Photography Cheat Sheet: Explaining Camera Exposure to a Dummy

Those who are just starting to explore the manual controls of their camera may find the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO easier to understand with today’s photography cheat sheet.

Mastering camera controls can be intimidating for beginners, especially for those who are upgrading from a smartphone camera. But, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Today’s photography cheat sheet will certainly help anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the three basic camera settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

The infographic below, which we spotted on Reddit, shows a basic representation of each of the settings. While it’s certainly incomplete, it still serves as a simple yet straightforward graphic illustration of what each exposure setting or element does.

The first row represents the aperture or the opening of the lens. The different sizes of the opening are represented by the f-numbers — the smaller the number, the larger the opening. As you might have guessed, the larger the opening, the more light passes through the lens.

The second row represents the shutter speed, or how long the aperture stays open. The numbers indicated in the infographic are some of the most common shutter speed settings used, especially when you’re shooting in manual mode. The faster the shutter speed, the more you’ll be able to freeze movement.

The last row represents the ISO, which determines how bright or dark your photo looks. When you’re shooting film, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the emulsion to light. You can increase the ISO (or use a film with higher ISO) to get a brighter photo when shooting in low light. However, there’s a catch. The higher the ISO, the greater the amount of grain (film) or noise (digital) in your photo.

Now, what’s missing in this photography cheat sheet is the relationship between the three elements and how they all come together to give you the best exposure. This is where the Exposure Triangle comes in. For that part, we highly suggest you check out this video tutorial for a more in-depth explanation.

Don’t forget to check out our collection of photography cheat sheets as well for more useful tips and tricks!