Understanding Digital Exposure: Techniques

If you agree that the use of light is one of the key ingredients that differentiate a good photograph from a snapshot, then it’s necessary to learn and understand proper exposure. Even with today’s sophisticated cameras, the ability to tweak the exposure at the moment of capture can make or break your image’s quality and content.

Caption: This unretouched digital image of a Dodge Hemi-powered drag racer was made at on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center at the SEMA show. The hand-held exposure was 1/40th sec at f/4 at ISO 800, hence the shallow depth-of-field. ©2011 Joe Farace

I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t care about correct exposure, using the already worn-out phrase, “I’ll just fix it later in Photoshop.” Where exposure is concerned there’s only a partial truth to that statement. For some photographers Photoshop and its sibling Photoshop Elements have become a crutch for sloppy camera work but you need to be careful about exposure. A digital image that’s over or underexposed cannot be completely saved with image manipulating software. While shooting you should make minor adjustments even to the camera’s exposure settings, including the different metering patterns available and you might even have pull out a hand-held meter from time to time.

Brightness Range

You can always set your camera in green mode and just point it at the subject and click and many—maybe most times—times this will produce an acceptable exposure. For those times when it doesn’t, you need to think about why the results are not what you expected and apply a different exposure technique, such as the brightness range method. This technique involves taking two different readings from the scene you’re about to photograph. Start by taking a meter (you can use the camera’s built-in spot meter if it has one) reading from the highlight area where detail is desired. A second reading is taken from the shadow area of the scene, again in the locations where you want the detail to be held. Your final manual camera setting will be based on an average of the two readings and that will be close enough, although you might to “bracket” by shooting a series of exposures of your subject varying exposures from what would normally be considered underexposure to overexposure.

Caption: Brightness range is a good method to use in deceptive looking scenes like this one where I wanted to maintain the texture of the stone wall near the gate and the orange wall in shadows at the same time. Final exposure with Canon EOS 5D was 1/60 sec at f/4 and ISO 200. ©2011 Joe Farace

Author: Joe Farace

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