If want to create amazing Lego toy photography or panels for your Lego Brick comic, you’ll need to know how to correctly light your photos. Nowadays, many beginning Lego photographers or Lego comic creators don’t even think about this subject because they use full-automatic cameras (or smartphones) to shoot their photos. However, if you would like more control over the lighting of your Lego photos, or if you simply want some background information, this extensive post on exposure is for you. This is the first post within a series of guides on exposure, the others being on aperture, shutter-speed and ISO.

Exposure, the basics

Exposure is the amount of light that your camera sensor is exposed to when you take a photo. It is directly related to the bright- and darkness of (parts of) your photos. To control exposure you can use three factors;

Related to exposure are the sensor sensitivity (ISO) settings. ISO settings do not influence exposure since it does not control the amount of light that reaches your camera sensor. It solely brightens the image after the sensor has already been exposed to light. Even so, many photographers describe ISO as part of exposure, simply because ISO effects the brightness of a photo, just like exposure does.

The exposure-triangle

The so-called ‘exposure triangle’ (figure 1) gives you the relationship between the aperture, shutter-speed and ISO-settings. Changing one of these settings will influence the brightness of your photo, besides each having other effects. Changing aperture-settings influences depth of field (DOF), changing shutter-speed-settings influences motion-blur and changing ISO-settings influences the signal-to-noise-ratio.

Exposure triangle ultimate guide
Figure 1; the exposure triangle (adapted from: actioncamera)

The relationship between aperture, shutter-speed and ISO

Exposure value and stops

A specific combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO-settings is named an exposure value (EV).  A change that either doubles of halves the amount of light reaching the sensor (or doubles of halves the ‘sensitivity’ in case of the ISO) is named a stop. The stops are displayed in figure 1 too; for example a adjustment in aperture-setting from f/2.8 to f/4 is one stop, from f/2.8 to f/5.6 is two stops etc. Same goes for ISO and Shutter speed.

If you want to keep the EV equal whilst changing one value a stop or more, you need to adjust one or two of the other values for the same amount of stops in the opposite direction. For example if you want to keep the EV stabile and you change the aperture-setting from f/5.6 to f/11 (2 stops darker), you could change your shutter-speed from (for example) 1/60 to 1/15 (2 stops brighter), or your ISO from 100 to 400 (2 stops brighter) or a combination; shutter-speed from 1/60 to 1/30 combined with changing ISO from 100 to 200. Is this way you will keep the brightness of your photo equal whilst changing other effects (DOF, motion-blur or signal-to-noise-ratio).

Camera priority modes

The possibilities are endless and dependent on many factors, however, your artistic vision is the most important. In the beginning you can simply play with these settings if your camera allows it. Most high end camera’s have priority modes you can use and the camera will determine other values dependent on the exposure the camera ‘decides’ is the right exposure.

  • Aperture priority mode:  You set the aperture and the camera decides shutter speed and ISO within the range you set.
  • Shutter priority mode:You set the shutter speed and camera decides aperture and ISO within the range you set.
  • Sensor sensitivity mode (Pentax): You set the ISO and the camera decides shutter speed.

Simply play with the settings and see how it influences your images. In the following posts over the next couple of weeks we will discuss aperture-, shutter-speed and ISO more in depth.

Exposure compensation

Most camera’s have exposure compensation (the +/- button). This compensation will come to your rescue if you’re using a camera priority mode and you disagree with the exposure the camera ‘decides’ is right. Via this button you can force the camera to change the exposure your camera thinks is right and make you photo darker or lighter. The numbers are stops, so if you want the camera to make your photo 2 stops lighter, press the +/- button and turn it to +2, if you want to make it 1 stop darker, turn it to -1.

Dependent on the priority mode you’re using, the exposure compensation will change different settings to get the exposure you desire:

  • Aperture priority mode:  exposure compensation will change your shutter speed (also influencing motion-blur).
  • Shutter priority mode: exposure compensation will change your aperture (also influencing DOF).
  • Sensor sensitivity mode (Pentax):  exposure compensation will change your shutter speed (also influencing motion-blur).
  • Program mode:  exposure compensation will change your shutter speed (also influencing motion-blur), in the camera’s I used.

Over- and underexposure

Normal exposure is similar to what our eyes see. This does not mean that normal exposure is the right exposure. The right exposure gives you the amount of light you want in your picture, so it is an artistic decision. Maybe you purposely want to over-or underexpose (parts) of your image/ panel, related to the mood you want to create in your panel.

example correct exposure lego photography
The right exposure


Overexposure happens when to much light is captured by the camera, resulting in a (very) bright image. In the highlights the pixels are pure white and there won’t be any details recorded (so-called ‘blow-out’). Mostly you will get muddy, harsh, bleak photographs. Yet, when photographing low light scenes, overexposing a little (again, no more than one stop) can help you bring out more details.

example overexposure lego photography
Over-exposured image


Underexposure happens when to little light is captured by the camera, resulting in a (very) dark image. Many photographers will underexpose a photo just a little (no more than one stop) because this can lead to deeper and more saturated colors (for example a sunset). However you underexposure the photo too much, you will end up with a dark image where most of the details are lost.

example underexposure lego photography
Underexposed image

Generally speaking, you wil want to avoid overexposure when possible. When overexposing a photo the areas that were “blown out” to white are unsalvageable in photo-editing software. On the other hand much more detail is mostly preserved in areas that appear to be pure black in your photo, so you have more information to work with once you decide to edit  the photo (however, there usually will be some noise). So, when in doubt; underexpose your photo, and afterwards salvage the underexposed areas in post-production.

Sometimes it may be difficult to expose an image right within your camera, usually because there are bright and dark areas combined. A famous example is a bright window in an otherwise darker room. For some reason your eyes/ brain can deal with these differences perfectly, however, if you want to make a photo of this situation you have to make choices.

Coming up…

The following post, is an extensive beginners guide to aperture.

Other posts on Foolish Bricks that might interest you:

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