Lesson 7 of 11
In Progress

Why Exposure Is Like Painting

The following lesson is taken from Module 3: Understanding Exposure in The Photo Fix For Teens.
Enrollment is OPEN through 1/29/21!


  • Define the term “exposure” in photography.
  • Identify the three elements of exposure: aperture, shutter speed, ISO.
  • Understand that photography is about collecting the ‘right’ amount of light onto your canvas.

Understanding exposure is one of those cornerstones of photography. Many have heard of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Many have read books and manuals trying to get a good grip on it. Plenty of people ‘kinda understand’ exposure.

Few casual shooters, however, flat out master it.

Soon, you’ll be one of those who have it mastered. Most just turn the camera mode to “auto” and fire. Truth be told, I actually know of people actually getting paid for photography that don’t even understand it.

And it shows. Photographers who understand exposure create images with depth, contrast, light, and shadow. All the others create flat images and are merely hit and miss in creating images with depth and contrast.

It’s time to understand. Once and for all.

Let’s start with a video:

Instead of listing all the exposure terms and definitions (what every other book and tutorial does….and obviously doesn’t always work), let’s approach it through an illustration even a little kid can understand. That way you’ll never forget.

The illustration: painting a picture. What materials would you need to paint a picture? There are only a few essentials:

  1. Paint
  2. Brush
  3. Canvas

Other tools can help. But that’s all you really need. Creating a painting is the result of combining those 3 elements.

Likewise, getting exposure correct requires three things. You need a canvas, paint, and a brush so to speak. It’s been this way since the beginning of photography. And it’ll always be that way.

What exactly are we talking about when we say ‘exposure?’

I’m talking about making a photograph that has the correct amount of light and shadow (which should be up to the photographer, not the camera!).

How many photos have you taken that turn out too dark or too bright? That’s because the exposure was off a bit. Either too much ‘paint’ arrived onto your camera’s ‘canvas’ (thus making the picture too bright), or too little ‘paint’ arrived (thus making it too dark). Bottom line, nailing exposure is essentially as simple as getting the right amount of paint onto the canvas (light onto your camera sensor).

Of course, plenty of dudes selling expensive cameras will tell you that it is so good that you can just turn the dial to one of automatic icon modes and the camera does everything else. Yeah right. I don’t need to say any more. The fact that you’re reading this says it all..there are still plenty of times that even the best of cameras miss the correct exposure.

Back to painting.

Sticking with our illustration of painting a picture: Just as every painting will need paint; every single photograph needs light.

Recording light in a tiny sliver of time is essentially all a camera does.

When you press that button on your camera to take a picture, it essentially just opens up a little curtain in your camera to let light in. There’s a little ‘canvas’ in there that collects that light. And then there’s a little memory card that records the light that the canvas collected.

Light is your paint.

Say it out loud…

There’s no need to waste any more space on this page or any more room in your head. If you understand that every picture you take is essentially about collecting the ‘right’ amount of light onto your canvas, you’re well on your way to shooting in full manual (and thus really understanding exposure).

If it’s drilled into your brain, let’s move on to aperture.


Let’s put your learning into practice.

  • Take photos that include contrast using light and shadows.  We’ll learn how to see and use light and shadows more in the upcoming lessons.
  • Post your photos to our Members Chat (available only with the Photo Fix For Teens).