The Quest for Proper Exposure

“Available light is any damn light that is available!” – W. Eugene Smith

At workshops and PhotoWalks the number one question that I get from attendees is about proper exposure. You would think that with all the automation built into today’s cameras that would be the last question they would ask but it is the first.

That’s why, to me, the exposure compensation control is one of the most important parts of a digital camera. Camera designers recognized that no amount of automation will produce a “perfect” exposure under all possible lighting situations and what some people might like others might not.

Since you are the final arbiter of what’s “correct” the Exposure Compensation feature lets you increase or decrease the automatic exposure by one-half or one-third tops. Usually this involves pressing a button and rolling a control wheel so refer to your User’s Guide for specific directions for your camera. If you can set the amount of compensation by one-half or one-third, I like to use the one-third stop option because it provides  more options and allows a more nuanced difference in exposure. But since this is not a “my way or the highway” blog, use the system that works best for you.

Another exposure tool that’s found on many digital cameras is the highlight alert feature that my pal Rick Sammon calls the “blinkies.” When the highlight alert option is selected, the overexposed areas of your image outlined with the “blinkies” or the entire affected areas blink making it easy to spot them. Some cameras offer a Shadow Alert. I find both of these features distracting and don’t use them very much; just because you’ve got “blinkies,” doesn’t mean the image is unacceptable. As always, it’s up to you, the photographer, to be in control of the exposure.

light.bookBarry Staver and Joe did a podcast about exposure for our sister blog, Mirrorless Photo Tips. You can see it here. These two guys are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s currently out-of-print but while new copies are available at collector (high) prices you can purchase used copies at giveaway prices—less than five bucks—from Amazon.

Author: Joe Farace

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