Understanding Exposure In Photography: A Complete Guide
Whether it’s a specific area you want to highlight or eliminate harsh shadows from a setting, your camera can adapt to whatever effect you want. Mastering the skill of getting the perfect exposure could unlock a whole new level of creative perspectives in your images. However, it is important to understand that your exposure meter does not work alone but in correlation with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Therefore, this blog will give you an introduction to the concept of exposure in photography and how to get it right. Also, whether you are a beginner or just need a quick recap on exposure, you’ve come to the right place. So let’s begin!

What is Perfect Exposure?

Portrait of a bride standing in front of a window wearing an earring
Image Credits: ShootDotEdit Customer @infiniteloopphoto

Just as the name suggests, exposure in photography defines the amount of light that you allow to be exposed to your camera sensor and for how long. Your cameras are excellent devices that will enable you to manipulate the amount of light that falls on your subject along with the duration for which it is exposed by adjusting your exposure meter. However, as advanced and smart as your camera can be, they cannot set the perfect exposure for you for a scene.

To your camera, perfect exposure translates into a well-lit image where the shadows and highlights are equally balanced – a bell-shaped histogram. And while that might work for some scenarios, it is usually not the most creative option when working under different lighting scenarios. Only you can decide the perfect exposure for your image depending on the requirements of the scene, where you want your viewer to focus, and the mood you want to create.

Suggested Read: How To Shoot In Small And Dark Wedding Venues

What is the Exposure Triangle?

Infographic stating the exposure triangle explains the correlation between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO

To correctly understand exposure, it is crucial to understand the dynamics of the exposure triangle. This triangle explains the correlation between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and how to set them to get the correct exposure for every scene. Now, different aperture settings allow you to control how much light you let in, whereas the shutter speed controls the speed at which the camera’s shutter will shut, therefore determining for how long the sensor will be exposed to the light. ISO, on the other hand, determines the light sensitivity of your camera’s sensor.


Aperture settings are addressed as f-stops. An f-stop determines the fraction of the focal length of the lens. Different lenses come with different aperture ranges – for example, f/1.8 – f/16.0. The aperture also determines the depth of field of your image. A smaller aperture leads to a deeper depth of field and vice versa.

Shutter Speed

Your camera’s shutter speed determines how fast or slow the shutter of the camera closes. It can help you do both – freeze the motion in the scene or capture the motion in a blur. The higher the number in the denominator of the fraction, the faster the shutter speed.


Infographic stating a higher ISO helps brighten up a dark setting but also increases the amount of noise

ISO determines how sensitive your digital sensor or photographic film is to the light. In simpler terms, a higher ISO helps you brighten the scene and, therefore, can be used in low-light situations. However, you can set a lower ISO when the lighting conditions are good. It might be worth remembering that while a high ISO helps you brighten up a dark setting, it also increases the amount of noise in your image. 

Fixing an Overexposed Image

Sometimes, you might find yourself in situations where your image is overexposed, and there are no details. In such cases, you can bring back the details by changing your aperture, shutter speed, or ISO. However, it is essential to understand which one to change according to the scene. First, you can try modifying your aperture for a higher f-stop number. If you like your current aperture setting, try changing the shutter speed to a higher number. i.e., to a faster shutter speed. This will allow the shutters to let in only a fraction of the light before they shut. Accordingly, you can also change your ISO for lower light sensitivity to bring down the exposure.

Fixing an Underexposed Image

In limited lighting conditions, it could get challenging to perfectly expose the subject or the scene. However, changing the aperture, shutter speed, or ISO can help you bring an underexposed image to normal. For aperture, try going for smaller f-stop numbers, i.e., you are setting a bigger aperture and allowing more light in. You could also try changing your settings for a slower shutter speed, exposing the sensor to the light for a more extended amount of time. In addition to that, you could also try setting your ISO for high light sensitivity. However, note that higher ISO will also increase the noise in your image.

Expose Your Subject’s Face

A close up portrait of a bride and groom smiling and leaning their foreheads on each other
Image Credits: ShootDotEdit Customer @erinm_photography

In wedding photography, most of the scenes bring focus to your subject’s face, making it essential to get the exposure right. To do that, again, pay attention to the lighting on the subject’s face – whether it is well-lit or the background is dark. Sometimes, setting the exposure for the face can mean losing out on some details around the subject, but don’t be afraid to bring attention to what is most captivating. Moreover, this is where artificial lighting could enhance your image, especially if you wish to create some dramatic difference between the light in the background and the subject.

Further Read: All About Natural Light Wedding Photography

Now that you have a better understanding of exposure in photography put that learning to the test. Practice setting the correct exposure under various lighting conditions. Closely observe the differences the different settings make in your image, and then based on those differences, modify your settings when you are actually shooting a wedding. The more you practice, the easier it might get for you to navigate through challenging lighting situations at weddings. We hope you found the above information helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comment section below.

At ShootDotEdit, we love sharing resources that help you get familiar with different aspects of photography. We are also passionate about helping you create that much sought-after work-life balance by offering professional photo editing services. To learn more about how we can help, take a look at our pricing plans.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published