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Opinion: The exposure triangle is daunting for beginners, but you WILL conquer it!

motorsport photography
(Image credit: Mike Harris)

I recently visited Thruxton race circuit to photograph the British Superbikes for the first time since the pandemic began (see how I got on via my Instagram: @mdharrisphoto). 

My love of motorsport comes from my dad, who was busy shooting next to me. I wouldn’t call him a photography enthusiast, but he’s always owned a point-and-shoot camera of some description. Until, a few years ago, he decided to fulfill a long-held dream of owning a DSLR and purchased a Nikon D3400.

• Read more: The best camera for beginners

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to label the camera ‘too complicated’ and, try as I might, he wasn’t overly interested in learning the exposure triangle or indeed anything that this capable little DSLR could do.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when at Thruxton he offered me a rare glimpse of his Playback screen and a tack-sharp image of a motorbike flying full throttle down the home straight. “That’s a great shot,” I said. “Are you on Auto?” He shook his head: “Shutter Priority. I thought it was about time I started learning how to use this thing properly…”

A couple weeks later and I was writing our Nikon Z fc review, pondering what a shame it would be if you bypassed the camera’s beautiful exposure setting dials altogether and only ever shot in Auto mode.

Now, if Auto mode is all you ever want from a camera, there is nothing wrong with that at all. But if – like my dad – you’ve put off using other modes just because you think they’re too complicated for you, you’re not alone.

I think most photographers would agree that exposure is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp in photography. Not only does it require you to understand shutter speed, aperture and ISO as individual elements, but you then need to get your head around how they work together.

And yet it’s also the most liberating concept in photography. Once you get exposure, you begin to operate your camera with intent. This is the point where your photography world really opens up and, with your newfound confidence and renewed passion, you’re able to conquer other elements such as focus and focal length.

So, if my dad’s story seems at all familiar to you, why not take the plunge and ditch Auto mode this month? Aperture and Shutter Priority are great starting points, since you only need to worry about one or the other, plus ISO. Trust me, all of a sudden it will click and then the possibilities are endless! 

N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine

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Mike Harris

Mike is Technique Editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, and brings with him over 10 years experience writing both freelance and for some of the biggest specialist publications. Prior to joining N-Photo Mike was the production editor for the content marketing team of Wex Photo Video, the UK’s largest online specialist photographic retailer, where he sharpened his skills in both the stills and videography spheres.  


While he’s an avid motorsport photographer, his skills extend to every genre of photography – making him one of Digital Camera World’s top tutors for techniques on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and other imaging equipment, as well as sharing his expertise on shooting everything from portraits and landscapes to astracts and architecture to wildlife and, yes, fast things going around race tracks.