Exposure Basics: Don’t Fear the MAN(ual) Mode

Have you ever had an idea for capturing a perfect photo, and you were slightly disappointed when you saw the results? The image was kind of grayish and flat, the colors just didn’t pop or the highlights were blindingly white? If this has happened to you then perhaps its time to stop letting your camera make all of the decisions. Switch that sucker off of auto mode and start calling the shots in the dreaded Manual Mode (cue scary music).

Take your images to the next level. Don’t let the MAN(ufacturer) tell you how to take great photos.

Honestly though, it’s not all that scary once you get the hang of it. It may be confusing at first, but with a little practice it will soon “click” (excuse the photography pun) and make perfect sense. Trust me.

There are 3 elements that affect the exposure of your image, and you should understand their relationship with one another in order to create great exposures and fabulous photographs.

The elements are ISO, Aperture (f/stop), and Shutter Speed. Before we jump into all that jazz, let’s start by talking about the general concept of exposure. An exposure can be described in three ways: underexposed, overexposed, and properly exposed.

The image on the left is an example of underexposure. You start to lose details in the shadows. It is overall a dark image, the subject’s eyes are starting to blend into the shadows. The  image on the right is an example of overexposure. The image is washed out, and there is lost detail in the highlights (we also could say that the highlights are “blown out”). The image has lost some of its depth.

IMG_5807 underoverexposure

The final image shows a good exposure. You can see details in the highlights and in the shadows. You can see individual hairs on her head and the creases on her white shirt. There are some nice shadows on the subject’s face that really help to give the image depth.


Remember how I told you about the 3 elements of exposure? What were they again? Oh yeah, they were ISO, Aperture (f/stop), and Shutter Speed

These elements and their effect on an image’s exposure make up what we call “The Exposure Triangle”.  Each of these elements has benefits and drawbacks. There are creative reasons to change or leave alone any of the individual settings. We will discuss the details of these 3 elements in the weeks to come.

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