Exposure: Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO

All about Photography Exposure: Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO

Lower ISO numbers require more light to get a good exposure, while higher ISO numbers require less light to get the right exposure. (ISO is part of the exposure “pyramid” that includes shutter speed and aperture, both discussed below.) But before routinely shooting with a high ISO, keep in mind that you will get noise as a consequence of too little information – image would be grainy.

Shutter Speed

A long shutter speed – say, 1/4 of a second – lets in more light than a short shutter speed, say 1/500 of a second. The shutter speed changes the way we see time in a photograph – a long shutter speed blurs time and a short shutter speed stops action.


The other control is aperture. This is analogous to how much you open the faucet. Example capturing waterfalls you will need some combination of a longer shutter speed or a very small bucket (ISO).

The aperture changes your depth-of-field. Depth of field is how much area, measuring directly away from your camera, is in focus. If you are tightly focused on the subject’s eyes you have short depth-of–field. If you need a large group all in focus, you need long (or large) depth of field. Wide-angle lenses have more depth of field at the same aperture than do telephoto lenses.

All these light controls are measured in the same unit – the stop. It is extraordinarily unfortunate that this unit is called a stop … very confusing. A stop is double or 1/2 the light you had before. So if you have a 100 ISO stetting on your camera and you change to a 200 ISO, you need 1/2 the light you had before. You need 1 stop less light. If you have a shutter speed of 1/125 and you change to a shutter speed of 1/250 you would have 1 stop less light. A stop of ISO is the same as a stop of shutter speed or aperture.

First, I should say that there are shutter speeds between 1/125 and 1/250 and there are ISO values between 100 and 200. In the same way the apertures have intermediate values, it is easier to understand the ISO and shutter speed.

Second, I should say that a larger aperture number lets in less light than a smaller number – for instance, f4 is much brighter than f16. The largest aperture we most frequently see these days (on DSLRs any way) is f2.8. The full-stop apertures, in order of reduced light transmission, are: f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16 and f22. Each one of these is one stop less light than the one before.

Camera Metering System

The meter gives us information on the overall quantity of light. The program function will make all the choices for us; aperture priority chooses the shutter speed based on the aperture we choose, so if depth of field is critical we use this function. If the way action is portrayed is critical then we will want shutter priority.