What Are Stops and How Do Photographers Use Them?

If you are new to photography, you might have heard other photographers using the term "stops" quite a lot when it comes to camera and light settings. If you are not quite sure what the term means and how photographers use it, this excellent video tutorial will show you everything you need to know. 

Coming to you from Photo Genius, this great video tutorial will show you everything you need to know about "stops" and how photographers use the term. "Stops" arose to fulfill the need to easily talk about adjusting exposure. Because there are three parameters that control exposure (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) and all three of these work on different scales, it can be a bit cumbersome to talk about adjusting settings in reference to the overall exposure of a photo. Thus, we introduce the term "stop," which indicates a doubling or halving of exposure, whether that's through shutter speed, aperture, ISO, or some combination thereof. This makes it far more efficient to talk about adjusting the overall exposure of a photo or about setting the power of your lights. Check out the video above for the full rundown.

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Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I believe that there’s a different origin of the term “stops”. While it does control exposure as you indicated, the term “stops” arose from the action of adjusting the aperture of the lens. Early pre-digital cameras did not have continuous aperture adjustments. Each lens came with preset exposures (f4, f5.5, f8, etc.) and you could only choose those settings. You selected your aperture by using the aperture ring on the lens (see image below) which would “stop” at each setting, giving you the desired exposure this then became known as f-stops.