A Guide To Shutter Speed & Aperture

The problem with understanding aperture, exposure, f-stops, shutter speed is that you need to think on 3D.
Yes, 3D. And no, I’m not nuts. Just imagine three separate levers that will control how fast a bucket gets filled with water.

Try to imagine you need to fill in the bucket with a determined amount of water. You keep the funnel open too long and it will overflow. You shut it down too soon and it won’t be filled enough. The same for the funnel size, too small and it won’t let water go through easily and will take much longer to fill the bucket. You open too much and it will fill the bucket to fast.

Replace F-stop with the size of the funnel, shutter speed with how long we’ll keep the funnel open and light for water. You’ll have the exact same challenge, set the correct amount of shutter speed and f-stop to obtain the desired exposure. 

Because a picture is worth a thousand words here is one…


Now is when the triangle comes into picture. And no, it’s not a 3D triangle.

At this point you’ll probably deduced that both settings are inversely related, more shutter speed-less aperture=correct exposure. And less aperture-more shutter speed also=correct exposure.

So, why a triangle? Because we also have sensor sensitivity. This is similar to the volume knob in your stereo, only it increases or reduces sensitivity of the sensor. If we make the sensor more sensible to light it will require less shutter speed or allow for a smaller aperture. Hence the triangle.

Sensor sensitivity is measured in ISO. This is because we photographers are very nostalgic and we carry on using the same term as in film photography. will require less shutter speed or allow for a smaller aperture. Hence the triangle.


There are some considerations when setting these three parameters, each one has a different effect on the picture which we should understand.

Too slow shutter speed (below 1/60 handheld) will cause blurry shots. Too small aperture will have a very shallow DoF reducing the focus area dramatically.  To high ISO will render pictures with a lot of noise.

One way to simplify our lives is to decide to set one parameter to a fix value and play with the other two to obtain the desired, not always correct, exposure (after all we ARE artists). Lets say I want my pictures with very low noise, I would set ISO to 100. Next I’ll decide on shutter speed and aperture depending on the type of shot I’ll be taking. If it is a portrait I will want to blur the background then I’ll set a big aperture and modify shutter speed to obtain desired exposure. If, on the contrary, I’m shooting sports I might want to freeze the action setting high shutter speed and modify aperture to also get the desired exposure.

Have you noticed I’m not using the word “correct” when I describe exposure? There’s not such thing as a correct exposure. Well, it is but is all mathematical and ruins the art side. I believe the exposure is a result of your vision as photographer. You see and interpret light and use your tools to render a picture that will reproduce your vision. And this is the tricky part. Not the math, the numbers, the histogram. Nope, it is to learn the limits of your tools, to experiment long enough so you’ll develop the ability to express your vision. An in this process you will be braking all rules.

Well, I ranted enough for this article-less blog. I hope you enjoyed it!

Uncle Pete

How to improve your skills (read, practice, experiment)

lapicesI’m a strong believer that the vast majority of people develop their artistic trade by a long process of learning, practicing and experimenting. This will lead each of us to discover our own “voice” and produce unique pieces of art. Of course there are a few born with that spark of genius spontaneity but here I’m writing to the other 99% :-)

What is what I wanted to share?.. oh yes! Reading. You know, with all the bashing about how much time we dedicate to our screens, specially the tablet and smartphone, there are lots of great benefits. Since a few months ago I started using a couple of magazine and news aggregators in my phone. I selected as much photography content as available and each night I spend some time reading articles. This practice led me to discover a series of really good articles I want to share with you.

Disclaimer: none of these articles are mine, I’m sharing links to you as I consider each one of them helped me learn something new and valuable for my photography. All content is publicly available and own by each publisher.

Tutorial Shows You How to Capture Quality Night Sky Time-Lapses

5 Tips for Taking Product Photos That Sell

Auto Photography: Stunning Action Shots Using A Rig

The Ultimate Guide to Bokeh

Tutorial: How to Easily Replicate a Photo’s ‘Look’ Using Curves

What Can Photographers Learn from the Classic Rules of Composition?

Sunny 16 rule

The Rule of Equivalent Exposure (With Quick Quiz)

Advice from Artists on How to Overcome Creative Block, Handle Criticism, and Nurture Your Sense of Self-Worth

Elliott Erwitt Shares 12 Priceless Street Photography Tips

6 of Lightroom’s Hidden Treasures

Don’t Miss These 7 Incredible Tutorials on Strobe Lighting for Portraits

That’s all for today, I hope you enjoy these articles.