Lesson 2 – Exposure (Basic)

As a point of reference, these are the typical “whole stops” for exposure;

f16 and
1 second,
1/2 second,
Many cameras have more stops at either end of these scales, but these are typical. As well, most modern cameras have half stops or third stops. These make learning a little more difficult, but keep the above numbers in mind to do proper exposures.


Note: Completing this lesson requires a camera capable of manually setting exposure.

What is the right exposure? Not to make this complicated, but exposure is a choice you have to make. The exposure you choose determines how the image looks. But, we'll start with a basic understanding and work up from there.

Exposure consists of five factors:

  1. how much light is in front of you - which can be changed by adding lights or flash,
  2. how sensitive the film is to light - called ISO (remember, I use the word "film" to refer to whatever medium used for capturing the image, whether it is the Digital Camera's sensor or actually film,)
  3. the amount of light going through a lens - called the aperture,
  4. how long the film is exposed - called the shutter speed.
  5. what you want the image to look like, especially when light is beside or behind the subject.

If you haven't checked it out, there is a little more about how this works on the Camera Basics Page.

For the moment, we'll set an average exposure on an average scene.

If you’re camera does not have a built in meter - its really old. But, that’s okay. You’ll just have to buy a hand held meter. If you have an SLR or advanced point and shoot digital camera, spend some time with the manual to find out how to bring up the “Histogram” which graphically shows the amount of light in an exposure.

Exercise - set your ISO to 100, set your camera to ƒ16 and the shutter to 1/125th of a second. (Some digital cameras are limited to ISO 200 - which means you have to cut your exposure by one stop, i.e. use 1/250th instead of 1/125th of a second) With this setting, take your camera out during a sunny day, put the sun behind you and shoot anything - you'll have a well exposed image. This is called the "Sunny 16" rule.

To make life interesting, and your photography more creative, you can change the setting and still have the same exposure. These are equivalent exposures: Try going to ƒ11 at 1/250th of a second. Push it a little further at ƒ8 at 1/500th of a second. These are all the same exposure because the same total amount of light is hitting the film.

Of course, you're not always going to shoot with the sun behind you on a sunny day. For other situations you need to be able to find out your exposure with a meter. This can be in your camera or hand held.

Looking at any scene, your meter will give you a suggestion as to what exposure to use. Most of the time this is fairly accurate.

Using your meter, take a reading off of something with mixed tones in shade on a sunny day - you'll find the exposure is two or three stops slower than the "Sunny 16."

A final note - A meter is very handy for getting your exposure, but it does have a limitation. As said earlier, the meter thinks the world is 18 per cent grey. Most of the world is kind of like 18 per cent grey, but not all of it.

Look at what you're shooting. If its black (or very dark), your meter will try to make it grey - and make the exposure too light. Conversely, if you're subject is white, the meter will try to make it darker - or 18 per cent grey.

There are two more lessons on high key and low key photos which will help you handle more extreme situations.

Note: Be aware that some digital cameras have exposure compensation built in to prevent overexposure. If exposure is too bright the highlights could be "blown out" and detail lost in the brightest parts of the image. By artificially "darkening" the image, the camera makers try to make sure the exposures aren't too bright. This doesn't affect all cameras but it does seem to be the case for some. That means that the exposure needed in lessons 2, 3 and 4 may be slightly higher than suggested in the lessons. You might use the "expose to the right" method.

Next Lesson: High Key

121 thoughts on “Lesson 2 – Exposure (Basic)”

  1. Take your photgraphy even further after exploring the classes here - sign up for the Photography Masterclass Click Here!
  2. Wow this really makes you read, and re-read and take as many notes as you can. Im sure I’m going to be looking up alot of what you explained here, or go to Chapters and buy yout the photography section.

    1. I find this website preety good for learning photography..Could anyone help me out to find the best DSLR camera. I am confused between the D5300 or D3200?

      1. I just bought the Nikon D 3300 today and it is basically like the 5300. The 5300 has built in WFi and D3200 has a WU adapter but basically it works the same.. From what I have been hearing the D3200is a great professional camera. Right now Costco has a great deal for Buy.

      2. Look over the the features you are wanting. I would definately buy second hand and buy second hand lenses. For the price of a new body you can buy a good quality used body and a few nice lenses. l would look into what you want to shoot and find what type of Lenses are good for those situations. you can build a good kit for less than new and learn how to use a DSLR and upgrade later.

    1. I’m afraid I don’t know that particular camera, however – usually when you’ve got it in manual, aperture priority or shutter priority mode, down at the bottom of the viewfinder as you look through there should be a row of upright lines, kind of like a ruler. There should be a big one right in the middle. That is generally the best exposure mark. There should also be some kind of marker that moves around a bit as you point the camera at various places. If the marker is to the right of the big line in the middle, you will be overexposing. If to the left, you’ll underexpose. Sometimes you want to do either of those on purpose – but that’s with experience.

      The best thing I can suggest is Read The Free Manual that came with the camera – specifically look up how the meter works.

      Hope this helps.

    2. @Tammy

      I am new to this page, so if you found the answer to your question already that’s great, if not, when you switch you dial to (M) for manual look through your viewerfinder and press the shutter button half way and you will see the meter (as the Admin suggested).

  3. I am also confused. I take outstanding pictures of nature with my macro lens and wonderful wedding photos – when there is good lighting. My nemesis is the low light in MOST venues. I can’t afford a fast lens or additional lights and do not understand what to set my Canon Digital Rebel XTi at to have professional images. I have always used my camera on ‘P’ and it set everything for me. This doesn’t work in low light. It sets the exposure and I get camera shake. I also don’t understand how to get images of the bride walking down the aisle without them being blurry – in a BAD way. Help.

    1. That’s a great question – and it probably means you need to get some upgrades. First, get a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens (or if you can, get the f1.4) which will greatly expand your ability to shoot low light for a reasonable price – the f1.8 is about $100.

      Second recommendation is get yourself a good flash. Yes, they cost a lot, but if you want professional results, you need professional gear. While most would suggest getting a better camera, I personally am very fond of the XTi and did several professional shoots with one. Of course I later upgraded but for a starter camera not bad at all. Add the 580EX II flash and bounce if off anything you possibly can on either side of you (but not directly above to the ceiling – although you buy one of Gary Fong’s Lightsphere diffusion product’s to get the flash a little more off camera.)

      You might also check out Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography (See all Digital Photography Books). It’s a really great book and I’m glad it’s in my library. You will learn an awful lot about wedding photography with this book. You can also

      Hope that helps.

  4. hi, i have a nikon D3100. can you please tell where the exposure meter is situated as i can’t find it. and how it indicates that the exposure needs to be changed.

    great article.:P

    thank you

    1. I know this isn’t quite the answer anyone wants, but you’re best to read the manual that came with the camera for details on how to do specific things with your camera. Because each camera is different the answer can change. However, I have yet to see a camera that doesn’t put the meter at the bottom of the viewfinder when you’re looking through. It could be that you need to put the camera in a mode other than “P” – such as “A” for aperture priority (you set the Aperture, the camera sets the Speed), “S” for Shutter priority, or “M” for “Manual” or as pro photographers say “M is for Make Good Pictures.”


    2. On my Nikon D3200 it is at the bottom of the view finder, I have to have the camera in manual to see it though. Just as the article states, it looks like a ruler with a longer slash in the middle and smaller slashes on either side. If you don’t see it, push your shutter button in half way and it should become visible. Hope this helps!

  5. Wow this really helps a lot. thank you. I am really into photography and just bought the Canon 60D, hope to see more in next lesson.

  6. Hi…i would like to know that what iso setting normally been using for indoor photography. This is because i found that there are different when when we would like to take photograph at indoor compare to outdoor. (sunny day) At outdoor i still can i can estimate the iso, because normally shutter speed will show up more than 1/60. But for indoor photography , we can’t reach to 1/60 right. if bounce up the iso, grains will become visible.

    -What is the appropriate shutter speed in indoor? ….

    -Best aperture for indoor photography??

    1. That’s a great question and a complicated answer. You generally don’t want to let your shutter speed go any lower than the same number as the length of your lens (plus a bit – in my experience.) So if you’re shooting at 24mm then hand holding at 1/25th of a second is fine – but if you’re shooting at 200 mm, you really want to keep your shutter up around 1/200th of a second.

      However you can cheat that a bit by locking making sure your left hand makes a platform for the camera to sit on (rather than just holding the side of the camera) and then locking your left elbow into your rib cage, and keep your right elbow tight to your body as well. Finally take a breath in, then let the breath go slowly and lightly press the shutter (instead of jabbing at it) and you can get surprisingly good photos at low shutter speeds. However it does take concentration and practice – but I’ve managed usable photos at 1/15th of a second with my 200mm lens.

      A slightly easier way is buy an image stabilized lens (commonly marked IS or OS.) I find those work pretty good for slower shutter speed – but its not a cure all.

      Other ways to handle the situation is get a decent flash – but don’t point it at your subject, bounce it off a wall or ceiling. There’s a lot more to talk about on that subject alone, including subjects like Off Camera Flash. I’ll look into creating a lesson on that subject.

  7. thx …your teaching is really helpful … according to what u said, i can see that ultra wide angle lens would able to do a better job for indoor photography since their focal length are the shortest. around 10 to 20 .

    1. Well, it still depends on what you want from the photo. Quite often the really wide angle lenses do a great job of inside photos – but if you want to isolate a person or child, then a longer lens would be more appropriate. One thing I should have mentioned in the previous reply on shooting inside, is every photographer should buy a 50mm f1.8 lens – they are only about $100 and great for inside shooting as they are a brighter lens than kit lenses – which would allow a higher shutter speed.

      And if you can afford it, there are lenses like the 50mm f1.4 (which is faster yet) or an 85mm f1.4 or even f1.2 (okay, this Canon lens is really expensive, but a wonderful lens.)

  8. well learning how the camera works and how to use the things to go faster or how to extend and to flash u basaly know how and make good pictures and edit them good or even perfect.

  9. Hi there,
    Thanks for the lessons they are great. While we are on lens I am a bit torn at the moment between a 35mm 1.8 and a 50mm 1.8. Can you tell ne the differences between them and what is best? Thank you

    1. The difference is in how wide an area they take in – 35mm will take in a wider area than the 50mm, or there is more picture to the sides with 35mm lens. One has to be careful however when using the wider lens to shoot portraits because it can cause distortion of the person’s face if the subject and camera are too close together.

      On most digital cameras (APS size sensor) the 35mm will be close to having a similar view as the human eye, while the 50mm will be slightly telephoto. On a full-frame camera (or with 35mm film – if anyone still uses that 😉 the 35mm will be slightly wide angle and the 50mm will be “normal” or similar to what the eye sees.

      If you’re using a smaller sensor camera – then the 50mm f1.8 is a wonderful choice for portraits and is very inexpensive compared to most lenses – but still very good quality.

  10. Thanks for sharing about the “sunny 16 rule”. I have never heard of that before but I think it will be really helpful for me!

    Do you have any recommendations on a good lens for indoor photography?

  11. Wow, great site. Just came across it.

    Can you tell me how to do all of the above with a Nikon, Canon and Olympus….hahaha! 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

    1. As I can’t follow every camera made – I can only suggest you read the manual which came with your camera or look up the manual online if yours is missing.

  12. Hi, We have a Canon Rebel T2i & 580EX II. We would like to use the flash off- camera. What is the best trigger to use? Do we need one? Thanks Kurt

  13. Hi,
    I try the 1st exercise, but you must be living in sunny California : at ISO 100, f16 and S1/125 on a sunny winter day of south-west of France, the image is totally black…

    Otherwise I like your explanations, they’re really easy to follow.
    Thanks !

    1. That sounds really odd because you can even use that setting to do a picture of a full moon – the sun hitting the moon will expose for the ‘sunny 16 rule.’ However, if there’s a lot of haze or particulates in the air I can see that lowering the exposure a bit. And I actually live in Canada where sunlight is a at a premium for half the year.

  14. I am just getting into photography and I’m thinking about getting a camera. Any suggustions on types of cameras? Thank you!(:

  15. The lesson was truly helpful and gave good insight into the tricks of photography for a beginner.I have a Nikon DLR D3200 please let me know the next best lens I need to purchase after the one 18-55 given at the time of purchase.

    1. You could but that doesn’t give you quite the control over aperture/shutterspeed that is quite often required to really create the right image.

  16. What Advice Can you give me about the Nikon Coolpix L120? I”m a new photographer in the field and will very much appreciate if you will take a look at my FB pg- Kathleen Marin and tell me what you think of my images, These Lessons are very helpful to me and i”m reading, Thank you,

  17. Great Lessons! 🙂 I been wanting to get back into photography but in a professional way to shoot models in different themed settings and scenes and I found your site and you explain everything in detail but easily to understand. I will be here always to read even lesson. I will be ordering my camera outfit soon, Any suggestions? I am looking into the Nikon D5100 or D600.

  18. Hi,
    I just started read the lesson and spotted an error in the f stop column.
    the f stop starts with: 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8
    1.8 is 1 and 1/3 stop more light than 2.8

    kind regards

    1. Yes, Frank, you are correct – however very few lenses come as an ‘f2,’ although there are many f1.8 50mm lenses. So, we generalize a bit. There are a few f2 lenses out there – and if your camera can do 1/3 stop increments, you’ll find f2.

      But for accuracy I will make the change on the page – thanks for stopping by.

  19. Hi,

    I just wanted to pass on my thanks for such an intuitive, user friendly, easy-to-follow lesson. It’s great reading all of these comments, especially when you’ve taken the time to respond with such detail to each question/problem. By far, the best place for information on photography that I’ve seen. Your work is appreciated.

    Kind regards :).

  20. I thought I was doing something wrong until I got to the last couple of sentences then went out and reset my camera a couple of clicks below what the light meter was saying I needed, could this be because I am using my 55-250 lens?

    1. Exposure adjustment is usually because of the subject or the actual light hitting it – the in-camera meter sees what light bounces off the subject, but some subjects bounce more light than others and that can confuse an in-camera meter.

  21. Great information. took me two days to figure out mt Nikon D80 in manual mode, the stupid TINY icons on the upper LCD can hard to read! I couldn’t get it to set to shutter speed oe apeture. Finally got it after several Google searches. ( The manual was no help at all ). Anyway, thank you for giving a beginner such great information, in a clear manner!

    1. Hi, some of the less expensive cameras and point-and-shoot cameras in particular often have limitations. In order to push your photography further, I’d suggest upgrading your camera.

  22. Dear Sir / Madam
    Please accept my heartfelt thanks on introducing photography in simple terms. Your lessons are of great value to people who are getting into photography
    Thnx once again

  23. I am using the meter on my camera Nikon D5100 but the settings don’t seem to work at all for me when using them on manual not sure what I am doing wrong?? Thanks for lessons I am learning so much.


    1. Hi – this is one of those times when I have to suggest reading your manual to get the most out of your camera. One thing to be aware of is that many ‘kit’ lenses and other zoom lenses have an issue with aperture that as you zoom out maximum aperture (the widest open setting) changes as you zoom and this can throw off your settings. If you aim for f8 there shouldn’t be a problem with settings, but of course you don’t have the shallow depth of field from an aperture such as f2.8 (which of course is unavailable on that kind of lens.)

  24. Sir,
    You have given us a great platform to learn photography. I have Nikon D 7000. But i cannot afford classes to learn photography. Though my father passed away when i was in 10th standard, i started doing job. And this diverted me from my hobby of photography. Now, somehow i have managed to spend some amount to purchase a SLR cam. But your website is providing priceless lessons for the needy people like me. I will not say thank you, these words are so small.

  25. I appologize if this question has been answered already. My new camera is a Panasonic Lumix FZ70 and I have become somewhat familiar with it. Just purchased about 2+ weeks ago. The lowest f stop on it is 2.8 and the highest is 8.0. You mention in the exercise above to set the camera on an f16 which I cannot do. I did go out and set my camera on 125, f8 @ 100ISO and took a really good picture of the front of my house in the bright morning sun (facing west). This was done on the M mode. What are some tips for compensating for not being able to go to a higher number f stop?

  26. A Meter? Who carries a meter with them any longer? Just use your digital camera as a meter – it will accurately capture the right settings when you point it at different light sources… also, with the ability to bracket and HDR images together – just use that feature and don’t worry about it… software will correct the issues and you’ll have a wonderfully balanced image with minimal post processing… this tutorial reads like a page from my 1980 camera course book!

    1. Yes, it may read like a page from a 1980 camera course because the basics are still the same. THE most important part of the camera is STILL the 6 inches behind the viewfinder (or two feet behind the view screen if you’re doing it that way 😀 )

      If you want to get the absolute best out of your camera, you need to know the basics.

      If someone doesn’t get the basics, High Dynamic Range (HDR) will probably be way more advanced than they are ready to delve into as it requires (if properly done) the right starting point for the exposures, the right number of stops between exposures, and understanding what those will result in when running the HDR software.

      One of the biggest ‘advantages’ of digital photography is that it is easier than every to create bad art. Let’s try and get past that, shall we?

      1. Well said instructor. I also want to say thanks for the clear uncomplicated way you explain all this. I am just starting out and it is invaluable- confusing?! perhaps you should use another photography site if you find us beginners tedious or if you know that much, START UP YOUR OWN . I will happily stay here and learn from the patient knowledgeable instructor who remembers that we all have to start somewhere No question is a stupid question its only obvious if you already know – and you learned that somewhere. Keep it coming please

    1. Many photographers have lunch, edit photos, take a nap, etc – wait until the sun gets to a more useful part of the sky. But noon light doesn’t have to stop you taking pictures. Putting a portrait subject under a tree or under an overhang so the light comes from about 45 degrees above and to the side works great. Detail photos in shaded areas also works great. And if all else fails – turn the photos into black and white. 😀

  27. Hi,
    I’m using a nikon d3200 with a 55mm lens. The sunny 16 settings dont seem to work for me. The pictures are turning out completely dark even on a bright sunny day. The iso is set to 100, aperture at f16, and the shutter speed at 1/125..i dont see what im missing out.

    1. Honestly I haven’t run into that before – I’m sure you’ve checked to make sure the lens cap isn’t on the camera – so the problem must be the camera. Does it take a picture set on program [P] – are you photographing a scene that is lit by the sun and not just a shadow area?

  28. I am using canon 1200D i didn’t find meter line , i found only 9 focus point , as i am new to digital world pls help me………

    1. I’d suggest first putting the camera in manual mode and slightly pressing the shutter release while looking through the viewfinder. If it doesn’t show up check the manual that came with the camera.

  29. What camera has really high quality to take pictures? It has to be inexpensive because my parents won’t buy me a pricey camera.

  30. As several have already said above, I love this web site. I am learning so much. Thank you for providing this service. I have a Canon DSLR and I want to by a lens for taking group outdoor shots. All I have is a kit lens. Should I by a wide angle lens?

    1. The kit lens should be wide enough, if you go much wider you’ll find a lot of distortion in the image with closest people appearing substantially larger than the further people. The two things to consider is getting back far enough and arranging everyone in a way to make each face visible from the camera.

  31. I just bought my Nikon D3200 , and I am not really familiar how to use those basic things to get a better shot, your article about setting up exposure is a great help for me as a beginner. Thank you.

  32. Hello, i have just bought my Cannon 6D and i am at the beegining of learning the basics so as to start shooting. Your website is great. Keep up the good work!!

  33. I have had many cameras over the years but always automatic types.
    I have taken some great photos but I want to get a camera that I can manual set for better shots, what would you recommend?

  34. First off I really enjoy your lessons, there very helpful with useful and easy to understand information. My question is do you have any suggestions for an indoor lighting kit of some sort. I love taking portraits but i’m basically limited to outdoor shooting as the built in flash on my Nikon D3300 seems to darken the background of my subject when i shoot indoors…… Help!?!?!?

    1. There’s a few things you could try. If you have an external flash, not just the internal flash, bouncing the flash off the ceiling or a nearby white wall – or even a white sheet being held up by a stand or an extra person – can be a great starting point.

      If you can get a flash that works off camera such as the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight
      you can put it on a stand and have it bounce out of an umbrella (such as this Photography Photo Studio Flash Mount Umbrellas Kit) which is a great way to start and very similar to how I actually do a lot of business portraits.

      Also check out The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes which has lots of information on shooting with speedlights.

  35. I’m trying really hard to understand, but I find FS, metering, and iso to be so confusing. I’m so new to DSLR photography that when I shoot a picture (in M because I’m determined not to use a pretty set setting) and it actually turns out “good” I get almost as excited as a kid at Christmas with a brand new toy. Your lesson has helped some, but I’m still a bit confused.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      Try to search on YouTube for a video that explains the relation between Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO. A key word in photography is “LIGHT” and in order to get the right amount of light for the right amount of time (= exposure) is a continues dance between Aperture and Shutter Speed. ISO you mostly change when you are out of options with Shutter speed and Aperture.

      Have fun!

  36. Hi! I’m a complete beginner to photography as of three days ago, but I’ve been grateful for the resources on this site. However, I get easily confused, and I’m the kind of person who needs to break down and understand everything when I’m learning it, so I tried to write a summary explaining ISO to the best of my knowledge so far. It sounds pitiful… Could someone please read over this and fill in the holes for me? Thanks!
    What I learned so far about ISO:
    First of all, it’s not an acronym. It’s pronounced “eye-so.”
    It’s one of the components of light exposure. It’s the concept of adjusting how sensitive the camera lense is to light. I’m still not sure how that’s different from the amount of light. How does the sensitivity work?
    I’ve experimented with adjusting the iso settings on the same still close-up picture with different lighting. So, far, the low iso (80) looks the best in every picture (less grainy).
    But I read that high iso is good for catching action shots because it takes less time to take the picture, so you won’t get a blur or “ghost” effect. I’d think it would look grainy though… so there must be something else to it. Wouldn’t in theory, a high iso number be best for shooting in bright places?
    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi, actually ISO is an acronym for International Organization for Standardization (yeah – why it’s not IOS, I don’t know. But that’s it.) The actual written standard for ‘measurement of sensitivity to light’ is ISO 5800:2001 (in case you wanted to know.)

      One of the ways to think about light sensitivity is that if – in bright daylight with the sun behind you – you set your aperture to f16 you can set both your ISO and shutter speed to ‘about’ 100 (actually 1/100th of a second for the shutter.) And if you set the camera to ISO 400 you can use 1/400 of a second. With old film cameras you had to go to the nearest similar shutter speed – 1/125 and 1/500 in this example. These settings will give you a very close to proper exposure.

      You’re right that low ISO gives you the best quality in terms of noise or graininess, and that high ISO gives you more latitude for higher shutter speeds. It’s a compromise. With experience and practice you get to know which way and how much you can push either of those settings.

    1. Oddly enough, the sun hitting the moon is the same brightness as hitting the earth – by and large. You can use the “Sunny 16” rule – which is that when the sun is behind you between about 10 am and 4 pm and not cloudy, you can set your camera to f16, ISO 100 at 1/100th of a second exposure. Or f16 at ISO 200 at 1/200th of a second (or ISO 400 at 1/400th – etc). Sky conditions may require a bit more exposure to get full detail on the moon but that’s a great starting point for exposure.

      The other thing you need is a lens that is at least 200mm and more is definitely better if you’d like to fill your frame with the moon.

    1. Hello Russ – I took a quick look and yes, it should be fine for the lessons – there is a small limitation in the maximum aperture but then most ‘kit’ lenses on dSLR’s have the same limitation. I highly recommend you read up in the manual about using the Manual mode and get used to the controls to switch between shutter, aperture and ISO. Once you have those down the lessons will be pretty straightforward for you.

      1. Never mind with the manual, I just found the setting on page 44 of the manual, it has exposure settings and aperture settings both in 1/3 intervals……….. Russ Campbell

  37. Thanks for the comment and yes I do have the manual for my Fujifilm camera but have yet learned how to set aperture and exposure, maybe if you could get the manual online and point out to me what page etc , and I can look it up on my own. One question: Will a film camera flash work OK with my Fujifilm digital , it sets ISO and I do believe either exposure or aperture.

    Thanks for all of your help and I will be around to help others as I pick up info real fast…..

    Russ Campbell

    1. Russ – in general be very cautious. The way flashes are ‘triggered’ is that there is a voltage going through the connections on the hotshoe of the flash and camera. Newer flashes have very low voltage, however many older flashes have a higher voltage which can damage digital circuits of newer cameras.

      The accepted ‘maximum recommended’ voltage to make sure cameras are okay is 6 volts. However many older flashes can be as high as 250 volts.

      One way around this is to get an inexpensive ‘wireless flash trigger’ for ‘on-camera’ flashes and a light stand, and put the flash to the side (which will also give you better/more interesting pictures than ‘on-camera’ which tends to be unflattering light for most people). These wireless triggers can be had for $15 to $30 (on the low end) from eBay.

      Otherwise get the right flash for your camera is the recommended way.

  38. I just found out that my Vivitar 2500 flash unit has a voltage of 11.5 volts across the hotshoe …………… is that OK with the Fujfilm S9100 digital camera that I am using ???? Russ

    1. Hello Trinity – unfortunately the s205 is a ‘point and shoot’ and doesn’t have a manual mode to let you adjust your aperture. So, the lessons on exposure really aren’t helpful to you unless you get a more advanced camera. However the lessons on composition will be useful to you.

  39. I’m still a beginner after getting off “Auto” mode 6 yrs ago. I now own the good Nikon D7000 with :
    a) 50mm f1.8
    b) 18-105 f3.5
    c) Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 DXII – soon to come.
    When I shoot outdoors, I look at the viewfinder for metering (in Manual mode) then adjust shutter speed accordingly based on Aperture setting. Indoors with low light is where I struggle. I tend to make trial and error shoots before taking the actual shot. My wife takes better pictures with her iPhone5.
    So if I could ask you “Pros” what do you do first (or your protocols) when you get ready to compose or take a picture (indoor or outdoor)?

    1. Hello Tom – one of the issues is having enough light to use a dSLR, sadly iPhones and Point & Shoots often get good pictures easier. But you can get great pictures using a dSLR by using good technique – so you can:
      – use your fastest lenses with the aperture at f1.8 and a fairly low shutter speed,
      – increase the ISO as needed,
      – use a tripod,
      – develop really good camera holding techniques
      – use a flash
      or combinations of those.

      Also make sure your white balance is set to Auto or set to the right use (i.e. Tungsten for most indoor photos) or use Custom White Balance – look up in your manual on how to do that.

  40. Hi. I have a Nikon D90, I’m a graphic designer but I LOVE taking photos for real estate and everyday I’m growing doing this BUT.. When the houses are to dark I have a hard time to setting my ISO even when I’ve being reading everything about this. And yesterday I took pictures where the sun light it was behind me and I couldn’t figure out. They came out pretty good because I edited. Could you tell me please, the easy way to resolve this? I always try to use my camera in Manual.

    1. Hello Misha – thanks for the question – and good for you to work in Manual, once you get it dialed in you’ll get much better photos.

      For interiors you NEED to use a tripod because your exposure will be somewhere around f16 at 1/4 second iso 400 (ish – depending on just how bright the house is.)

      For exteriors with the sun behind you, use the “Sunny 16 Rule” which is aperture at F16, ISO 200, Shutter speed 1/200.

      For more information check out the Exposure and Histogram page because that will give you more tools to use for determining your ISO and exposure settings.

  41. Really thankful for the structural instructions! I do have 2 questions, and I will post them separately for easier responses.

    My first question is about the effects of different focal lengths. I got that the relative proportion of the parts of an image changes with the distance between the photographer and the subject. So, the closer you get to the subject, e.g. a model, the bigger the nose will appear (i.e. the center part will be enlarged). The proportion will be kind of distorted. On the other hand, the longer the distance between the photographer and the subject, the more compressed the subject’s features will be and it will generally produce a better result.

    My question is that: will focal length also produce these results? I found that some people say yes, while others say no.. Some say focal length changes the angle of view but not the compression of the subject. But if that is the case, why a subject near the edge of the frame will be stretched to the edge if you shoot in a wide angle? On the other hand, will a telephoto lens produce a more compressed image relative to a shorter lens? E.g. taking a picture of the same model, will a 200mm lens make the facial features of a model more compressed comparing to a 105mm lens? If you crop the picture taken with the 105mm lens and enlarge only the part of the model to the same size of the picture taken with the 200mm lens, will they be identical in terms of the model’s facial feature?

    Does the focal length distort the proportion of a subject only within the wide angle range but will have no effect within the normal to telephoto length?


  42. Here is my second question. It is to do with the use of lenses on crop sensor cameras. For example, if I use a 35mm lens on a Nikon DX camera (1.5 crop factor), what effects will it give?

    Angle of view – surely it will give an angle of view like that of a roughly 50mm lens because of the 1.5 crop factor). So, it produces a view similar to what we see with our eyes.

    Depth of view – however, is it true that despite the angle of view it produces, it still behaves like a 35mm lens in terms of depth of field?

    Compression of the subject – if focal length affects compression of the subject, is it also true that it also behaves like a 35mm lens, i.e. a wide angle lens, despite it is called a normal lens? So, I think people near the edge of the frame will be stretched to the edge, am I right? However, in practice, I do not seem to notice this problem. Is it because of the crop factor that the sides of the view are cropped out? So, if that is the case, the center part of the frame will not be distorted even with a wide angle lens?

    As you see, I am a bit confused about how focal length affects compression of a subject, if any, and wondering if telephone lens will do the opposite to that of a wide angle lens.


      1. Thank you very much about taking the extra time to make that page. Appreciate very much!

        So, your tests seem to confirm what I suspect lenses should behave in those scenarios. Below seem to be the conclusions:

        1. Longer focal length produces a shallower depth of field (DOF). That explains in your test, the picture taken at 105mm has a shallower DOF than the one taken at 24mm even though the same aperture was used in both cases.

        2. A 50mm lens on a 1.5 crop sensor camera still produce a DOF like a 50mm lens. The reason why it creates an angle of view similar to that of a 75mm on a full frame camera is that the smaller sensor crops the centre part of the projected image but leaving the rest unused. So, technically it is still a 50mm lens and acts like a 50mm lens (in terms of DOF) despite the fact that it produces an equivalent to 75mm angle of view. That’s the reason why in your test, under the same aperture, a 70mm lens on a full frame camera produces a shallower DOF than the 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera, even though the angle of view in both cases are roughly equivalent.

        3. The closer you get to the subject, the shallower DOF. That explains why in your test, 2 pictures both taken at 24mm focal length and f/4 aperture, the one you frame by moving closer to the subject produces shallower DOF than the other that you shot from a distance but copped the subject and enlarge it to give the same frame of view.

        4. The distance between the camera and the subject also affects the compression of the image. The longer the distance, the more flattened the image. That’s why even though going closer to a model will give a shallower DOF, too close will make the model’s nose appearing too big. I saw from other blogs that most suggest at least 10 – 15 ft.

        5. However, one issue remains unclear. Does focal length also have the same effect on compressing an image? For example, I stand 15 ft from a model and shoot two pictures with the model at the centre of the frame. One is at 150mm focal length, and the other is at 50mm. Will the one at 150mm show the model’s facial feature more flattened even though the distance from the model is the same in both cases?

        Thanks again!

        1. Hi Vincent – I often stand closer than that to my portrait subjects – but that’s a function of where we’re often shooting (I am a location photographer and don’t have a studio) but I try to keep back as much as possible. It is also a situation where you can ‘compress’ a face too much if you shoot from too far away, which can also look unnatural 😀

          And no – there wouldn’t be a difference in compression between two focal lengths. The difference in distance to the tip of the nose and to the ears (two easy to visualize points of a face) would remain the same regardless of focal length. However there may be specific characteristics of a specific lens and any inherent distortion it may have because of the optics.

          It’s interesting to see what happens in Adobe Lightroom when applying lens correction and see how much distortion there often is.

  43. Hi Dear Instructor,

    You have indeed inspired me! Instead of just sitting and trying to figure out how things work in theory, I should, like you have said in many occasions, put it into practice!

    I guess I can answer my own Q5 by actually testing it by taking two photos and see if there is any difference! I’ll post what I find once I have done the test.


  44. Hello people,
    At the end of this lesson you noted that: “some digital cameras have exposure compensation built in,,,”
    Do you recommend us to disable this feature if we can, specially if we intent to shoot low or high key or regardless our intent we need to learn to work with this feature enabled?

    I’m finding this course really useful and interesting. Thanks for sharing such a great material.

    1. Hello Nicanor – it seems if there’s built in compensation they don’t want people turning it off, but that is typically on more ‘automatic’ cameras that cost less. If there’s more manual control on the camera then it shouldn’t be an issue.

  45. how much light is in front of you – which can be changed by adding lights or flash.

    I don’t know the answer I even looked it up.

    1. Hello Amanda, there isn’t a specific amount of light in front of you unless it’s a bright sunny day with the sun behind you – in which case your exposure is f16 and set the shutter speed to the same number as the ISO ie. ISO 100 = 1/100 (or 1/125) of a second. In all other situations the amount of light varies depending on the situation and you can determine how much light is available by using your light meter (bestphotolessons.com/lessons/digital-camera-histograms/). As for adding lights or flash, that is beyond the scope of this lesson. However, I am available for paid private consultations and lessons about photography via Skype if you’re interested.

      As a technical note, photo exposure is about how much light is being reflected back at the camera from the subject. You can measure the reflected light or the light hitting the subject to determine the exposure, which one of those is better depends on what you are photographing.

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