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Let’s Practise!

Let’s work with some scenarios! The idea is that these will help you decide which settings to change and why, based on what your photo needs at the time, and the exposure you’re currently working with. For this example, we’re not worrying about the histogram or underexposing. We’ll get to that in following topics!

Remember my order from lesson 1? Here it is again.

If the photo is too dark, check your settings in this order: aperture, shutter speed, ISO. Since my aperture rarely changes, I usually only need to check and/or change shutter speed and ISO

If the photo is too bright, check/change your settings in this order: ISO, shutter speed, aperture (backwards of the order above.) 

I promise that eventually this becomes second nature, but if it helps you to have an order to work through, then use it!

Scenario 1.

You arrive at the woods on a grey, overcast day. You find your location – a pretty stump with some moss – and turn on your camera.

The settings are 1/500 sec, f/1.8, ISO 400, with your 85mm f/1.8 lens.

The photo looks like this:

You only have a couple of options here. Let’s work out which one/s make most sense. The photo is too dark, so we’re going to go aperture > shutter speed > ISO

Aperture: is already at its widest, f/1.8. Changing this setting right now will only let LESS light in. 

Shutter speed: Currently 1/500 sec. You could easily make this slower, allowing more time for light to come in to the camera.

How slow? That depends on where your limit is. For me, I don’t go slower than 1/400 sec. Otherwise I start noticing much more motion blur.

I would change this to 1/400 before touching the ISO. Why? it means our ISO will be as low as possible for this situation, because we’re already letting in as much light as possible with our other settings.

Remember, a smaller number (1/400, 1/320, 1/200..). mean the sensor is gathering light for a longer amount of time. 

ISO: Currently at 400. Assuming we’ve slowed the shutter to where we feel is our limit, and the image still isn’t bright enough, now we can raise the ISO. How much can you raise it? This really depends on your camera!

Here’s how this photo would turn out (approx) at 1/400 sec, f/1.8, ISO 1000

It could probably stand to be even a little bit lighter than this!

Scenario 2

You continue through the woods and find a huge, open clearing. You set your dog up at the edge of the woods and turn on your camera.

You have the same settings as before: 1/400 sec, f/1.8, ISO 1000

The photo looks like this:

 Let’s work out which setting/s make most sense to change. The photo is too bright, so we’re going to go ISO > shutter speed > aperture

ISO: Currently at 1000! There’s definitely room to move here! I would begin by dropping my ISO. If it got to 100 and the photo was still too bright, THEN I would return to shutter speed.

Shutter speed: Currently at 1/400 sec. We COULD make this faster (if we hadn’t changed the ISO first). That would definitely let in less light. BUT… we also have a reasonably high ISO.

Does it make sense to start with shutter speed in this situation? Probably not! We want to get our ISO as low as possible in this situation. If it’s still too bright, THEN we can return to shutter speed.

Aperture: is at f/1.8, meaning it’s letting in the maximum amount of light. We COULD make it narrower, letting in less light. But is this the smartest choice when we still have a reasonably high ISO? It’ll give us more background and foreground details as well. We can always return to aperture if we get our ISO as low as it can go, and we max out our shutter speed as fast as it can go.

You can see that by starting with ISO here and getting it as low as possible, we actually only need to adjust one setting!

Here’s the photo at 1/400 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200

Scenario 3

Suddenly, the sun comes out!!

You have the same settings as before: 1/400 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200

The photo looks like this:

(you’ll have to imagine the sun shining. I don’t take photos in the sun!)


 Let’s work out which setting/s make most sense to change. The photo is too bright, so again, we’re going to go ISO > shutter speed > aperture

ISO: Currently at ISO 200. We can drop this immediately down to ISO 100. If your camera has an “extended” ISO option of like 80, or 64, I don’t recommend them. They’re unlikely to be better quality than ISO 100. It’s better to change some other settings.

Since the photo is still too bright at ISO 100, we need to move on to…

Shutter speed: Currently at 1/400 sec. Since our ISO is already low, there’s no harm in speeding up the shutter to reduce the amount of time light can get to the sensor. 

In this case, by the time we reached 1/640, the photo would be looking pretty correctly exposed. 

Aperture: is at f/1.8, meaning it’s letting in the maximum amount of light. We COULD make it narrower, letting in less light, if we hadn’t already changed the other settings. Of course, we’d then get more detail in the surroundings and that mightn’t be what we want. 


Here’s the photo at 1/640 sec, f/1.8, ISO 100

Scenario 4

Since it’s sunny, you decide to do some action photos, woo hoo!

You have the same settings as before: 1/640 sec, f/1.8, ISO 100

But… by the time you get set up and find a good spot for the action, the sun has gone away. You still want to give it a try. 

The photo currently looks like this:

 Let’s work out which setting/s make most sense to change. The photo is too dark, but we also need to remember we want to do action photos this time! Therefore, we have to make sure we have an appropriate shutter speed first, and then follow the normal order (aperture > ISO): 

Shutter speed: Currently at 1/640. We know we need this faster in order to do action photos. At least to 1/1250 sec. 

The photo now looks like this:

Oh boy.

Aperture: is at f/1.8, meaning it’s already letting in the maximum amount of light. Nothing we change here can help us. 

ISO: Currently at ISO 100.

This is promising! We should have a lot of room to move here. 

In the end, we would end up at about ISO 2000 to get our photo correctly exposed in this case (more or less. I’m working with some exposure calculators and figuring out stops here and math has NEVER been my strong suit 😂 the main thing to take away from this, is that we needed to adjust the shutter speed first because of the context, not because of the light)

Here’s the photo at 1/1250 sec, f/1.8, ISO 2000

(in reality it was 1/1250, f/1.8, ISO 500 but I’m adjusting settings based on the scenarios and lighting I’ve created, how much I darkened the image, etc.)

If you like these scenarios and find them helpful, please let me know in the comments and I’ll make more!

Metering Modes

Metering modes are ways that the camera reads the light in the scene and determines that settings to use. 

They are really only important if you’re shooting in any auto mode, or priority modes.

This includes if you’re shooting in Auto-ISO.

The mode you use will determine how much/what part of the scene to read the light from. This is important to note because if you choose a setting where the camera will only read the exposure of your subject or a very small area of the photo for example, and your dog is black… it will likely determine that the subject is VERY underexposed and set the settings based on that analysis.

Again, this is only important when you’re not shooting in manual exposure. Our goal should still be full manual exposure, so you have the maximum control over the settings.

In any metering mode, there is no difference to the image with ANY metering mode. The only difference I found while conducting some experiments, was the exposure reading, which would tell me if it’s ±0.0 (correctly exposed), +1.0 (one stop over exposed), -1.3 (1.3 stops underexposed) and so on. 

Given that I personally use the histogram as a much more accurate readout of the WHOLE image, the exposure reading isn’t really important for me. If you enjoy using the exposure reading, you may want to take a bit more time to find out what each of the metering modes in your specific camera do.

Each camera will have different modes.

Most of them have some combination of:

  • Matrix/Evaluative: generally the default mode, it breaks up the scene into “zones” and evaluates the exposure. Particular importance is based on where the focus point is, and this zone will be given priority. This is a good mode to use if you don’t need something specific or fancy for some reason.
  • Centre-weighted. Exposes only based on what’s in the centre of the frame. Could be useful with a not black or white dog, if they’re in the centre of the frame… I guess.
  • Spot metering: evaluates the light only based on where your focus point is. This could theoretically be useful if, for example, you’re shooting an agility competition on a day where the clouds are coming and going and the event is faced- paced, so you don’t want to have to constantly keep an eye on your ISO but need it to be auto. Having the metering on spot will mean the subject will be correctly exposed (assuming you focus on them), but could blow out the background elements if they’re especially bright… which is maybe not such a big deal in this particular example.


Other cameras may have other modes, eg., Sony has a “highlights” mode, which reads the entire scene and meters based on the highlights. If I shot in some kind of auto mode, this would mean the settings could be chosen based on not overexposing the highlights.

Check your camera’s manual for any special modes, IF you need them.

But again, if you’re shooting in manual, which I hope you will be, you really don’t need to worry, and leaving it on the default matrix/evaluative is totally fine.