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Photography tips: Exposure and F stops

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Photo Tips Week 3.

This week we are going to look at some of the basic technical properties of your camera phone and DSLR. Don’t worry, I’ll do it in stages which will help everyone to get far superior images and more from their camera.

As I’ve said before, most camera phones are now designed to basically do everything for the photographer but they can, and do make mistakes. My aim is to assist you to know the necessary controls and improve images.

In the iPhone manual it states “Before you take a photo, the iPhone camera automatically sets the focus and exposure, and face detection balances the exposure across many faces”. This is wonderful but you’ll see from my illustrations that this does not always work. All cameras can be fooled, even the most expensive.

When I’m making an image on my phone, I firstly touch the point I want in focus and that starts the ball rolling. Next, I look at the exposure, basically is the image too bright or too dark. The secret to a great image is to have as much detail as possible in your highlights (Bright areas), mid tones and shadows (Dark areas).

If you now touch a light area on your image the phone will expose or adjust the image to suit that particular area. I’ve illustrated this with two pictures of our dog ‘Milo’. The first image was ‘suggested’ by my phone and the second ‘I’ selected the white hair on his chest. You can see a lot more detail in the second image.

If you want to manually adjust the exposure, do the following:

When the exposure symbol appears (right) drag it up or down to adjust the exposure, to either make it brighter or darker. This means that ‘YOU’ are deciding on the exposure you want.

To lock your manual focus and exposure settings for upcoming shots, touch and hold the focus area until you see AE/AF Lock (AE is Auto Exposure and AF is Auto Focus); tap the screen to unlock settings. This allows you to frame the image as you like and as long as the AE/AF lock icon appears it will stay at that exposure and focused on where you wanted.

Take Continuous shots.

This is similar on most phones. Press and hold the shutter button (the one you usually take the picture with) and the camera will take several images. Depending on the phone it counts the number of images. Simply take your finger off when you want to stop.

On my phone, if I’m using the highest quality setting it will NOT let me do ‘continuous mode’. I have to change the quality setting to 10 Mega Pixels instead of 40 Mega Pixels.

On iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, swipe the Shutter button to the left to take rapid fire photos. On all other models, it the same as above.

The counter shows how many images you took.

1. Lift your finger to stop.

2. To select the photos you want to keep, tap the Burst thumbnail, then tap Select.

Gray dots below the thumbnails mark the suggested photos to keep.

3. Tap the circle in the lower-right corner of each photo you want to save as an individual photo, then tap Done.

To delete the entire Burst, tap the thumbnail, then tap .

To assist you with the ‘Rule of Thirds’, that we discussed last week, some phones have an ‘Align your shots’ feature.

To display a grid on the camera screen that can help you straighten your shots, go to Settings > Camera, then turn on Grid.

Zoom in or out

On all models, open the camera and pinch the screen to zoom in or out. Again, if you are using the highest quality settings this may not be allowed. Personally I would prefer to use the highest quality setting and crop the image myself to ‘move closer’ to the subject. For me you get better quality using this method as the next image quality to the best of 40 Mega Pixels is only 10 Mega Pixels.


If you are using the ‘Green or Auto Mode’ on your DSLR you will find the same problems occurring. Even though your camera may be more expensive, as I’ve stated before all cameras can be fooled. There are other ways around it, from using other available settings and experience but the one I’m going to explain now will get you started. The others I’ll explain later in the series.

The EV Button (Exposure Value or Exposure Compensation Button)

Exposure Compensation allows us to override exposure settings picked by the camera’s light meter, in order to darken or brighten images before they are captured. When a camera is pointed at something very dark, the meter will think there is very little light and brighten or overexpose the image, whereas a very bright subject, where the camera sees lots of light, like a snow scene will cause the meter to darken the exposure thinking there is too much light.

Our way around this is to use the EV Button while in automatic mode (this also works in other modes which we’ll discuss at a later stage). If you make an image and it appears either dark (underexposed) or bright (overexposed) use your EV button to either brighten or darken your image. This can take a few images to get right but it is worth it. Press and hold the EV button and move the value to either minus or plus to either underexpose or overexpose your image.

As you can see from the illustrations I underexposed the initial image by three f stops or three exposure values in one increment steps and then overexposed by the same quantity.

When we go through the other programmes on your DSLR I’ll give you ‘Rules of Thumb’ or general rules which will help you improve.

Until next week, enjoy your camera and stay safe!!

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