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Understanding The Art Of Exposure

By Holly Sutton | Inspiration

When you start out with a camera, you usually just point and shoot. Whether it's a beautiful background or a pretty object, you go for it—only to find that the results aren’t as good as you hoped. So what do you do?

Understanding the basics really helps you create a foundation for improving your photography. If you can figure out how the core elements work, the quality of your images will start to improve. And of the most fundamental elements of photography is exposure.

Exposure is often cited as one of the most common problems for amateur photographers. Whether you’re shooting with the best camera in the world or an iPhone, exposure is always relevant. Once you start to understand it, you’ll be able to become a master of it. So today, we've got a little BeFunky lesson in understanding basic principles of exposure.

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What is Exposure?

Exposure is all about how much light enters your camera. In other words, how light or dark a photo is. You might think as long as you’ve got good lighting, it’ll be straightforward to take a photo, but the reality is understanding exposure can get you much better results than you realize.

3 Key Aspects of Exposure

When it comes to understanding the three key aspects of exposure, photographers often talk about the triangle. This includes the three main ingredients of exposure:

  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • ISO

Each will help you determine how much light is entering the lens of your camera. When you shoot in auto mode, your camera will automatically set the values for aperture, shutter speed and ISO. That means you don’t have any control over your photograph.

But if you shoot in manual mode, you can set these values yourself, and decide how you want your photo to look. And trust me, there’s a huge difference between using an automatic setting vs. your own customized one.

exposure triangle

How To Understand Exposure

There’s a really simple analogy that a lot of people use to get to grips with the exposure triangle. When you think about the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, think of your camera as a window, straight ahead of you. On the window are blinds that you can open and close to determine how much light comes in.

That’s exposure in a nut shell.

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This can be thought of as the size of the window. The bigger the window, the more light can enter through it. Whereas with the smaller the window, less light can enter. Makes sense, right?

So the higher your aperture, the more light will enter the camera, making your image brighter. It’s all about the opening of the lens, darling.

Let's take a look at the difference in these effects using the BeFunky Photo Editor:

understanding exposure

Pro Tip: Aperture works in f-numbers, so the greater the F value, the less light will be let in. This means that a setting of 1.6 will let in a lot more light than a setting of 4.6, so adjust accordingly.

The photo on the left is much darker, and so would have a higher aperture setting. Luckily, you can give your photos the same effect adjusting your aperture would yield, simply by increasing the brightness and contrast in the Photo Editor—woohoo!

It's also worth keeping in mind that the lower your aperture is set, the more dreamy your photo will look. This is also how you get a blurry background, which helps to make the focal point of your image stand out.

Understanding Exposure

Shutter Speed

So if we go back to the window analogy, shutter speed can be remembered as how long the blinds on the window are open for. The longer the blinds are open for, the more light enters. Since shutter speed is measured in seconds, the higher the shutter speed, the more light will enter the photo. This means you'll end up with a beautiful, bright photo.

understanding exposure

Pro Tip: The lower the shutter speed, the darker your image will be.


ISO is related to the sensitivity of the light. It’s like if you’re wearing a pair of sunglasses. You’ll be more sensitive to the light coming in through the window when your sunglasses are a lighter shade than if they were darker. ISO sets that shade. The higher your ISO, the higher your sensitivity to light and the brighter your photo.

understanding exposure
What is exposure

Pro Tip: Be careful not to set ISO too high. At higher settings, your images can appear grainy.

How Do I Put It Altogether?

Getting to grips with exposure and making it work for you and your photography takes time. It’s all about experimenting with the exposure triangle to get the effect you want. Remember, an alteration in one will impact the other two features, so try to keep that in mind.

But also remember that you’ve got the Photo Editor to come to your rescue! When you’re first playing around with exposure on your camera, you might become frustrated. Never fear, dear. Just head to the Edit panel and click on Exposure. You can then play around with brightness, contrast, shadows and more here, and adjust them to your liking.

You could also try out your hand at the Levels tool if you're feeling extra fancy—we won't tell if you don't.

understanding exposure with befunky

Pro Tip: You can also use the Levels tool to help achieve the ideal exposure.

With BeFunky, you can end your struggle with exposure today!

Photo Editing, Simplified.

Photo Editing. Simplified