Behind the Lens: Figuring out how to properly expose your life

(Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

Exposure is one of the most important parts of photography, if not the most important. Basically, it’s how light or dark your image is, or how visible your subject matter is. It comes from a balance of three things: shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

I’m going to assume a lot of you don’t know what all of these things mean, so here’s a quick crash-course in photography. Shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open when you take a photo. It’s that thing that goes “click” when you take a photo. It’s measured in seconds, and most of the time in fractions of a second. The longer the time, the more light that comes in. The downside is that the longer it’s open, the more shakiness you see. Aperture is a number that corresponds to how much light you are letting reach the sensor. Changing the number changes how open the hole on the lens is. The smaller the number, the larger the hole, which leads to more light actually reaching the sensor. The downside is that it also affects depth of field. Basically, smaller numbers mean that only specific points will be in focus, versus the whole image. ISO is the easiest one to understand. It’s just how sensitive the sensor is to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor and therefore the brighter the image.

Taking a photograph requires a balance of all these things. If you have too fast of one or too much of another then you run the risk of getting an underexposed or overexposed image. You know the kind of image that I’m talking about—the ones that are either too bright or too dark to clearly see what exactly someone was trying to capture. Exposure can literally make or break the meaning of a photograph.

I was thinking about all of this when I came back from spring break. I left my room as kind of a mess, and so one of the first things I did was start to unpack and re-organize my room. As I started folding clothes and making my bed, I realized that this is the last major cleanup I would do in this room and at UConn. In a couple months, I would be walking across Gampel Pavilion for Commencement. After two summer courses, I would be getting my diploma in the mail.

My journey has been a little different than most. I changed my major twice, both at pretty drastic times and for drastic reasons. When you arrive at college, the plan of study they hand you should basically be completed in four years. It’s taken me five and a quarter (basically the final summer session) to work my way towards that.

It dawned on me while cleaning up my room that I had finally found the balance in my life that I needed. My first two years I spent way too much time hiding in my room and basically underexposed my life. I had friends, but I didn’t really go out and experience new things. My third and fourth years, I spent too much time having fun and not enough time working through my classes. It took till my fifth and final year (realistically this semester) to figure out that balance.

When you figure out exposure for a photo, you tweak a little bit and then tweak a little more. From each tweak, you learn a little more. Life is similar to exposing a photo (really trying to stretch the analogies here). There’s upsides and downsides. There’s times you’re going to overexpose things and times you’re going to underexpose things, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you learn from each attempted exposure and figure out the balance.

After this mass revelation, I went to back to cleaning my room. Then I grabbed my camera and went outside to shoot. I’d finally managed to expose my life, now I just needed to figure out how to expose this photo.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.