Photographers, as a species, are a funny bunch. They come in all shapes and sizes. Are young and old. Are passionate about their brand of camera, be that a smartphone, a DSLR, Mirrorless, or film. And argue constantly about lenses, composition, the rule of thirds and many other arcane intricacies.
One thing all have in common though, is the exposure triangle. The exposure triangle balances the three primary elements of any photograph: Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO. Change one or more of these and you change the photograph. Make the image brighter or darker. Bokeh. Starbursts. Motion blur. By manipulation of these three interconnected settings your photograph lives or dies. You have control, if you use it well.
When photographers see an image they like, often the first question they ask is “What settings did you use?” Knowing this sheds light on the process used to make that image. Settings may include focal length and lens choices, filters and so on. But the key settings everyone wants to know are “What was your exposure triangle?”
And yet, that is largely irrelevant. The best settings are dictated by the scene. And outdoors at least, that changes every second. Time of day. Season. Cloud cover. Shade. Sunlight. All are factors when determining exposure. A person standing right beside you with a camera, taking the same shot you did ten minutes earlier, could get wildly different results with the same settings. Maybe the clouds came in. Or the sun set.
The best exposure settings to use are specific to the moment the shot was taken. Unless of course you are in a controlled environment such as a studio, or somewhere with lights and so on. These environments are set up specifically to provide consistency. So that exposure settings won’t change between shots. Which proves the point.
Which brings me to the point. Exposure settings are critical to every image. The ‘exposure triangle’ of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, is the simplest and yet most difficult concept for many photographers to master. Smartphone users are often blissfully unaware of this as they click away, letting their phones take care of these settings in the background, but the more advanced ones use dedicated apps to control exposure.
Photographers love to talk about why they used this setting or that, and can argue long into the night about why others should have shot using different settings, even though they weren’t present. Everyone’s a critic. I am involved with many photography groups on the various social media channels. I see photographers getting bent out of shape asking and answering questions about exposure settings every day, many times per day.
These threads make me smile. Ultimately, knowing exposure settings gives at best a vague idea of how the shot evolved. Knowing those settings tells you nothing about the environment. White balance. Clouds passing overhead. Building shadow. Reflection from windows. A hundred other variables. Also, intent is key! Did they drag the shutter for motion blur, or ramp it up to freeze the action? What are we looking at, and did you mean to do it? You have no idea how many arguments I have refereed as a result of questions like that.
My take? Unless a photographer is asking for help, asking for exposure triangle information is, in most cases, pointless. It’s like asking a painter which brush they used. Knowing the answer might give insight but it will not make you a better painter. The point is: Do you like the photograph?
Baseball Caps ‘n Other Stuff
I made this design about photography for photographers. It’s kind of an in-joke. Photographers seeing someone wearing this will smile knowingly at each other, exchange smiles and a nod: As if to say “We get it”. Non-photographers might ask what the heck this means, is it rude?! Which just gives a photographer a reason to start a conversation about their art, and good luck stopping them once they start.
As it says right there on the design ‘Photographers love to expose their triangles’. And we do.
Click the image to view the design. Other products available. This looks great on a T-shirt, too.
Worldwide delivery. Enjoy.
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Prints available for all images by request.
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