Kevs Photography Tips

Photography Part 2: Exposure

It’s been about 2 weeks since my first post, photography basics, which reviewed the equipment you need in order to start taking better photos. So, I think enough time has passed for everyone to save up a few thousand bucks, and make their purchases, right? Either way, onto the next logical topic: Creating a proper exposure.


Your exposure is essentially how light, dark, or just right your photo is. You obtain this by combining the proper aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting. (external light source or flash will also play a role in proper exposure, but I’ll cover that another time).

Each one of these variables (aperture, shutter and ISO) play a factor in your exposure. They each represent something unique, but need to work together in order to get a desirable result.

The quickest and easiest way to calculate the proper combination of these factors is by utilizing your cameras built-in light meter. In most cases, you’ll see the light meter towards the bottom of your display while looking through the viewfinder. Your cameras light sensor will judge the required settings by what is currently in focus. In other words, if you aim your camera at the bright sky, your light meter may tell you that your settings are over exposed and that they need to be altered. Similarly, if you aim your camera in a shaded area your light meter may tell you that your settings are under exposed and that you’ll need to, again, alter your settings. You can alter these settings by changing any one or all of the three factors mentioned above. Once the indicator on your light-meter is directly in the middle, you should have a proper exposure. However, there are many ways to obtain this exposure, and the one you choose might not be accomplishing the “look” that you were initially going for… When I first started taking pictures I would only adjust the shutter speed in order to create a proper exposure. Unfortunately though, that technique was short lived until I found out that the slower my shutter was, the blurrier my photos became. Therefore, I needed to find a good balance between all of the factors involved in order to create a desirable photo for every specific instance.

When you understand the role that each factor plays within your exposure, you’ll have much more control over the results of your images. I’m going to walk through some of these factors to help give a better idea of what to expect when altering your aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Click the link below to read the rest of the post!

Aperture: Your aperture is commonly referred to as the “F-Stop”, and is defined by the amount of light that you’re letting through your lens, to your light sensor. The lower the aperture (f/1.4, f/2, etc…), the bigger the opening in which you are allowing light to travel through. However, the aperture serves a dual purpose. It will also dictate how much or little an image is in focus. If you have a very low aperture, the background of your image will be very blurry (see the image below of Jen below).


On the contrary, if you have a high aperture (f/11 – f/22), the background of your image will be very sharp and in focus (see the image below of Jen in the field). (Note: a high aperture will also help you achieve a killer lens flare like the one in this example)


In terms of fashion photography, the focus is primarily the clothing rather than the background, so it makes sense to have a low aperture to blur out any distracting background imagery. On the flip side, however, sometimes your surroundings may compliment your outfit, so it makes sent to have it more in focus. Regardless, your aperture is going to have a direct effect on your exposure. The more light that you’re allowing through the lens, the faster your shutter must be in order to compensate (and vice versa). In other words, if you’re shooting at an f/2 because you want a really blurry background your going to need a slightly faster shutter speed. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with an over exposed image.

Shutter speed: Shutter speed refers to how fast the actual shutter opens and closes. The longer you leave your shutter open, the more light you’ll allow through. An example of a typically slower shutter speed would be 1/15 s, while a faster shutter speed would be 1/250 s. While keeping your shutter open longer allows more light to hit the sensor, it also creates more risk of motion blur. If you’re the type of model who likes to dance around moving quickly from pose to pose, your going to need a slightly faster shutter speed. The faster you move, the faster you’ll need your shutter to be (see the image below of Jen jumping. There’s no motion blur because my shutter was at 1/3200 s)


Typically speaking a shutter of at least 1/40’s should stop general motion. However, (for the sake of an extreme example) if you’re photographing a sporting event you’ll probably need to shoot closer to 1/250 s. The faster the motion, the faster your shutter should be. (Example: turtle racing: 1/40 should suffice – Car racing: 1/1000 should suffice). Keep in mind, the motion you’re compensating for is not just within the subject itself but also within the steadiness of the photographers hands.

ISO: Your ISO setting is determined by how light sensitive your film (sensor – in the digital sense) is. The higher your ISO, the more light sensitive your sensor will be. In other words, if you set your ISO to 400 it will receive more light than if you set your ISO to 100. As a reference, think back to when disposable cameras were a hot commodity. The camera would say ISO 400 – good for indoor shots. OR, ISO 100 – good for out door shots. However, you should think of your ISO setting as a last resort. Far too often photographers crank up their ISO as a crutch in low light situations. As a rule of thumb, I always try to keep my ISO at 100 and rely on external light sources to ensure my images are properly exposed. I know that we’re not quite there yet though, so if you find your self in a dimly lit room and you need to adjust your ISO, I won’t be upset… for now anyway. The problem with adjusting your ISO to compensate for a dark setting, is that you’re camera will degrade your image. You’ll start to notice a much grainier image when your ISO is set high. This grain is known as digital “noise”. Most new DSLR’s have great noise reduction capabilities, but the fact of the matter is, the lower your ISO, the better your overall results will be.

So you can see how each factor will not only determine your exposure, but also the appearance of your photograph. If you find yourself consistently shooting indoors or in dark areas, you’ll quickly notice that you have very little control over the artistic aspects of these settings and that you’ll be resorting to very undesirable settings simply to get a decent exposure. This is where an external light source (flash) comes in handy. It add’s another (seemingly confusing) element to the equation, but it certainly is the remedy for good indoor (or dark setting) photographs. Due to it’s complex nature, I’ll save it for another post and dedicate the entire article to it.

I hope you’ve found this explanation of exposure to be insightful, and not too confusing. Worst comes to worst, just remember that you have the benefit of a digital camera which will allow you to see instant results. So play around with your settings and see how one setting verse another will drastically change the look and exposure of your photograph.

If you find this series to be helpful, consider following me on twitter where I sometimes say other helpful things. You can also check out my portfolio/blog at to see some of my personal work and confirm that I’m not just making this stuff up as I go along.

  1. Thank you so much Kev. Words cannot express how helpful this is. Aperture…now I know how my wedding photographer achieved the blurry background during our first dance 🙂

    I’m considering taking a photography class this summer, but until then I’ll rely on your advice.

  2. Thanks, Kev! You explain things in a very helpful way. I can’t wait for the flash post. Also I noticed that my camera tends to go for the higher ISO if it’s in auto, aperture-priority, or shutter-priority mode. I was able to manually set the ISO for each setting (I leave it on 200 or 400 for now because I still don’t have a flash), which has helped a lot with the grain problem, but it took me a while to figure out that was the issue. Thought it was worth mentioning in case it helps someone else.

  3. This is so helpful! I am going to bookmark it for reference. I have SO much learning to do on my first dslr, and I am still only using the Auto settings. I really want to buy a new lens too so I have been searching for a new one…but I know the nikon d3000 isn’t compatible with all lenses. Great tips! 🙂

  4. Hey Kev. This is very helpful. I feel like I understand all this and even know it well enough that I ‘should’ be able to take better pictures. However, my photos always come out blurry! Or too grainy (i use too high of a iso inside cuz i dont like to use my flash). Ok, here’s a question I hope you can answer. I can’t ever get my apature to go lower than like 4. Do i need a better lense? Is that why my pictures are always so blurry? You talk about 1.4 or even 2, I’ve never been able to go that low. Am I doing something wrong? Maybe I just cant focus it right, my eyes are going bad too. It’s so frustrating. I feel like, I have the good camera, why dont my photos look as good as other peoples.

  5. I think you explained this very well. I’ve taken several photography classes, but I know many bloggers haven’t, and this was a thorough and clearly explained article on what aperture, ISO and shutter speed are.

  6. LOVE these posts! Thank you so much for breaking this down for us camera dummies. I got a D90 this year for my various site photography and I’ve googled this type of info several times but never found someone spelling out each aspect so plainly. I finally get the differences and how they work together. I cannot wait for the flash post! I sorely need one because I take 90% of my pics indoors and am in the gloomy NW. I’ve been afraid a flash would throw off the colors and give me that harsh exposure though. Very eager to hear your tips on this. Sorry to ramble lol 🙂

  7. Laura, not all lenses will allow you to set your aperture as low as 1.4 or 2. In-fact most standard level, multi-purpose lenses (a lens that allows you to zoom in and out) only go as low as f/4. Typically speaking, a prime lens (a lens with a fixed focal length – ie. 50mm) will allow more of an aperture range. However, this shouldn’t account for your blurry photos. If you aperture is set to f/4, you actually have a better chance of having your subject in more focused. Perhaps your shutter speed is set too low to compensate for your high aperture? Focusing, on the other hand, is a whole new factor to consider. Try setting your focus to automatic for the time being. Once you master your camera settings, go back to manual focus. One step at a time, right!

  8. Thanks for this post! I just got a new digital SLR camera and this was a nice refresher of the photography class I took years ago.

  9. This was really easy to understand. I have taken a couple of photography classes, and it jogged my memory.

  10. Thanks Kev. I think it’s the shutter speed. Because I’m always inside. I’m going to practice more outside so I can have better lighting. Although, I am have another question. about the auto focus, is there a setting i can change? I hate it when I use that and it’ll focus on Anthony’s hand or like a lampshade and not his face! I dont want to take away from your future posts so you dont have to answer, but I think that maybe that’s part of my problem?

    Man, I get so jealous of people who’s photos are good. LOL, thanks again.

  11. I love your photography series! Thank you so much for sharing! After reading this post I played around with my camera for 1-2 hours and was having so much fun now that I know the importance of the different settings. I can’t wait to learn!

  12. […] Kev’s Photography Tips Pt. 2 « Jen Loves Kev […]

  13. Thank you so much! I’ve had quite a few friends try to explain my new camera to me and you are the first person to put it in terms that seem to make sense! I go on another adventure with my camera to test out your advice!

  14. My husband is a budding photographer (got his D90 finally! :D) and you have no idea how many times he has explained f-stops, ISO and shutter speed to me and I keep forgetting.
    I’m getting there but this really helps to lay it out really easily and is a good reference to come back to 🙂

    But I find the best way is practice – you’ll slowly get attuned to what situations require what settings and really it’s all about the lighting 🙂

    Now I bought him his first 50mm prime lens for Christmas but it seems to be my favourite to play around with (you can go nuts with the DOF!)…thanks again!

  15. Oh wow, this is amazing.. I can’t wait to try it out. I kept hoping the part two would show up- and it did! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. 🙂

    (I felt a bit like Laura too, good camera yet crappy photos- but why?? haha Thank you again)

  16. wow! I took an intro photography course once and I think I just learned more reading this post than I did during the 3 months I took the class. thanks!

  17. This is one of the best explanations I’ve read on aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Kev if you’re not already a teacher like Jen, you should be!

  18. This is so great and helpful, thanks, Kev! S

  19. this is really helpful! I got a new SLR for Christmas and the manual is so intimidating… I’ll definitely check you out on twitter. thanks!

  20. Thanks Kev, this is really helpfull! I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to use flash (I find it messes with my colours, but may just be using it wrong) and so I meddle with the iso settings – and end up with grainy photos. I only have a small point & shoot camera but I believe I’m able to adjust aperture & shutter speed – I’ll be trying out stuff this weekend!

    And a request 🙂 my biggest problem is nighttime photography: sunsets, fireworks, any lit up building/christmas tree at night and my pictures are blurry. Since I plan on shooting the Hong Kong skyline (& light show) at night soon I hope you can give me some tips?

  21. […] Sorry for the delay everyone but here is the 3rd installment of Kev Photo Basics. If you want to catch up you can read the first 2 Here and Here. […]

Leave a Comment

Hi, I'm Jen!

Welcome to my personal lifestyle blog. It features topics such as motherhood, family life, fashion, cooking, and all sorts of adventures. I hope you enjoy what you find!

Jen Loves Kev