Exposure Triangle is Not Enough

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What combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO should I use to capture these images like these?

  • Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Intent: Capture the intricate details of the water by freezing the motion

  • Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Intent: Produce a soft look by capturing smooth flow lines

A quick internet search about camera exposure will yield plenty of explanations as to how exposure works. Probably one of the most common- and most helpful- ways to understand exposure is to use the “Exposure Triangle”. Put simply, the exposure triangle shows us the relationship between the three variables that determine exposure: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. When these three variables are balanced, you get a perfect exposure. But changing one variable means you’ll have to change at least one of the others to make sure that you’re maintaining the exposure you want. And that’s where the triangle gets tricky.

As you can see by looking at the images above, two images of the same scene can be exposed properly and produce completely different results.  My intent was very different for each image. For the first image, I wanted to freeze the motion of the spray. In the second, I wanted to preserve the beautiful flow lines of the water. Although I had a clear vision for what I wanted to accomplish, I faced some specific challenges when it came time to go about shooting the images. I needed to:

  • Determine the right shutter speed to create the desired effect.
  • Capture the details in every part of the image, including the dark rocks, the bright water and the backlit mist.
  • Make sure everything is sharply in focus.

To complicate the matter, the water spray from the blowhole lasted for only a fraction of a second. It may have seemed easier to just put the camera into auto mode and hope that its intelligent algorithm would get me a good photo rather than tinker with my settings and risk missing the spray. The problem with that approach is that it’s always a hit-or-miss game. While auto mode might give me an images that is technically exposed properly, it won’t necessarily look like what I had in mind.

Knowing about the exposure triangle in theory was not enough to realize my creative vision or overcome the unique challenges I faced while shooting in the field. More than theoretical knowledge, I needed a process that would help me to determine which variables to prioritize based on my ultimate goals. By using a simple, four-step workflow and my camera’s spot meter, I was able to do just that. Here is how I did it:

  • I prioritized the value of the Shutter Speed over Aperture and ISO
  • And then I used Camera’s Spot Meter to set the exposure using the dark rocks in the background.

With the help of these tools, I was able to determine the right combination of parameters to capture the images I had in mind – with perfect detail and sharp focus throughout. This is just one of the case studies featured in our Spot on Exposure landscape photography tutorials.

This is exactly what our Spot on Exposure course is about. It is designed to put you in control of your exposure settings with the help of a four-step workflow and a collection of practical, on-location case studies. You can expect a straight-forward, real-world approach that brings theories like the exposure triangle into living color. And to give you a complete start-to-finish look at how we create our photographs, we’ve collaborated with Josh Cripps to bring you Lightroom: Master RAW Processing tutorials. Josh will show you how he processes the exact same images we use in our case studies so you can see the whole process firsthand. He doesn’t stop there, though – Josh will also delve deep into the features of the Adobe RAW processing engine to teach you how to harness the extraordinary ability of the Lightroom Develop Module to make beautiful, professional photos from your RAW images.

Check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

  • Spot on Exposure Tutorial Cover

    Spot on Exposure Tutorial

  • Photography Histogram Tutorial Cover

    Histogram Exposed Tutorial

  • Exposure Bracketing Tutorial for Landscape Photography Cover

    Bracketing Exposed Tutorials

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams