The three elements are:
ISO – the measure of a digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light
Aperture – the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken
Shutter Speed – the amount of time that the shutter is open
It is at the intersection of these three elements that an image’s exposure is worked out.
Most importantly – a change in one of the elements will impact the others. This means that you can never really isolate just one of the elements alone but always need to have the others in the back of your mind.
Mastering the art of exposure is something that takes a lot of practice. In many ways it’s a juggling act and even the most experienced photographers experiment and tweak their settings as they go. Keep in mind that changing each element not only impacts the exposure of the image but each one also has an impact upon other aspects of it (i.e. changing aperture changes depth of field, changing ISO changes the graininess of a shot and changing shutter speed impacts how motion is captured).
The great thing about digital cameras is that they are the ideal testing bed for learning about exposure. You can take as many shots as you like at no cost and they not only allow you to shoot in Auto mode and Manual mode – but also generally have semi-automatic modes like aperture priority and shutter priority modes which allow you to make decisions about one or two elements of the triangle and let the camera handle the other elements.
An example is the Garden Hose (the width of the hose is aperture, the length that the hose is left on is shutter speed and the pressure of the water (the speed it gets through) is ISO.