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basics of photography



Photography Tips by Myrtle Beach Photography

The Three Basic Elements of Photography


Each of the three aspects of the triangle relate to light and how it enters and interacts with the camera.

The three elements are:

  1. ISO– the measure of a digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light
  2. Aperture– the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken
  3. Shutter Speed– the amount of time that the shutter is open

These three elements are what determines how your image will turn out.I will have to say that as a student of photography, these elements were the most difficult for me to understand.Remember, I have had no professional training and have had to pick up this knowledge from the professional photographers who work at my Studio’s in Myrtle Beach.I also have ADHD so these concepts were difficult for me to grasp.It was only after sitting in my daughters gym and playing around with all three, that I began to understand how they all affect the image.I would understand one and then the others would change and I had to finally realize that each affects the other.Most importantly – a change in one of the elements will impact the others. This means that you can never really isolate just one of the elements alone but always need to have the others in the back of your mind.

3 Metaphors for understanding the digital photography exposure triangle:

Many people describe the relationship between ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed using different metaphors to help us get our heads around how the three work together.One of my photographers, Joe, explained the concept like an human eye.Another used the window analogy.Here goes my “photography for dummies” attempt at a more simple understanding of these basic photography elements.

The Human Eye

Imagine your camera is like your eye that opens and closes or blinks (the shutter).If you stand in front of a mirror and hold your eye open and shine a flash light into your eyeball, the pupil will enlarge and become smaller based on the amount of light.Your eyelid opens and closes which when open, the pupil becomes smaller because there is more light and larger when the lid closes because of less light.Your eyelid is the shutter and your pupil is the aperture.Now imagine that you’re wearing sunglasses.Your eyes become desensitized to the light that comes in (it’s like a low ISO).

Let’s talk about the shutter speed first using the eye analogy.The speed of your blink (shutter) determines how much light gets to your pupil (aperture) to determine how large or small the pupil/aperture needs to be depending on the light you need to see.The slower you blink, the more time light has to reach your pupil and the smaller your pupil becomes.


Now for aperture.If you walk outside into bright sunlight, your pupil will suddenly shut down or become smaller just like the aperture on your camera because it needs less light.In reverse, if you walk into a dark room, your pupil will enlarge to be able to take in as much light as possible under the dark conditions.

These two functions of the eye work together, like with your camera, to determine the best light for you to be able to see in a dark or bright situation.Example:You walk into a very dark room.Your blinking (shutter speed) slows down so that more light can reach you pupil (aperture) so that it can become larger and more light can get in so that you can see more in a dark place.

Lastly, let’s talk about ISO.The ISO is like sunglasses.The eye is effected by wearing the sunglasses or taking them off.Now imagine that you’re inside the room and are wearing sunglasses (hopefully this isn’t too much of a stretch). Your eyes become desensitized to the light that comes in (it’s like a low ISO).

There are a number of ways of increasing or decreasing the amount of light in the room. You could increase the time that the shutter is open (decrease shutter speedby slowing down your blink), you could increase the size of aperture (increase pupil size) or you could take off your sunglasses (make the ISO larger).

Just remember, if you are in very bright light, your camera does not need as much light to create a good image so you will need to lower or close down your aperture and/or you can speed up your shutter.

In reverse, if you are in a low light situation, you will need to open up that aperture and slow down that shutter speed.If you still need more light once you open up that aperture and slow down that shutter speed there is something else you can try.Increase you ISO to allow more light.

I hope I have not confused you with this analogy.It really helped me understand the concept and hopefully that it helps you as well.Go out and play around in different light with these techniques to see how these elements effect you image.

To practice, I sat on my sofa and turned off all the lights except for a few small lamp.I was using a CanonMark III and an 70-200mm f2.8 lens.I put the camera on my knees to steady the lens and was taking pictures of my bookshelf across the room.I started at with a high number f-stop and a shutter speed at 800 and a low ISO.The image was black.I then lowered the f-stop to f2.8 (which my very good lens allowed me to do) and lowered the shutter speed to 100.The image was ok but not great.The next image I left the F-stop at 2.8, kept the shutter speed low and cranked up the ISO higher and finally got an image that was good.Good luck with this and I can’t wait to see if any of you have a “light bulb” moment and finally understand this very complex elements of photography.

I included a graphic at the top of this post to show examples of the eyeball and the lens to help with this explanation.

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