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How To Control Exposure

So you just got your first camera and are making the transition from automatic to manual shooting, however you keep running into the same problem, your images and videos are either painfully bright or incomprehensibly dark mess. If that seems remotely like you then you need to learn how to control exposure on your camera.

There are four main ways of controlling exposure are aperture, shutter speed, ISO and ND filters. To understand what to change in which case you first need to understand what each of these settings control.

ApertureAperture And depth of field how to control exposure PA To Pro

Aperture, also referred to as f-stop (f/), is the first way that will help you learn how to control exposure. Aperture is a ring usually found on the lens or inside the camera body that controls the amount of light that can hit the sensor in your camera body. The smaller the number for the aperture the wider open the ring is, which lets in more light. Having an open aperture creates depth of field, or in lay man’s terms it makes part of the image blurry based on the distance away from each other.

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed how to control exposure PA To Pro

Shutter speed is the time that the shutter is open to expose light to the sensor. The setting is written in fractions with the numbers correlating to seconds, so 1/2 would mean that the shutter is open for half of a second. Sports photography typically uses a very fast shutter speed to freeze the subject in place. Furthermore a slow shutter speed is useful for long exposures since they show motion blur and blend all movement together.

For videography the general rule is that your shutter speed should be one to two times your frame rate. What this means is if you are filming in 30 frames per second then your shutter speed should be between 1/30 and 1/60. Although it is still possible to film with a shutter speed outside of this range it usually leads to choppy (too fast) or blurry (too slow) video.


iso how to control exposure PA To Pro

ISO is a measurement of how sensitive the camera sensor is to incoming light. This means that the lower the number the less sensitive the camera sensor is and the darker the image is. The one downside is that the higher you turn the ISO the noisier the image gets. Most inexpensive cameras have a hard time going above 800 ISO, so do some tests to see what your camera’s limit is.

ND Filter

If you read my camera gear article then you might remember that I mentioned my ND Filter. When most people talk about how to control exposure they only mention the three ways above, but I feel like an ND filter at least deserves an honorable mention. A variable ND filter will allow you to make a scene darker while still preserving an open aperture.

Best Settings For Filmmaking

So what are the best settings for shooting video? It’s actually very simple, low ISO, open aperture, shutter speed set 1-2 times the frame rate, and use an ND filter if it’s over exposed. However if it is underexposed I would recommend turning up your ISO to as high as you can without the image getting grainy. Make sure that your shutter speed is matching your frame rate, as that will be the brightest end of acceptable shutter speeds.

If you have any questions about how to control exposure tweet me @Peter_VanLoo or @PA2Pro.

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Peter VanLoo
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Peter VanLoo

Writer at PA To Pro
I am a bit of a gear geek. I shoot a variety of videos, but mostly movie reviews on my YouTube channel. If you want my opinion on movies, TV shows, and comic books head over to
Peter VanLoo
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