Understanding the definition of exposure is in photography is so important as you learn photography.  This quick-read article will teach you the definition of exposure in photography and learn of its great importance when taking pictures.


Definition of Exposure in Photography


What if I was to tell you that photography is the capture of light.

Would you believe me?

Because that’s all, it is!  Nothing more, and nothing less.  It is a matter of capturing light and recording it onto a medium to be viewed.  Light reflects off an object, enters the lens, and that light exposes a digital sensor or film, in the camera.  It’s that simple.

If photography is about capturing light, then we must concern ourselves with the amount of light required to the image we want to create.  This amount of light is exposure.

Simply put, the amount of light that enters the camera hitting the camera sensor is called exposure.  If not enough light enters the camera and reaches the digital sensor, the image will be too dark or underexposed.

If too much light enters the camera and reaches the digital sensor, the image will be too bright or overexposed.

What if the amount of light that enters the camera and reaches the sensor is just right?  That is called nailing your exposure!


the same image of a family in a field posing shown three times to demonstrate a definition of exposure in photography


The same happens for us, as humans with our eyes.

You’ve noticed that it is harder to see as you walk around at night, right?  The reason is that the light reflecting off objects is too faint for our eyes to discern, leaving us to stumble around.

Our eyes require a certain amount of light to be able to see the world around us, just as our camera needs a certain amount of light to create an image.


The Subjective Nature of Exposure in Photography


Photography is a form of art, and as such, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to achieving a proper exposure.  What this means, is that the amount of light required for a perfect exposure comes down to the choice of the artist – the photographer.

An image appears too dark to my eye could be exposed exactly as the photographer wanted.  To be honest, light conveys mood and if you’re trying to create a dark, moody image, who am I to say it’s underexposed?

The image below is a good example of that.  Which is the correct exposure?


an image of a girl standing by a window shown twice to demonstrate differences in exposure


Both have their strengths.  The left image has a darker and more moody feel to it, conveying more emotion, while the picture on the right has more of a portrait feel.

The images above are subjective, and you as the photographer get to make a choice.  As you get started in photography, the difference may not matter much to you, but as you become more experienced the difference will matter.

That is why it is crucial that you understand the definition of exposure in photography as well as how to get the exposure you seek.


The Exposure Triangle in Photography


We talked earlier about the definition of exposure in photography as being the amount of light needed to create a correctly exposed image. Let’s talk now about how that light gets to the digital sensor or film inside the camera.

In short, when you create an image, light enters your lens through an opening called an aperture, passes through the open shutter and exposes the digital sensor or film.  From this, we see that three things control the exposure of a photograph:

  1. The aperture or hole in your lens
  2. The speed of the shutter that opens and closes letting in light
  3. The sensitivity of your digital sensor to light, known as ISO


Together, they form what is called the exposure triangle.



a graphic depicting the exposure triangle to teach the definition of exposure in photography


The three components of exposure work together allowing you to control the level of light in your image.  These three elements of photography, aperture or f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO are the three most important things you must learn and understand as you learn photography.

Follow the links attached to learn about each component of exposure, and also to see videos on how to adjust them on your camera.




In this article, I help you understand the definition of exposure in photography, but work is still to be done!  You also must learn each component of photography as well as understand how to master put all the components together and master exposure.

Once you fully understand each component of exposure, read my article on how to master exposure.  This article will give you a strong foundation on exposure and how to create images with the exact level of brightness you seek.


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