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Scales | Day 9

pianokeys - photo credit - emilianohorcada-flickrDo – re – mi – fa – so – la – ti – do. Remember musical scales? If you took piano lessons you played scales. Over and over and over you played scales. You played them until you didn’t think about them anymore… Until reading music was no different than reading a book… Until your fingers knew exactly where to go, that at /fa/ you had to bring your thumb under to hit the /f/ without making that conscious decision.

Mastering your camera is a lot like that. You’re only effective when the reactions become second nature. Like driving a car. You don’t consciously look for the gears or the pedals each time – the vehicle fades from thought and you only focus at the road. When you’ve mastered your camera, you’re not looking at the machine anymore – you’re looking at the subject and your hands move automatically, shifting stops instinctually.

Exposure Scales

ISO stops: 100 200 400 800 1600 3200 6400 etc.
Shutter Speed Stops: 1/1000 1/500 1/250 1/125 1/60 1/30 1/15 1/8 1/4 1/2 1″ 2″ 4″ 8″ etc.
Aperture Stops: f/1 f/1.4 f/2 f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11 f/16 f/22 f/32

In each scale, if you go up a stop, you double the value. If you go down a stop, you halve the value.

ISO of 400 is twice as sensitive as ISO 200. The water flows twice as fast. ISO 100 is half as sensitive as ISO 200.
Shutter speed of 1/30 is half the speed of 1/60. 1/1000 is twice as fast as 1/500.
Twice as much light comes through at f/2.8 than at f/4. At f/16 half the light comes through as it does as f/11.

This means there’s more than one way to get the same amount of light to your camera, and how you choose to do it will depend on things like if your subject is moving, if your machine can handle high ISO, if you want to isolate a subject or place most of the photo in focus. This is where the technical turns to artistry. By making the decisions yourself, you are deciding how to expose your image. It is not being decided for you by your camera.

If you don’t want to memorize stops, at least understand correlation:
The slower you shoot :: the brighter the image.
The higher the ISO :: the brighter and noisier the image.
The wider the aperture :: the brighter the image and the more shallow the DOF.

So, I know this is very theoretical. And those of you who are hands on – bear with me. Tomorrow we talk about metering and we’ll put our money where our mouth is. Um, figuratively.

Please visit my girls who are sharing this 31 Days journey with us:

31 Days of Grace :: Chatting at the Sky
31 Days to an Inspired Table :: My First Kitchen
31 Days to a Less Messy Nest :: Nesting Place
31 Days of Living Simply :: Remodeling This Life
31 Days of Autumn Bliss :: The Inspired Room
31 Days to More. . .With Less :: Beauty and Bedlam
31 Days to a Better Photo :: My 3 Boybarians
31 Days to Stress Free Entertaining :: Reluctant Entertainer


  1. Really? Someday I won’t have to hold my camera away from my face and look at it funny while I try to adjust it all just right? I cannot imagine the day.

    And metering? So excited. Hubby tries to explain it to me all the time and I just don’t get it. I am sure you’ll explain it better than he does.


  2. I can’t wait for metering. I love your exposure scales. I want to print your series out and keep it with me to study at all times.

  3. That’s a great way to look at it! Letting it become second nature like driving or playing an instrument.

  4. Is it getting annoying to hear how great these posts are? Because they are. And they keep getting better. Which is CRAZY. Today? I was taking photos of spaghetti sauce for the blog later on (you know when October is over and we all have to figure out what we’re going to write about again!), and I didn’t use the P setting on my Canon. I turned it to manual, looked around the space, and adjusted the numbers to create something that worked. It took a few tries, but I did try. 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement! I’m going to be so sad for November 1st when I can’t get daily doses of photography brilliance from you.

  5. Love it! This makes perfect sence! Can’t wait for metering! 😉

  6. This is all SO great!!! I really appreciate all of your help. Thank you. 🙂

  7. Thanks for this series!