Understanding Digital Exposure Techniques

“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”—Ansel Adams

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

Caption: This 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. \

I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t care about correct exposure, using the worn-out phrase, “I’ll just fix it later in Photoshop.” Where exposure is concerned there’s partial truth to that statement. For some photographers Photoshop has become a crutch for sloppy camera work but you still need to be careful about exposure. A over or underexposed digital image cannot be completely saved with image enhancement software. While shooting you should make minor adjustments to the camera’s exposure settings, including  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: Start by taking a meter (use the camera’s spot metering if it has that feature) 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 still might to bracket.

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

light.book Barry Staver and I are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print with new copies available from Amazon for $19.95 (non-Prime) or used copies for giveaway prices, less than $7 as I write this.

Author: Joe Farace

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