‘Understanding Exposure’ Review

understanding exposure peterson

Understanding Exposure: Revised Edition by Bryan Peterson (available at Amazon US and UK) was one of the first photography books I read, and I thoroughly recommend it to any budding photographer. The title of the book sounds dry, like it’s going to be very technical and hard to read – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually written in a very down-to-earth way, with lots and lots of helpful tips and exercises for you to put to test what you’ve just learnt. And you’ll learn a lot…

What I Learnt

At the crux of this book is the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO (although there is a lot more on the first two aspects than the latter). These are the three elements under your control that result in how the photo turns out – the ‘exposure’.

So, right away I learnt that these 3 settings are obviously very important! For example, I found out that if I choose too quick a shutter speed when there isn’t much light, then my photo will probably be too dark (underexposed). If my ISO setting is too high (ISO is the sensitivity of the camera – the higher the number, the more sensitive your shots will be to light), and I choose a slower shutter speed and/or a larger aperture, then my photo will be too light (overexposed).

See the following 3 photos I took: The first is underexposed, the second is ‘correct’, and the third is over-exposed.

under exposed photo

Under Exposed

correct exposure

'Correct' Exposure

Over exposded photo

Over Exposed

Although this may sound a little technical at first, it really isn’t – and I can’t stress enough how important it is, as a photographer, to know about aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and their effect on how your photograph will turn out. Once you have a sound grasp of this, you’ll really only be limited by your own creativity as a photographer, as you’ll have the technical ‘know-how’ sorted.

This book goes into great detail on each of those 3 elements, explaining each one very clearly – it really does drive home this integral theory of photography.

It’s Not Just Abut Exposure

There’s far more to this book than just telling you how to avoid shots that are too dark or too light, however – far more. The bulk of the book actually teaches you how to ‘creatively expose’ your shots – that is, what setting to use when you want a particular effect.


Here are a few examples of things I learnt from the book, with some of my own photographs to show how I benefited from the knowledge:

‘Singular-Theme Apertures’

This chapter tells you how to shoot a scene when you want the main point of focus to stand out/be sharp, by making the background and foreground blurred. I used this knowledge when I took this shot of a robin – note how the background is a total blur, thus holding the viewer’s attention solely on the subject, which is this lovely robin.

a photo of a robin I took

Rocky Robin: f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 500

‘Freezing Motion’

This chapter is all about choosing a shutter speed that is quick enough to freeze action, and it goes into depth on why you should choose a particular shutter speed for a particular situation (such as the difference when something is moving towards you, when you can get away with a slower shutter speed, and when something is moving at right-angles to you, when a much faster shutter speed is needed). I used this knowledge when I took this photo of my jumping dog – note how she is frozen mid-jump. The action is frozen, and the picture is thus sharp, because of this shutter speed knowledge.

My Jumping Dog: f/4, 1/500 sec, ISO 1600

And so much more…

The above are only 2 chapter examples from over 30 found in the book. Other chapters include:

•    What is meant by ‘exposure’
•    Aperture and depth of field
•    Storytelling apertures
•    The importance of shutter speed
•    Implying motion
•    The importance of light
•    Backlight
•    Sidelight

This list is only a small sample, and there is an entire section of the book dedicated to light itself – dealing with things such as the different qualities of light, what time of the day is best to shoot for a certain affect, how to take photos when there is lots of light behind/to the side of the subject, silhouette photography and more…

Each and every photo in the book is also displayed with the corresponding camera settings used to take it, which is great if you just want to quickly scan the photos and see how they were made.

My Verdict

As you can probably tell, I like this book! Understanding exposure really is at the very root of all photography knowledge, so once you get a good grasp of it – which this book teaches beautifully – you’ll be free to use your camera creatively, and, perhaps even more importantly – confidently.

Understanding Exposure: Revised Edition is available to buy at Amazon US and Amazon UK.

All the photos in this review were taken by me, with a Canon T1i SLR (available at Amazon US, or UK – where it’s known as the 500D) and the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS telephoto lens (US / UK)

Thanks for reading, and follow me on twitter if you’d like to keep up-to-date with all my latest tweets.


  1. I just received this book in the mail today! Looking forward to reading it after reading your great review!

  2. I hope you really enjoy it, Amy – I got a lot out of it, easily one of my fave photography books! Do you have any recommendations for my next book? Always looking for new photography books to devour!

  3. The other book I purchased is “The Photographer’s Eye” by Michael Freeman. I just started reading it last night, it is awesome! Very detailed about how to see a great picture, where your eye goes when you look at a picture, colors etc.

  4. I’ll definitely look into that title – thanks for the tip!


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