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ISO, Aperture & Shutter Speed | A Cheat Sheet For Beginners

By Hanssie on April 26th 2015

One of the first things you must learn as a new photographer is the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Known as the “exposure triangle,” this is the basis of the photography world, as addition and subtraction are in the math realm.

Trying to wrap my mind around the relationship between these three concepts when I was just starting out was rough. I had pages and pages of notes taken from Bryan Petersen’s Understanding Exposure. I was drowning in diagrams and photos that I took at different ISO/shutter speed/aperture combinations. One day, the light bulb finally clicked and I was on my way.

This handy chart below would have saved me much time and tears if it were available eight years ago. Daniel Peter of Fotoblog Hamburg has created this free downloadable cheat sheet card for beginner photographers in easy to understand diagrams. The card is meant to show you a basic overview of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, but doesn’t go into much detail of what it all means. And it isn’t meant to. It is formatted for printing on a business card sized piece of paper to easily fit in your pocket when out practicing these concepts.


You can download the card on the Fotoblog Hamburg site here.

If you would rather learn via video or want to learn more, make sure you check out the SLR Lounge Photography 101 Workshop DVD, where we show you how to create awesome images with basic gear, teach you how to move from the auto modes to manual mode and more on that tricky exposure triangle. Below is a sample of what you’ll learn from Photography 101.


[Via Demilked]


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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. norman tesch

    id like to see over lay of cropped vs full frame vs medium format

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  2. Ed Rhodes


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  3. Jason Boa

    Everybody should know this , great way of explaining the science

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  4. Josiah Dewey

    Good way to understand it.

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  5. Tosh Cuellar

    Great chart, makes for quick basic learning/understanding of the settings for those uncomfortable with switching out of auto mode.

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  6. Jake Stifler

    excellent chart

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  7. Thomas Horton

    A good reference for people starting out in photography.

    People sometimes forget that a beginner needs information in a simple easy to conceptualize format. Later, when they become more experienced, they can delve in to the “exceptions” and nuances.

    A good way to turn a beginner off something is to immediately delve too deeply before they have a basic understanding of the core concepts.

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  8. Richard Olender

    This chart is not for calculating exposure!
    F32 at 1/1000 is not F22 at 1/500

    It is meant to show you how
    Depth of field changes from F32 to F1.4
    What the aperture looks like from F32 to F1.4
    How motion blur changes from 1/1000 to 1/2
    And how noise changes from ISO 100 to ISO 25600

    Again its not an exposure calculation chart

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  9. Brandon Dewey

    cool chart

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    • John Cavan

      Not really. It’s okay as a basic concept, but it’s not entirely accurate with respect to modern systems.

      For example, not really seeing the impact of diffraction with aperture changes, leading one to believe that f/32 might result in a sharp image throughout the scene. On the noise front, the sensor tech is advancing to the point that 25,600 isn’t an end point and the visible noise curve of the average camera isn’t in agreement anymore.

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    • Peter Nord

      Remember, it’s just for those who need help to remember the differences, beginners. If one needs an aid to remember which f number corresponds to a small opening of the diaphragm, it’s probably not time to worry about the noise floor, or the effect of diffraction. The chart’s just a rule of thumb, as the author says, “it isn’t meant to” go into detail. My beginning students are smart enough to know that this cool chart is just a rule of thumb, and will get the details later. One doesn’t need to worry about diffraction or noise when taking photos of a napping cat.

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    • John Cavan

      Kind of like the Bohr-Rutherford model of the atom. Sort of accurate, but not really true, and eventually you learn that it’s actually quite off the mark and not all that useful unless you’re experimenting with hydrogen atoms and then only marginally.

      It also doesn’t really address the question of the exposure triangle, the relationship between the three isn’t touched. If I was to just read that as laid out, as a beginner, I might reasonably assume that f/1.4, 1/2 seconds, or ISO 25600 might give me similar results.

      All in all, the more I think about it, the less useful I see it, especially for beginners.

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    • Peter Nord

      Like the Violet Catastrophe?

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