What is Exposure?

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Understanding exposure is the first step to creating interesting photographs in manual mode. If you just got a DSLR camera I’m begging you to learn how to use creative exposures with your camera. If you’ve been using your DSLR in green mode (fully automatic mode) you’ve probably experienced some frustration with trying to make your photographs look better than ones taken on your phone. I’ve been there and I had to figure it out the hard way over an entire year! Let me teach you how to take better photographs by understanding exposure so that you don’t waste a year.

Exposure

Exposure is how bright or dark a photograph is. If a photographer says their photo is under-exposed, it’s too dark. If they say their photograph is over-exposed, it’s too bright. The trick is getting the exposure just right. That’s it! I told you exposure is easy. While the fully automatic mode will balance the exposure, using creative exposure modes will help you take dynamic photographs while balancing your own exposures.

The Problem with Green Mode

When I talk about green mode I’m talking about fully automatic mode. This is the mode on your camera that chooses every setting for you. Sounds great and easy right? The camera will make my photograph look great, right? Wrong. The camera has no idea what type of photo you want or what situation you are in. It’s one job is to read surrounding light and balance it. It doesn’t care if your kids are running around inside and you don’t want to use a flash because it makes them look like they are in a prison! It doesn’t care that it’s dark and you don’t want your family to be blurry. Let me show you. Here’s a photograph using automatic mode followed by the same photograph I took using a creative mode.

Automatic
Automatic
Manual
Manual

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did not edit these photos, they were just taken with a balanced exposure. First of all, look at the use of those leading lines! The photograph on the left was taken using automatic mode. The camera chose everything for me and determined the scene was too dark so it incorporated the flash. The shutter speed was very fast because the flash was used. That froze the water in place and caused inconsistent lighting with distracting highlights throughout the photograph.

The photograph on the left was taken using a creative exposure mode (manual mode) at the same balanced exposure. This time I chose all of the settings myself. I was able to make the water look smoother, more dynamic, and less distracting while showing the same lighting throughout the photograph. My point: stop using automatic mode!

The next step is understanding how aperture, shutter, and ISO work together.

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