It Just Clicked – Exposure The Foundation of Good Photography

Sorry it’s been so long since our last blog, we’ve spent the last few months preparing to sell our house and get our Montana 5th wheel ready to be our new home on wheels for the next few years. What an undertaking it has been, over 30 years of living in the same home it was at times overwhelming deciding what to sell, what to keep, what to donate and what just needed to be thrown away. The hardest part of this whole new phase of our lives, was by far, saying goodbye to dear friends, neighbors and family. But as one good friend pointed out it’s not goodbye it’s just see you later.
So enough about us; lets get back to some photography.

In our last issue we were speaking about getting the exposure right; understanding the relationship between iso, aperture and shutter speed and how important that relationship is in allowing the photographer to make creative choices in how their images are presented. Today we are going to discuss how do we determine a correct exposure in the first place.

Contrary to some popular beliefs one of the first things we want you to do to learn how to determine a proper exposure is to take your camera off all those program modes and put it in manual. If you learn how to use your camera in manual than you will be able to fully utilize your various program modes. Many people think its the other  way around, I’ll use program and automatic modes and then I’ll learn manual. Trust us, put your camera in manual mode and lets get a proper exposure.

So we’re in manual and our image is composed the way we want it, our meter is set to spot (at at the moment this is a somewhat arbitrary choice – we’ll talk about metering modes in another post) so what’s next. Well the first thing we need to do is understand how our camera’s meter works. All meters in cameras are reflective meters, meaning that they measure the light reflected off our subjects and they want to make everything 18% gray or neutral, the problem with that is that most things do not reflect light at 18% gray and different colors reflect more or less light – so by nature our cameras will over expose blacks and under expose whites and we certainly don’t want that, so what do we do? Well we have to make adjustments by adding or subtracting light based on the understanding of our reflective meter. So lets say we have an image of a black or dark bird, if we null the meter (set in in the middle 18% gray) then as we mentioned before our meter will, in trying try to make the bird 18% gray, over expose the blacks. So knowing this we now need to subtract light (to compensate for our reflective meter over exposing or adding light) by one of our 3 variables in the exposure triangle, (iso, aperture or shutter speed). How much light will depend on the subject. Look at your histogram (image below shows where you will should see the blacks, shadows, mid-tones, highlights and whites represented) and see where the blacks and shadows are recorded in your image, are they to the left side of your histogram yet not climbing up the wall? If not  adjust your exposure by a 1/3 of a stop (either adding or subtracting depending on where you started) and then look again continue to do this until your shadows have detail. Once you practice enough you will be able to look at a scene and know approximately how much light you will need to add or subtract to properly expose your image, you will of course tweak it  to get the exact exposure you desire.

Looking at the photo above we can see that by subtracting light (in this case a stop and a half) from our meter’s null or zero point we have created a properly exposed image of a dark bird. The dark/black colors are to the left on our histogram without clipping rendering us an image with details in it.


Our Passion
Photography is our passion and sharing our knowledge with others is our pleasure.

We delight in learning and inspiring others to learn new ways of capturing the world through the Eye of our Camera. How can we inspire you today?

  • “When people ask me what equipment I use – I tell them my eyes.”
In our next issue: Some more exposure tips
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Want to learn more about exposure and how to get it right?
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