and the further your subject is from the background the more bokeh you will get.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the most basic concept of the three. It's pretty self explanatory. Shutter speed refers to how fast or slow your shutter is opening and closing to let in light. As a general rule, I don't like my shutter speed to be any slower than 1/150th of a second when I'm photographing people and hand holding my camera. The longer your shutter stays open, the greater the chances are of taking a blurry photo due to subject movement or camera shake. I do NOT have a steady hand (good thing I'm not a surgeon!) so the faster the shutter speed, the better for me!

Alright, let's do some real-life applications so you can see how these three concepts work together.


My settings for this photo were ISO 125 f/1.8 SS 1/200 and I was using my 50mm f/1.4 lens.

This photo was taken on a bright, sunny day in the afternoon. My subject was standing in some trees. The light was coming from the left corner of the photo. I like to keep my ISO low if I am shooting in good lighting. I am not a fan of too much noise in my photos unless I am using the grain for artistic purposes. I wanted to get some cool bokeh behind my subject AND in front of her, since I was shooting through leaves so I had my aperture set at a low number. Since it was so bright outside and I was shooting wide open, I was able to keep my shutter speed pretty fast. These settings are pretty typical for me on a shoot where I only have 1 subject. I usually don't close my aperture any smaller than 2-2.5 because I am obsessed with bokeh, and I try to choose a time of day that I will have plenty of light.

5:52 noise

My settings for this photo were ISO 3200 f/1.4 SS 1/100 and I was using my 50mm f/1.4 lens.

I took this photo for a personal project, and I wanted it to be grainy. The room was pretty much pitch black except for the small amount of light coming in from the hallway, so I cranked my ISO setting up to 3200 (that's what caused all of the noise). I was shooting wide open to let in the most light, and to get the bokeh from shooting through the bars of her crib. My shutter speed was on the slow side, but since the baby was sleeping, and I was sitting in a chair where I could rest my elbows, it was ok.


My settings for this photo were ISO 200 f/4.0 SS 1/400 and I was using my 50mm f/1.4 lens (can you tell I like this lens??)

Since this was a group shot, I didn't want my depth of field to be too shallow so I could get them all in focus, so I set my f-stop at 4. I still wanted bokeh, so I set my subjects far away from the background. Again, it was a pretty sunny morning so I was able to have a low ISO setting and fast shutter speed even though my aperture wasn't wide open.

And that's the exposure triangle! The best way to understand (for me at least) is to go out and try it! So, set your camera to manual and start shooting!

I am planning on doing a blog post in the future about how to get sharp photos. It took me a loooong time to be consistent with this and I hate it when I miss focus! So, be sure and check out my website here and go like me on Facebook.

*Feel free to leave more questions in the comments! I am DEFINITELY not the most knowledgable source on everything photography, but I feel like I have a good knowledge of the basics of shooting and editing!

WEEK 1 CHALLENGE: Okay, so now you know what exposure is and it is time to put it to work! Flip that camera into manual mode TODAY (No Ap or P mode, go with manual, you won't regret it!) and start shooting. Remember, we are working on proper exposure first and foremost this week. Go like the Kensie M Photography Facebook Page and post your favorites from the week there! We can't wait to see what you are working on. And remember we love questions, so feel free to post them in the comments section!



Nicole Caywood is a full-time mommy to three crazy kiddos and a part-time photographer. She has been doing photography for about 4 years now. Her favorite thing about being a photographer is capturing people doing what they love to do, with the people they love to be with, and freezing their memories to be cherished forever! Nicole is based in Houston, Texas. You can check out her website here for more information and be sure and go like her on Facebook!


Ready to Learn More? Go check out Week 2 Aperture with Lynnea Wilson here.