Exposure Control

dslr camera exposure settings

Exposure Control: Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO

Getting the right exposure is fundamental in photography. It’s like getting your balance in riding a bike. You’re never going to win a competition unless you have an awareness of your balance from the get-go.

Three settings will factor into your exposure: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. So the question then becomes, “How do we achieve correct exposure?“.

Under Exposure
Under Exposure
Correct Exposure
Over Exposure
Over Exposure

How to Control Exposure

Exposure diagram with subject, lens, and camera exposure control

Okay, remember how the lens bends the light rays into the camera and onto the sensor? Good. Between the lens and the sensor are two devices we use for exposure control, to control the exact amount of light hitting the sensor.


THE SHUTTER – is usually a curtain-like device just in front of the sensor. Think of a shade pulled down on a window, and then quickly open it and close it. FOR AN INSTANT, THE ROOM WAS FILLED WITH LIGHT, and the length of time that burst of light filled the room is shutter speed!

That is basically how a shutter controls the amount of light getting to the sensor. The time the shade was open determined – to some extent – how much light came into the room – but so did the SIZE of the window! That window opening acted as…

THE APERTURE – which is built inside each lens and controls how much light enters the lens. Now for some clarification on shutter speeds. Looking at the photo below, you will see the changing numbers are the shutter speeds in fractions of a second (i.e., 30 = 1/30, 60 = 1/60). This is the time taken from when the shutter opens to when the shutter closes after you press the shutter release.

[td_block_ad_box spot_id=”custom_ad_2″]

Moving from one speed to the next one halves the amount of light that enters the camera. Moving the other way to a slower shutter speed doubles the amount of light that enters the camera. This change from one speed to another is called moving a stop. For instance, moving from a speed of 1/30th to 1/60th of a second is going 1 stop faster, and from 1/60th of a second to 1/250th of a second is moving 2 stops.


First, take the ISO as your shutter speed (100 ISO = 1/125th of a second or, if the ISO is 400, then the shutter speed would be 1/500th of a second for instance), your aperture setting is:

  • For bright sunny days and the sun is on the subject (f16)
  • For overcast, cloudy (f8)
  • Sunsets and sunrises, low light, wide open @ 1/30th

These are basic starting points that usually work. Your camera’s user manual may also have some excellent, basic exposure suggestions.

So, you have two methods of controlling exactly how many light rays get on the sensor, and if you understand the above, you then understand how to control exposure for different ISO settings. Re-read it until you understand it because this is the crux of exposure for daylight photographs.

To become more sophisticated with exposure control, you need to learn how to use a light meter. This can get very complicated because there are so many light metering systems out there and many ways of using those meters. After 40 years of shooting, I submit that the only true metering system you NEED to master is the light metering system offered in any good SLR camera.

dslr camera viewfinder for exposure control.

The light meter reads the light coming off the subject matter through the lens you are using and is controlled by the ISO you have already set that meter to. It simply is the most sensible, accurate way to meter those light rays.

SLR meters are getting more advanced all the time, offering “spot” metering (you can zero in on one particular spot on the subject, get the right exposure, and lock in that setting and make your photo) … overall metering, reflected metering, incident metering, ……and on and on. It is no longer necessary to “bracket” your exposure ( shoot one frame over by one stop, one frame at the indicated exposure, and one-stop under the recommended exposure). I quit bracketing twenty years ago and have not exposed a frame improperly.

Therefore, I will not get into other methods of metering. All of the recommended exposures from now on will be based on through-the-lens metering with an SLR camera.


  1. I’m so lost. It’s like a block for me since I switched to mirrorless. On my Fujifilm XT1, there are no f stops as listed. The only thing the knob says is plus 1, 2, and 3, with hash marks in between, and the same for minus. So, what is f16 on this camera?! Argh.

    I just shot a ballet company and ended up with 500 frames of blur so if I sound like a crazy person, I am. Cannot get good stage shots. So frustrating!

  2. Q Re: RULE OF THUMB FOR PROPER EXPOSURE OUTDOORS, for bright sunny days & for cloudy, overcast, you provide the f-stop but for sunsets, sunrises, you provide 1/30th shutter speed. You’ve already provided that the shutter speed is basically equal to the ISO. So for sunsets, sunrises, shouldn’t you provide the f-stop such as f4 or f2?

  3. I see a lot of questions but few answers. Are the answers being sent privately, or just no answers??
    Beginners need answers!!
    Some of us are VERY *raw*!! (No pun intended!!)

  4. Perhaps put the Exposure triangle on as an example. I like to think of it more as a scale. I try to keep my ISO (noise or clarity) as low as possible(the scale itself), then adjust my aperture & Shutter speed (the weights) accordingly.

  5. As I’ve always been bad with fractions this part confuses me:

    “Moving from one speed to the next one halves the amount of light that enters the camera. Moving the other way, to a slower shutter speed, doubles the amount of light that enters the camera.”

    Does that mean that going from 1/30 to 1/60 halves the light or going from 1/60 to 1/30 halves it?

  6. So, if I’ve got this right… the lower the ISO number = more light coming through? Is that what you’re saying?

  7. I LOVE YOUR SITE!! I have been taking photos for a while (kids sporting, family, vacation, scenery etc) just because I love to shoot. Never had any professional lessons though my father, uncle & god father are all professional photographers. I’ve tried to “learn” but it just always seemed so complicated.. I just like to shoot. You have broken down the basics in “regular people terms” that just plain make sense! I used to shoot film and now exclusively shoot digital (Cannon Rebel T3i) and want to take my photographs to the next level! Love what I have read so far.. and can’t wait to get deeper into the lessons. I will be shooting a lot this weekend just working on “lighting & exposure” … THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!

  8. I have a canon rebel xt eos. my question is I am trying to understand the shutter speed my cousin has tried to help as much as possible since she is a photographer.any way I digress.my camera says 1/2000 is this the speed or am i looking in the wrong place and also I take alot of sport pics of my kids and just life pics or sunsets.how can i make sure I have the shutter set right for the right action shot im trying to catch and the right indoor pic.

  9. @ Yvonne: i strongly suggest Canon 700D.
    I have a compact Canon SX210 IS, my wife has Canon 600D.
    I have recently gave myself a gift, the Canon 700D (in USA Canon Rebel T5i).
    With around 1000 bucks you can have also the fantastic 18-135 IS STM lens.

  10. @ Nahem: the answer to your question is easy.
    The shutter time depends by the subject.
    A statue doesn’t move, then you can use a low speed (100 ISO, f/14-8: low aperture).
    A kid moves, then you must use high speed shutter (100 or higher ISO, f/6.3: high aperture). An insect or a bird move as well, then the speed of the shutter has to be high (1/250, 1/500 or faster).
    Here the lessons are very professional and easy to understand, but i believe that the best teacher is your own experience.
    “Waste” shots of your camera and you will soon understand what means “keep the balance” between shutter speed, ISO and aperture.
    But everything depends, of course, by the subject.
    My compliments for the tutorial!!

  11. I am very impressed at how this person teaches photography so clear and so simple. Thank you so much for sharing your gift with all of us. You are very professional. Wishing you all the best.

  12. Hello there!
    First of all, thanks for this tutorial. It’s really helpful
    I just have a question or more, why in a sunny day you say that is better to shoot at an aperture of f16 with an ISO of 100 and shooter speed if 1/125 (or 400 ISO and 1/500 shooter speed with the same stop).
    Why not doing at 100 ISO, less than f16 (f14-8, f7.1 or f6.3 = more light) and less than 1/125 (1/160, 1/200, 1/250, 1/… = less light) respectively.
    If there are 3 variables in the equation how should we play with them, what would be the result with the numbers I mentioned (any difference??)
    I think that is not clear when you say “Sunsets and sunrises, low light. wide open @ 1/30th”. Doesn’t wide open refers to the f? what means wide open at 1/30th (1/X according to the tutorial means shooter speed). Or you meant wide open (low f, how much) with an shooter speed of 1/30th??
    How is the lowest shutter speed that we can use “securely” with good results (handshake proof). I have steady hands but I am not a tripod
    That’s it, thank you very much again

  13. Thanks for all the info. Im looking to become a professional but im a beginner and i would like to ask if you know of a good camera i can start off with.

  14. So excited to have found this site! Extremely informative. I’ve tried to dig up free photography tutorials in the past but this one is my favorite by far!

  15. Deeply grateful for all the time and effort you have put into these lessons! Everything is very clear, I am so happy I found this site…. Thank you so much 🙂

  16. Thank you sir ji.

    I am happy to have stumbled on to your site. Haan ji (meaning “yes sir” in Hindi, national language of India) you are a teacher.

    Haan ji, now you have added 2 students – me and my 15 yr old son.

    We have just bought a Canon 1100D with double kit – 18-55mm & 55-250mm lenses. Today, placed order for UV filter lens. Have a question though, Should I also go for CPL filter lens and NDx8 filter lens at this juncture. I dont wish to be a pro, but would not want miss on good shots due to want of basic stuff, apart from the DSLR.

    and finally Haan ji, like a flamingo that keeps visiting its brooding site, we will too keep coming back to your site.

    Keep up your good work. God bless you.

    Thank you, thank you very much, thank you very very much.

  17. oh so happy I found this site! I have a rebel xsi, would love to upgrade some day, but i can’t justify it until i feel totally confident. this helps. everything is in layman’s terms, so simple to grasp

  18. I love this website. Every information is so deep and detailed but explained properly to facilitate understanding even to me who knows nothing about photography. And yet its free. God bless u

  19. I have been an Novice photographer all my life, and have read many books and articles on the subject.

    I have (my wife says) more cameras than any one person needs.

    This has been the first website I have found that actually Explains in Clear Language the relationship between Shutter speed, ISO, and Aperture.

    I am looking forward to sharing this with my niece!

    hank you so much! J

  20. Thanks for your notes. The lessson explains everything about photography. However it seems the lessons are based on normal SLR camera instead of DSLR camera. Can you please let us know the same concepts can be used on DSLR cameras as well. I have Canon T3i and have a lense which I used with Canon EOS 888(normal SLR). Can I continue to use DSLR with that lense. Can you please reply to my email as well. How fast do you usually reply to these questions?

    Thanks again for these fantastic articles and making it simple to read and understand.

  21. I’m a student at Harvard and didn’t want to spend a course taking photography. I’ve done some traveling and I regret that I did not stumble upon your website earlier. Such a condensed, free—yet powerful—tutorial is the quintessential photography tutorial.

    The sundry comments on this site testify to the power of your tutorial. What a fantastic, one-stop website for learning photos.


  22. I absolutely enjoy reading and learning all the tutorials on your site. I was actually thinking of taking a class but after reading everything here I feel more confident about getting into photography. Just bought a Canon T3i and can’t wait to start playing with it!

  23. im a new learner of photography, as a beginner i bought a lumix dmc-LZ20 coz it’s affordable in price..is it a good camera? thanks! 🙂

  24. @Spring in regards the issues you’re having with trying to get everything to be as bright as what you perceive it to be you may want to look into HDR Photography. It allows the effect that I think you’re going for.

  25. @Spring what the article is suggesting is that if you are using 100 ISO film, or more likely, using 100 ISO light sensitivity on your digital camera you should do the 1/125th of a second shutter speed. The reason for this is that there isn’t typically a 1/100th shutter speed so we use what’s closest. Same with 400 ISO… there is no 1/400th shutter speed so 1/500th is what you would start with on a sunny day.

  26. OK, so I have a very specific problem I’m looking for an answer to, and I imagine it’s an exposure issue…
    I’m just learning nature photography with my new nikon d90. Today I was very frustrated because I had a wonderful blue sky and amazing clouds with trees in the foreground, but I couldn’t get the foreground (trees) to be light enough to see details and color while also capturing the depth, color and clarity of the background (clouds and sky).
    Do you know what I can do to work on this?
    Thank you for the wonderful tips and amazing feedback to people’s comments ~ this website is a gem!!

  27. I just understood f stops for the first time ever, after reading this article three times 🙂 Thank you!!
    However, I’m not mathematical whatsoever and am very confused by this:
    100 ISO = 1/125th of a second
    if your film speed is 400 then the shutter speed would be 1/500th of a second

    How does 100 turn into 1/125th of a second and 400 turn into 1/500th?
    Maybe I missed something or this is basic math that I just don’t understand?

  28. Hi Charlie,

    Your teachings on this website are very basic and informative. Thank you so much for making it simple.

  29. Hi, I have a Sony hx100v it’s a nice camera and I do want to go upto a dslr Nokia 5100. I like taking photo a lot. What do you think about Sony hx100v and me going upto the Nokia
    You site is very informative and enlighten. I have an idea now about aperture. I want to learn a lot with either camera

  30. Thanks so much. As I was reading this (decided that joining a live class was not as beneficial as your on-line school) I noticed a beautiful sunset between trees. I just read about shutter 1/30 for sunset. Set f stop to 4.5 (lowest for my kit 50-300mm lens) and voila!!!! The sky was perfect. I used my spot meter in camera and focused on the sky—not the trees. The sky was perfect. Thanks for all the time you all have spent creating this site.

  31. Thank you SO much for this website! I love taking pictures and I always have a really great eye for them, but I’m not very good with all of the settings and what not. I am really glad that this is here, not to mention, free!

  32. This is great, it is so clear and very easy to understand. It explains the shutter speeds very well. Although this is an area for further development for me.

  33. @Andrew ISO, Shutter Speed and aperture are separate camera settings that exist for photo taken. I think Skip was pointing out some good places to start with exposure outdoors so if you’re ISO is set to 100 you should start with a 1/125 shutter speed. If you’re ISO is 400 you should start with a 1/500 shutter speed. He then follows with the aperture setting for each circumstance.

  34. I am a little confused. You stated above that “Looking at the photo below, you will see inside the red circle, the numbers in white are the shutter speeds in fractions of a second (i.e. 30 = 1/30, 60 = 1/60).” If that is so, then why is a film speed of 400 equal to 1/500th of a second? I thought that the numbers on the camera AND the numbers on film were the ISO speed. If they are, wouldn’t a film speed of 400 actualy be 1/400th of a second?

  35. Hi,
    Great work. I like the way you explain things.I own a camera, but I dont know much about photography.Will experiment my photography skills with the knowledge that I gained from ur site.

  36. Hi again , I know you said something about better lighting , but I was asking about taking the pictures indoors of my granddaughter playing basketball and volleyball and was wondering if the setting someone told me is best for that or should I set my camera on something else to get a brighter and clearer picture. He told me 500 shutter and 1600 iso which is the highest it goes. A friend has a Canon t3 and hers are so bright. Also wanted to know about filters , is there one I should have on for indoor sports and I read on one of these classes , to leave one on all the time ? And thanks was thinking about less light getting in when I zoomed in

  37. @ Jackie You don’t have to get a new camera to get better pictures. You could just purchase some brighter lighting- perhaps a few bright lamps. You’ll want the light to be soft and even so you may point them at a wall or ceiling to get the best results. Also be aware that the more you zoom in with your lens the less light is able to enter the lens.

  38. The quality & speed of your memory cart won’t get you nicer photos. The speed is important when you’re in burst mode taking multiple photos per second or recording HD video. The quality is important because they’re theoretically less likely to fail on you are using higher quality cards.

  39. I just found this today and am very excited . I’m just a gramma who wants nice crisp photos of the grankids , a lot of indoor sports too . I have a old Canon Rebel XT 350 . All my indoor pictures and night games were all blurry . A friend of mine told me what to set my camera on , but also said I would need a different lens. Can’t afford a new camera went for the the lens 70-200 f/2.8. My pictures are a lot better , are not bright like others with newer cameras and grainy cause of the iso setting ?it goes up to 1600. I was told to try setting the shutter at 500 and iso 1600 for the indoors and night games . So is that the best I can get til I get a new camera ? Also my lens came with a hood on it , should always leave it on and filters, always use one and should you use a different one for the indoor sports ? Thank you so much for your time!

  40. With my work schedule I have yet to find a photography class I can attend. I came across your website this morning and am finding it very,very helpful. Have had my Sony a390 for a year. Perhaps now I will understand how to use it!!! Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.

  41. It’s a tough call between the two, both the T3i & Nikon D5100 are great values. I don’t think you’d be kicking yourself if you wen either way. I don’t see an extra two megapixels meaning much when the lower value is 16 MP. If you care about video I like how the Canon lets you shoot 60 frames per second when you’re shooting 720p video, along with that the extra width on the LCD. At the end of the day I’d probably pick the canon cause I feel it’s a better value with a lower price and pretty close to the same specs. That’s probably what Canon was betting on when they made the T3i.

  42. Hey my name is Bailey
    I was wondering if you had any preferences for a great camera! You really really love for doing all kinds of photography?
    Also, do you think a canon rebel T3i is a good camera or a Nikon D5100? Which camera would you recommended between these two and another camera. PLEASE I need so help!

  43. Thank you for helping me better understand. This is a journey I have always wanted to take and finally found a complimentary site which is educating. I will be rereading your lessons a number of time to become a confident and creative photographer. Gracie.

    Tip: Would it be possible to put the most current comments at top as I almost by-passed your site as I initially thought your site had not been visited since 2008.

    I was initially concerned until I saw your photographers’ creds because it is rare to have a site which actually gives us comprehensive free lessons. I realise there will be a part which gives you a choice to purchase something, but thank you for this choice.

  44. i just got a Nikon D300 SLR camera and i really want to know how the camera works (the science of lighting and all) so i can take great artistic pictures….
    I really want to be good at this…

    i really hope i can practice and rememebr all these terms.
    thanks for the explanation, well done and easy to understand.

  45. I am a new photographer and using my DSLR canon t2i camera. I am learning a lot from this site. I don’t understand what ” f8″ means. What does f mean and where will I see it in my camera? Thanks a lot for making it free and letting me know everything about in here and I’m sorry too if I will be one of the person here who will ask more in the future …..i do love taking pictures and i can see myself to be a good photographer in the future I’m just taking my time to know everything about all this again more power….

  46. @Daniel Here’s an explanation of aperture and shutter speed. The easiest way for you to change the aperture is to select Aperture priority mode which is the “A” on the dial. Then use the dial in front of the shutter release to adjust the aperture. The shutter speed will automatically get set in this mode to get a good exposure. Shutter speed is the same idea only you use the Shutter priority mode which is the “S” on the dial. Now when you use the dial in front of the shutter release the shutter setting will change and the aperture will adjust to keep a good exposure.

  47. I own a nikon d80 and its really confusing to use it. I am still lost on and do not understand what shutter speed and aperture mean. Can you please help me out ?
    Thanks in advance

  48. These lessons are so different to all the jargon I have have tried seen on the net and all the courses I have looked in to , thankful I came across this site. Its simple and basic. I am very curious about digital photography. I call it ” playing with light”. I wonder what difference it makes from analogue photography where they use film rolls and labs..er I am really new to photography here , so plz excuse my silliness 🙂 do they still use the old techniques ? and we get a PDF of all these lessons so we can carry them around for reference?

    Thank you anyway

    Great work !….keep it up 🙂 🙂 🙂

  49. Thanks a ton. I got this site from a friend, the authors hard work in making this great tutorial is worth praises. I wonder how much tech is involved in this field of photography. I owned a Nikon l120 which has some settings and want to make appropriate use. With every lesson I’m getting good practice.
    Can you explain more about the aperture speeds, I think with out getting acquainted with basics we cannot understand further.

  50. Thanks so much for making this available! I have a Canon EOS Rebel Ti that takes great pictures, but I would love to learn more about film photography and how to take even better pictures. I appreciate the photography made simple approach. Kudos!

  51. The only photography tutorial that teaches from scratch, and every thing comes in correct order.. I’m grateful to you for these wonderful lessons!

  52. I’m totally newbie for SLR camera, this site is very help full for me.
    Thank’s for sharing some photography techniques and I will bookmark this site as my favorite.

    Thank you….Thank You….Thank You

  53. I am trying to learn everything there is to know about photography. It has been a hobby of mine forever. My boys are grown now and I have more time to really learn everything. This site has been most helpful. I do have a question. Aperture has always confused me but I now understand because of your site. THANK YOU! Now you mention the rule of thumb settings for outdoor shooting, but what about indoors, say with an extended flash on my Nikon D700. Is there a rule of thumb for Aperture setting for indoors?

    Thanks so much for the help.

  54. I got a Fuji Film S1800 12 mp 18x zoom for Christmas this year. I started taking pic’s without really reading up on it. So I tried many sites without understanding a dang thing. But I came across your site and WOW. You make it all so easy to understand. Best part in todays economy is that its ALL free. THANK YOU and may GOD BLESS you a thousand times over for doing so. I was getting frustrated when my camera was doing the 3d effects for some pic’s without knowing how in the world it was doing it. NOW I KNOW…all because of your simple explanation of aperture. Again…thank you.
    BTW~ I gave my old 3x zoom Kodak to my 8yr old grandson. We now go out together and practice together.

  55. this course is like a lightbulb or a little hand that is knocking on my head saying – duh!!!! I love love love the window example to explain the shutter speed and aperture – people have tried to help me and i just kind of space out bc i have no idea what they are talking about – and I have had my canon rebel xt for almost two years and i had yet to learn how to use ISO until a few seconds ago – thank you !!!!!!!

  56. After pawning my 35MM SLR over 16 years ago (Nikon F).. I just picked up a Sony Alpha 350… Learning everything all over again….Thanks for the tips! Appreciate the site!

  57. Thank you so much for this awesome site. Your lessons really taught me a lot. I’m just using a digital point and shoot, but the basic lessons here absolutely helped with the way I take pictures. 🙂

    In fact, I think I’ll tell my students to look up this site. We’re currently taking up the History of Photography and it would be really great if they can learn some actual applications too.

    I’m a novice teacher from the Philippines and photography lessons over here are crazy expensive. That’s why this site is heaven-sent.

    Thanks a lot again. More power and God bless! 🙂

  58. many thanks for producing this easy to read guide, after purchasing a camera, lenses, and a couple of books i was getting really confused and your lessons put it all into perspective.

  59. So confused!!! I guess need to read and re-read until I understand. I am very new to this. I have a canon 60D and I’m totally confused

  60. As a general rule you don’t want to go slower than 1/60 for a shutter speed without a tripod. That may require you to get more lighting in doors. Often times opening a window is enough, but if you’re to far from a window you’ll need to get some good lights.

  61. Wow. I absolutely love these lessons. thank you!
    I think i almost finally understand all the aperture, iso, and shutter speed stuff…my question is this. i own a FujiFilm Finepix 6900zoom and i want to limit my use on the flash indoors. what should my settings be at for clear pictures inside? It seems no matter what i try, my pictures come out blurry.
    thanks again.

  62. I am wanting to buy a new digital camera and am not sure which one would work better for an amateur who wants to get more into photography over time. I do not want to spend a lot of money. I will mainly be taking pictures of my grandchildren, dogs and my travels. Any suggestions?

  63. well thanx there! my search for a good online help source is over today. u r just wonderful. the exhaustive yet simple explanations r just awesome…but do i hve the privilege to upload my photos n get critically examined by u??? it wud be great if it happens….thanx again.

  64. Thanks you are amazing ….I know when I have a question I can find the answer on here and learn more and more from you . keep it up !

  65. wow! this is absolutely great..im not learning on the lessons itself but from you guys who share their knowledge..thanks a lot..just new in digital photography and this site is very much helpful..keep it up!

  66. Karen, this explanation of aperture F number might help you understanding of lens measurements. The focal Length is essentially where light enter the lens to where it’s focused in the camera. Thanks for keeping us on our feet with the questions! If you’d like to know more abut focal length this article on the physics of depth of field will explain why different focal lengths (longer or shorter lenses) result in different depths of field.

  67. The 1/30 is referring to the shutter speed all the other measurements you mentioned were referring to aperture. Skip was just talking about overall exposure and in the paragraph above the section you cited he says the shutter speed will be the same as your “film speed number” or ISO. So he gives you the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Everything you need to have a starting place for the right exposure. The last example of a sunset is a little confusing because he throws shutter speed in when before he said it should correlate to your ISO, I would venture to guess he was talking about 100 ISO.

  68. Could you please clarify the following:
    For bright sunny days and the sun is on the subject. f16.

    For overcast, cloudy. f8.

    Sunsets and sunrises, low light. wide open @ 1/30th.

    I’m confused (again, sorry) is it just me or do you go from talking about aperature to shutter speed? Particularly, I don’t understand “wide open at 1/30th”. I thought wide open referred to aperature but “@ 1/30th” refers to speed, right?

  69. Similarly, could you please define what focal length is? I know you doubled it, and I know the pictures illustrate that different lenses have different focal length, but what is it, exactly? I’ve never understood what the number in front of the mm represents, and I still don’t.

  70. Hi, thank you for providing this information. I do think it would be helpful, though, if you defined terms from the get go-for example, exposure. I’m not clear whether it has to do w/ focal length or aperature and speed. Is there a similar free online course for digital camera users (without references to film?).

    Again, thank you.

  71. Thank you so much for posting all this information and for providing such clear explanations and answers to questions too!! I have also wanted to improve my technical understanding for decades, but living in Jakarta and [previously in Cairo, this was never easy. Absolutely superb, enjoying my upwards learning curve immensely…and I’ve only started a couple of hours ago 🙂

  72. i want to buy a camera. i have an fm 10 and a sony digital dsc h2. which one do u think is the best for learning..thank u

  73. If your shooting with film the film speed should be on the canister. Film Speed is also related to ISO or sensitivity. On a digital camera you can find your ISO settings on the LCD display. What Skip is saying here is that if your ISO is 4x more sensitive then your shutter can go twice as fast and still get the same exposure.

  74. You have to take into account your aperture setting along with how much light is entering the camera. Your camera should have meter to give you a general idea of where your settings should be for the amount of light your shooting.

  75. I’m confused when you say “First take the film speed number as your shutter speed (100 ISO = 1/125th of a second or, if your film speed is 400 then the shutter speed would be 1/500th of a second for instance” Does this mean the film speed number is relative to ISO? And how do I know the film speed number in the first place?

  76. I have been reading numerous articles that are extremely helpful. I was thinking of purchasing a Canon EOS rebel and would love your insite on my email. I am a mom of 2 so it has been hard to save back the money but I am wanting to be able to take nature and event photography (eg. birthday, play time, school function etc.) Thank you. I am currently using those cheap cameras from the D.G. store but was able to learn about proper lighting some what. Thanks again for all of your help.

  77. Thank you sir. I am 40 years old and knew all the basic in h.s. and was very good at photography. Went off to college for social work and have lost the basics over the years. When we were expecting our first child 7 years ago I went out and purhased a canon eos 3 and stillhave no clue as how to use it! I have 3 girls now and am so so thankful for this site. I was ready to give up and go digital but now I am getting the basics back and hope my next few rolls are great! I still want to go digital but love film. Again, thank you so much for this site! I am really excited!

  78. Brian, the hand technique is used more for older cameras or cameras that use a spot metering system. If your camera does all of the light measuring automatically using evaluative metering, you don’t have to worry about this hand measuring technique.

  79. Let me see if I got this. By using your hand to give the camera info on the type of light setting you want, you have to press the shutter button halfway. What happens after that? If you go to re-compose your shot, do you now release the button, or do you keep it pressed halfway? My camera auto-focusses when I press halfway, which means that I would have to use manual focussing if I keep the button depressed, and if I don’t, then the camera automatically resets exposure and focus. Another thing, which would be better to select for this “trick”, spot, partial or evaluative metering? I apologize for troubling you. As for this site, it is surely a God-send, helping so many people. May you all be blessed for your kind work and patience with idiots like me!

  80. I am planning to continue with reading the courses. They are very informative………So, question…….how does metering off of your hand effect white balance?

  81. Thanks. This is a great website for beginner photographers. It explains the same concepts as everyone else, but much simpler and easier to understand. Thanks!

  82. It looks like you have a very good range from 18-300 mm. The 18-200 lens will probably give you the most flexibility, but I wouldn’t only use one lens. Keep reading lessons on aperture shutter speed and lenses and you’ll be able to see what effect the various setting have you your photographs. Good luck with the wedding and don’t forget to read a few of our wedding photography articles.

  83. I tried the recommended shutter times and f-stop with my Canon 20D (IS0 100, shutter speed 125, F 8) on an overcast day and it was very under exposed. Are the rules of thumb for exposure different for digital cameras?

    I need to go to an iso of 200, a f-stop of 5 or so and a shuttle of 60 to get it exposed corrently. It is a dark and rainy day but I didn’t think it was that dark out.

    Thanks for any hep

  84. Thank you very much for the wonderful site… My husband bought me a Canon EOS 500D and since May this year I am just clicking away… I love taking photo’s and want to do it professionally but when I saw the prices of the courses my heart nearly stopped and my dream went out the window… till this afternoon when I stumbled across your site. Now I can go on and hopefully live my dream. All my friends and family support me and encourages me to go on with my dream. I love to photograph people, animals,flowers and landscapes. I’ve got two lenses a Canon zoom lens EF-S 18-200mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS and a Sigma 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 this lens are also a macro 200-300mm. I always have problems witch one to use when I take my photo’s. What lens would you recommend when taking wedding photo’s. In December I am taking my husbands nephew’s wedding photo’s they can’t afford a professional photographer and said I can use their photo’s for my portfolio.. I took a few wedding photo’s at a friends wedding with my 200mm lens they loved the photo’s said it look professional but I want to do it 100%. Thanks again for the site at least my exposure will be correct….

  85. Great great, this is the most detailed and easy to read photography teaching material. Back to basic and rule of thumbs, never changed. But good foundation to us. Thanks for the internet, your heart and knowledge can be delivered to those who want to become good photographer instantly. Thanks. From Hong Kong

  86. Great Tutorials! I think it might help to understand WHY the hand trick works for metering. Logic tells me that what you are doing is filling a large portion of the frame with your hand so the meter isn’t averaging in an overly light or dark background that isn’t part of the subject – which could skew the reading. In the final shot, you want the exposure on the subject to be perfect regardless of what other elements occupy the rest of the frame. It may mean detail in the background will be too dark or conversely, blown out, like a bright beach behind someone sitting in the shade sipping a Mai Tai. And I suppose because you are using your hand, it helps the camera meter choose the right settings for more natural skin tones…

  87. Zoe, This trick will work with any camera with a metering device. What are the 4 choices your camera gives? You need to me in manual in order for this to work. The idea of the hand trick is this: You fool your camera by placing your hand in front of your camera. If the subject is in shadow, make shadows on your hand so that the camera will compensate. If your subject is in light show full light on your hand so the camera will again compensate and expose your subject properly. With digital I honestly recommend just trying out shots, being conscious of your meter, until you understand what is the “right” exposure and what adjustments you have to make if your subject is in the shade or bright light.

  88. thanx for the lessons so far. i just got a fancy schmancy camera and am dying to actually learn how to use it! another question about the metering. i have a cannon EOS 50D and as far as i can see in the manual i only have 4 options for selecting a certain metering mode. will the hand trick work for my camera? and if it does how do i know what the reading is off my hand and how do i set that same reading onto my camera for the actual shot i want to take? i’m sorry if it is covered and i just didn’t catch it.

  89. Im realy happy with your lessons,I have been dreaming of learning photographic,The problems were where would i get a great place to study while at the same time my financial situation is bad and i dont have even a camera,but now im getting these lessons free so im sure once i get a camera i will be a great photographer and fullfil my dream,Here in Tanzania there are so many attraction on the field im working as tour consultant,Thanks again and again i hope to get more lessons from you which are somehow hard to find here in third world.Welcome to Tanzania and visit our attractions while taking your great photos.


  90. cant understand this,

    If your subject matter is in bright light, again create that light on the palm of your hand

    If your subject matter is in bright light, again create that light on the palm of your hand

  91. thank you very much Derek for answering my question…..its gives a lot of encouragement to carry on further. ….now its much more clearer. thanks a lot

  92. Zooming will change the focal length. Changing the shutters speed is to change how long the sensor is exposed to light or change the time it takes to capture a picture. If you have a quick shutter shutter speed (1/1600th of a second) then assuming you have enough light you will have a clearer picture because over 1/1600th of a second there isn’t much motion and thus your pictures will have very little blur even for sporting events. The down side is that less light can reach the sensor in such a short time and therefore quick shutter speeds should only be used when light is plentiful or ISO is high. A slower shutter speed is just the opposite. Focal length connects with shutter speed in that setting your shutter speed depends on what your focal length is. If you are zoomed in your camera lets in much less light then if you were zoomed out. Depending on the amount of light coming in you may want to increase or decrease your shutter speed in order to get the right exposure. Keep reading the courses and use the search tool to find answers on specific topics. If in doubt don’t be afraid to ask more questions!

  93. your lessions are proving to be quite useful to me.Thanks a lot. i understood that increase in focal length simply means zooming(if i got it right) but what does increase or decrease in shutter speed mean. in what way does it effect the photograph…..does it increase clarity ….light …….zooming or what ……i dint get it

  94. We’ve just created a new article to help address your question. The topic is Histograms. A histogram is an advanced display technique for light meters. The light meter is typically built into your camera and the histogram can be viewed on your LCD while reviewing photos. As this article says you are to look for a fairly even distribution with a few spikes in order to have variation in your photographs. An example has been included in that article so that you can see what a good photography looks like with the histogram as displayed in Photoshop.

  95. Skip, thanks for the reading. I see that we should use the light meter, but what exactly are we supposed to look for? Where should the meter be? What does the perfect reading look like? An example would really help. Thanks!

  96. Many camcorders have the ability to take photos and just about all of them are completely automatic, meaning that you are only left with the ability to zoom in and out and move the viewfinder around. Like you said, they give you a few presets in order to “enhance” your photos, but you don’t have much control over the focal point, depth of field, aperture or exposure. I’ve found an article about your camera and the features it provides and it confirms that your camera is almost completely automatic.
    A digital SLR with a light meter such as the “Digital Camera” Canon 40D, you have the ability to change your focal point, depth of field, aperture, and exposure. We have many lessons about light and the photographer such as the lesson on shooting a sunset. Feel free to comment if you have any other questions.

  97. hi skip!

    just gave up reading a book on photography but have progressed through 4 lessons of yours without feeling frustrated ^_^.

    however, i have a videocam with stills function (sony dcr-dvd405). i need to translate your lesson on exposure into the language of my camera. it does not have f8 etc or iso gauges. it only makes me choose from a program ae menu: portrait, sunset, beach/ski, landscape; white balance: indoor, outdoor; exposure: – totally dark, + totally bright.

    what do the light meter readings in an slr alow you to do?

    thank you very much for this gracious lessons for beginners ^_^.

  98. Peter, you are correct in thinking:
    use 1/100th for ISO 100 and 1/400th for ISO 400. However, those speeds are not available on the camera. So do I then go to the closest shutter speed?

    These are just starting points that are given for out door exposures. The right exposure is probably going to be different and using the meter on your camera you can find a combination that may work better. The author here is just pointing out the difference between film ISOs and corresponding changes required in shutter speed. In modern digital cameras you can choose your ISO on the fly and so this information is less important for digital photographers, but very helpful for those who still see the benefits of film photography.

  99. I’m afraid that I am lost. In your lesson you write:
    First take the film speed number as your shutter speed (100 ISO = 1/125th of a second or, if your film speed is 400 then the shutter speed would be 1/500th of a second for instance), your aperture setting is:”
    What I do not understand is how ISO of 100 equals 1/125th of a second and ISO of 400 equals 1/500th of a second. I do not see a correlation between the two. Are these values hard and fast, as in I need to commit them to memory? Or are they obtained from a formula of some sort?
    The way that you say “…take the film speed number as your shutter speed…” would lead me to use 1/100th for ISO 100 and 1/400th for ISO 400. However, those speeds are not available on the camera. So do I then go to the closest shutter speed?
    Thank you for your time.

  100. Good night photographers often have to battle with their camera battery going dead before their exposure completes. We are talking about exposures not in seconds or minutes but in hours. You have to have a camera that can have an open shutter for that long of a time and often times requires an accessory to fire the shutter and hold it as most cameras are not programed to remain open for hours.
    One good combination is found below:
    Nikon D90

    Shutter Release and Lock

  101. The hand trick with the light is brilliant, I can’t believe I never tried that, thanks!

    I’m looking for tips on taking clear dark photographs, any suggestions on good “dark cameras”? Heh.

    I photograph action figures and make photo-comics, I usually have very dark scenes that point-and-shoots just can’t handle, I usually get grainy pictures even with lower ISO. My usual camera is a Sony Cybershot DSC-W80, I know probably any digital SLR shoots circles around it 😛

  102. I’m glad you liked the photography lessons. The Nikon D60 is a great Digital Camera. Wedding photography can be done using any camera as long as the photographer knows what he’s doing.

  103. Wow, Focal length finally just clicked after reading this article. I am taking a class currently and have already learned more tonight the i have in the past 4 weeks in class. Do you think a Nikon D 60 has the capability to shoot a wedding???

    Thank you for your time and a great website


  104. Glad you like lessons! Lenses with with a specified range, in your case 100 – 300mm, can go from one focal length to the other and everywhere in between.

  105. Your ferris wheel pics the the beginning of this lesson are labelled with various lens lengths. My lens says “100-300mm” so is that a 100mm lens or a 300mm lens?
    I appreciate your time & am enjoying the lessons so far!

  106. The “point and shoot” digital camera you mention, has many settings that you can adjust to get the setting you desire. Though, by their nature “point and shoot” cameras want to take control of your images.

    ISO is one thing that can be set in the Canon’s manual mode, and some of canon’s “point and shoot” cameras allow you to change the shutter speed.

    It would appear that your camera has a shutter speed that ranges from 1/1500 to 15 seconds which gives you some flexibility. The aperture specs on your camera are given as f2.8 to f4.9 which are probably just the changes as you zoom all the way out(wide) to all the way in(telephoto).

    The most common way of adjusting the exposure for “point and shoot” cameras is to adjust the exposure setting that typically ranges from -5 to 5 with 0 being an “even” exposure.

    In reality, the “right” exposure may be closer to 1 or -1.3 etc. Adjusting that might get the desired exposure, but generally “point and shot” cameras are less than willing to give up full control.

    According to CNet, your camera lacks “manual exposure controls,” but perhaps you’ll be able to find a few of these controls that you can tweak.

  107. Hi,

    All this information is very useful. How can I implement all these concepts in digital camera? I have Canon IXUS60 model.

  108. just a recommendation and I know you don’t want to complicate it, as its a beginners walkthru but maybe to save some people confusion while they test apature settings on there camera. I’d let them know that a maximum apature at 50mm and at 200mm or 400mm is not often a constant but gets smaller as you zoom in. Of course there are $1000 lens that can keep a constant f2.8 for example.

  109. “Can I only take photos with aperture settings between 3.5 to 5.6?” No, those are the maximum aperture sizes for the lens. So at 18mm max aperture size would be f/3.5. At 55mm max aperture size of f/5.6.

    “So would I be able to get good pictures on bright sunny days?” Yes. Remember, making the aperture smaller causes the f number to increase. So you’d be able to use the recommended aperture setting of f/16 on a sunny day.

    As for ISO. A simple answer: ISO sensitivity expresses the speed of film, or how how sensitive the image sensor is to the amount of light present. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the image sensor is to light.

  110. Great lesson! My question: is aperture setting done in the body of the camera, or does it depend on the lens you have? For instance, I’m shopping around for a D-SLR now, and the one I’m looking at comes with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Does this mean I can only take photos with aperture settings between 3.5 to 5.6? So I wouldn’t be able to get good pictures on bright sunny days?

  111. In order to take the exposure reading you hold the shutter down half way on most cameras. The reading that is given on many cameras takes an average of the entire composition. This can be tricky if you go to take a picture of a subject in the snow on a sunny day. If you were to just follow the normal metering of your camera the overall picture would look like the right exposure, but the subject that is much darker than the bright snow around it would appear much darker. What you are concerned about is having your subject be the perfect exposure, therefore, we introduce the idea of using your hand to mimic the lighting on your subject, then your camera will take an average reading of your hand that has the same lighting as your subject and your end composition will be spot on because your subject will have the right exposure allowing you to see all their detail. When you go to take the final picture the reading will be different, but it will be the right exposure for your subject.

  112. Awesome site……loving your lessons…….thank you!
    BigTime nOObie with so much to learn.
    Could you please explain a little more about metering off your palm? I’m confused exactly how you meter off palm and what information are you looking for and what then do you do with that info…..or is it setting the camera’s exposure when you take a picture of your palm or hold shutter half way down….and does the setting remain the same when you go to then take the photo of your subject?
    Sorry…..but I am truly a novice…..obviously…lol!
    I have a Rebel XTi….your lessons have been a Godsend….thank you again…….and thank you in advance for your time! 🙂

  113. One of the most understandable courses on line I have ever seen. Please keep this “fountain of knowledge” flowing, I have understood so much in so little time, its practical advice, readily usable, defined in simple terms that are naturally remembered and yet it is so important……to learn this. I am sure anybody with an SLR will definitely enjoy this site…the only thing I ask is the connect the lessons…I am having trouble finding the NEXT lesson, it should be available at the end of each lesson. Thanks again for well written material.

  114. Just like the others I am extremely grateful to you and your site for clarifying things in a simple way. Yes indeed, I think you’re that kind of teacher that any eager student would like to have. Someone who takes away the technical terms and say it in a manner that is understood easily. All these photography terms have discouraged me to the point that I returned the SLR I bought. I have not taken photos that have satisfied me yet and have encouraged me to keep going but I’m trying. I will be using your site as I take that journey of self-learning. Thank you so very much. I will recommend your site to friends who have also bought SLRs without the needed knowledge.

  115. The focal length is the distance from the center of the lens to the film pane. See the stick figure drawing up above. The focal length is a measure in millimeters. The images of the ferris wheel were taken at different focal lengths 28mm, 50mm, 100mm 200mm, and 400mm. The same exposure settings of f16 @ 1/500 where used. The aperture setting being f16 and 1/500 for the shutter speed.

    The f-number is related to the focal length divided by the diameter of the aperture. The smaller the diameter of the aperture the larger the f-number. So on a “Sunny Day” when there is a lot of light, avoid over exposing the film or digital sensor, by choosing a bigger f-number or f16 as we recommend in this lesson.

  116. I am so thankful that I found this website. The lessons on lenses and light were great and now, I finally managed to understand the subject matters! Will definitely refer to this site instead of reading guides and attending courses(which did not help!) Thank you so much for posting these lessons, really appreciate it! Cheers from Singapore! 😀

  117. i marvel at your ability to teach so clearly subject matter that i have always tried to cope with but came away not quite sure if i really understood. I have hope now that the mystery of better photography is now within my grasp. What a great and simple method of coping with light control.
    You are just the best thing since digital cameras made making mistakes less expensive. You expand my understanding and confidence with every section.
    Thanks again

  118. I have been photographying ever since I can remember and was always confused about exposure, settings, etc. Finally, through your free lessons I am understanding how everything works together. Maybe I can take my Nikon d40 off “P” and go to manual which is what I want to do. Thank you so much.
    God Bless

  119. This following is not clearly tabulated above. Can you make it more clear please.

    Thanks & Regards


    speed would be 1/500 …for instance), your aperture setting is:

    For bright sunny days and the sun is on the subject= f16 For overcast, cloudy = f8 Sunsets and sunrises… low light = wide
    open @ 1/30th

  120. I am just going through your lessons..
    It seems very interesting.
    I am new user of SLR, having canon 400D.
    Will be very grateful to receive your suggestions on my email regarding developing my skills.
    thank you..

  121. Been enjoying the lessons so far! Very nice explanations and the first few pages have taught me as much as I have learned in 6 months playing with different exposures and shutter speeds on my own. Looking forward to the rest of the lessons. I am shooting with an Olympus E-500 D-SLR, mostly wildlife and ourdoor stuff. Also shoot some underwater stuff with a canon G-9 right now.

  122. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! You should be a teacher. Well, I guess you are! Your simple way of explaining things has taught me so much. It all makes sense. I bought an old Minolta Maxxum film camera and got great shots outside on ‘P’ mode the first day. Never had used a 35mm SLR camera before. I was so full of hope. Then I tried to take some pictures in ‘A’, ‘S’ and ‘M’ mode. Hardly any of them turned out. Now I think I can maybeeeee take some pictures in manual mode and know halfway what I am doing. I love photography but am not happy with my digital cameras pictures. And I can’t afford a $1000+ digital. The 35mm pictures are just so much better. I have bookmarked this website and will be using it alot! Thanks for all you do.

  123. You got deep photografy lessons I wish to have them all for free
    Thank you in advance I am new to SLR so please help me

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • No products in the cart.