Meat & Potatoes: Exposure

In response to several suggestions from new readers of this blog, over the next few weeks we’re going back to the basics with a look at some subjects that challenge new photographers—especially these shooters moving up from cell phones to an SLR or mirrorless camera.

When teaching workshops, the number one question I hear from students and one that usually permeates the entire event is a quest for perfect exposure. Back in the 1970’s I used to tell my Basic Photography students at Howard Community College that the perfect exposure was the one they liked.


As is all of photography there are no one right way, although some seminar presenters may disagree and argue that only their way is the one, true perfect road to correct exposure. I disagree. There is no “my way or the highway” in photography; you get to choose the way that works for you. Even a road less traveled is OK; if it produces the results you want. If it doesn’t produce results you want its time to look at some alternatives and fine-tune them to your favored subject matter and preferred way of working.

wall.exposureFor example, if you have a hand-held or manual light meter setting for a subject of 1/500 sec at f/11 and want to use a slower shutter speed allow for normal subject blur and set choose 1/125 sec you will have to adjust the aperture (make it smaller) so that that the same (equivalent) amount of light will fall on the sensor. By selecting aperture or shutter priority, your camera does equivalent exposure for you, eliminating the all of the guesswork.

Sometimes you will see the term exposure value (EV) used that denotes all of combinations of camera shutter speed and aperture that produce the same exposure. This term originated in Germany during the 1950s and persists to this day with purists who are more comfortable with it than the vernacular “stop.”

So what’s the perfect exposure? It’s the one you like. Go make a few tests and find out for yourself. One of the advantages of using digital is that it won’t even cost you a whole lot of money to find out.

Tip: Roll your mouse over the above images to see their exposure settings and drop by our sister blog, Mirrorless Photo Tips today, for another take on exposure and exposure data

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s sadly out-of-print but used copies are available from your friendly neighborhood book or camera store, eBay or Amazon.

Author: Joe Farace

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