The secret in taking stunning photos doesn’t lie in upscale cameras but rather in the right blend of settings. As Exposure Guide says, exposure is a critical element that determines what is actually recorded on film or the image sensor. There are three adjustable elements that control the exposure – ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.
ISO ratings determine the image sensor’s sensitivity to light, each value of the rating represents a “stop” of light, and each incremental ISO number (up or down) represents a doubling or halving of the sensor’s sensitivity to light.
Aperture controls the lens’ diaphragm, which controls the amount of light traveling through the lens to the film plane. The aperture setting is indicated by the f-number, whereas each f-number represents a “stop” of light.
Shutter Speed indicates the speed in which the curtain opens then closes, and each shutter speed value also represents a “stop” of light. The shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second.
Combining these three elements will result to an exposure value (EV) for a given setting. Any change in any one of the three elements will have a measurable and specific impact on how the remaining two elements react to expose the film frame or image sensor and how the image ultimately looks.
ISO is actually an acronym, which stands for International Standards Organization. The ISO rating, which ranges in value from 25 to 3200 (or beyond), indicates the specific light sensitivity. The lower the ISO rating, the less sensitive the image sensor is and therefore the smoother the image, because there is less digital noise in the image. The higher the ISO rating (more sensitive) the stronger the image sensor has to work to establish an effective image, which thereby produces more digital noise (those multi-colored speckles in the shadows and in the midtones). So what is digital noise? It is any light signal that does not originate from the subject, and therefore creates random color in an image. The digital camera engineers have designed the image sensor to perform best at the lowest ISO (just like with film). On most digital cameras this is ISO 100, although some high end DSLRs have a mode that brings the ISO down to 50 or even 25.
A lens’s aperture is the opening in the diaphragm that determines the amount of focused light passing through the lens. At a small f-stop, say f/2, a tremendous amount of light passes through, even at a fraction of a second; but at f/22, when the diaphragm is perhaps at its smallest, only a tiny amount of light is let in (even at longer shutter speeds). An interesting thing about the aperture and the f-numbers is that it doesn’t matter the focal length of the lens as long as the f-number is held constant. This is because the arithmetical equation that determines the f-number indicates that the same amount of light passes through the lens on a 35mm lens as on a 100mm lens, with a shutter speed of 1/125s. The size of the diaphragm is unquestionably different, but the amount of light passing through is the same.
Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, and indicates how fast the curtains at the film plane open and close. The shutter speed controls how long light enters the lens and hits the image sensor or film plane. The shutter speed enables you to capture the world in split seconds, but it can also absorb the world at speeds upwards of three and four seconds (or remain continually open up until the photographer wants to close the curtain). Snapping the shutter in a fraction of a second, also gives you control on how motion is recorded. If the shutter speed is faster than the object or background, then the image will be tack sharp. If the shutter speed is slower, then you’ll get blurred objects. Think about the rain in a rainstorm, how fast is that water falling? Well, at 1/30th the raindrops are streaks of undistinguishable white. But at 1/250th, the raindrops hover in mid air and you can see the full swell of each water drop.
So get your cameras ready. Here’s a guide to the various combinations of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed settings: