Ultimate Exposure Metering Cheat Sheet

The Awesome Exposure Cheat Sheet

It can be overwhelming to use your camera in manual mode. Even with an exposure triangle I tend to see people struggling with understanding the basics of photographic exposure. This simple and effective cheat sheet will help you grasp exposing your image a little more efficiently. Feel free to download the picture to your phone and take it everywhere with you. Of course you may also share it around and make sure to bookmark the page for when you need it on the go. (All images taken with my gear).

Which settings, hummmm.

Which settings, hummmm.

THE METER
The big meter that you see in the upper middle of the sheet looks almost the same in every camera. Except for cameras like point-and-shoots that don’t have manual or semi-automatic (semi-manual) settings. The arrow in the middle indicates where the exposure is at. In this example the exposure is spot-on. Is the arrow to the right, then your picture is over-exposed. Is it to the left then your picture is under-exposed.

In some cases it’s not that simple and depends on other factors like:
– the metering setting you chose in-camera (I have never changed my metering mode)
– the scenery

But in general, expose for your main subject and everything is fine. Even if the arrow is off the middle.

Example: You take a photograph of your wife. The sun is behind her. The metering wants to expose to the overall brightness of the scene but she stays well under-lit. Exposing HER just right (instead of the sky/sun) makes the arrow go way to the right, but that’s ok. Also the sky and sun behind her will be way over-exposed, and that’s ok too, as she’s the main subject and you’d want to see her, not the sky.

My tip for this particular example:
– Aperture Priority
– Automatic ISO
– Dial in a few stops of exposure compensation

3 BASIC CAMERA SETTINGS

Change aperture, shutter speed or ISO to determine the right exposure.

SHUTTER:
Faster shutter speed -> makes picture darker
Slower shutter speed -> makes picture brighter

APERTURE:
Narrower aperture (big number) -> makes picture darker
Wider aperture (small number) -> makes picture brighter

ISO:
Lower ISO -> makes picture darker
Higher ISO -> makes picture brighter

RECAP
Makes picture darker: Fast shutter, narrower aperture and lower ISO.
Makes picture brighter: Slower shutter, wider aperture and higher ISO.

SIDE EFFECTS OF THE BASIC SETTINGS

Changing those settings brings along certain side effects. (And yes, making compromises in photography is common).

SHUTTER:
Faster shutter speed -> freezes motion
Slower shutter speed -> blurs motion

APERTURE:
Narrower aperture (big number) -> deep depth of field (you see everything from front to back)
Wider aperture (small number) -> shallow depth of field (you see only the subject and it gets blurry behind it)

ISO:
Lower ISO -> less grain (noise) and of better quality (and better dynamic range)
Higher ISO -> more grain (noise) and of lesser quality (and lower dynamic range)

Note: The focal length is also a factor playing a part in the depth of field. 
It is simpler creating more background blur with higher mm numbered lenses than with smaller ones. 

EXAMPLES

FAST SHUTTER - To freeze the motion of the jumping...me

FAST SHUTTER – To freeze the motion of the jumping…me.

SLOW SHUTTER - To see car lights make this particular effect.

SLOW SHUTTER – To see car lights make this particular effect called car light trails.

BIG APERTURE NUMBER (is called small aperture) - To shoot landscapes and have a large depth of field.

BIG APERTURE NUMBER (called small aperture) – To shoot landscapes and have a large depth of field. Shot at f8.

 

SMALL APERTURE NUMBER (called big aperture) - To shoot portraits and have a small depth of field. Shot at f1.8.

SMALL APERTURE NUMBER (called big aperture) – To shoot portraits and have a small depth of field. Shot at f1.8.

LOW ISO - generates less grain/noise (even at night - make sure to use a tripod)

LOW ISO – generates less grain/noise (even at night – make sure to use a tripod)

HIGH ISO generates a lot of grain/noise (especially on smaller sensors)

HIGH ISO – generates a lot of grain/noise (especially on smaller sensors)

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