Getting the Right Exposure by Scott Morvay
Getting the Perfect Exposure
In order for us to get the exposure we want, rather then what the camera wants we have to begin to shoot manually. We don’t walk into a restaurant and say, “I’ll have whatever the cook wants to make.” We need to be our own chef and come up with our own recipes to share our vision for the images we create.
To do this there are some things we need to understand, practice, and internalize. I’m going to give some basic photography terms, not only do we need to remember them, we need to grasp how they work together to create your exposure.
ISO - This refers to the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. Just like in the past film had different speeds for light sensitivity. The higher the ISO the more light we let into the sensor. For example a bright sunny day outside you will be at base ISO. This value is different on a lot of cameras. If it’s really dark outside you will want 3200-6400 ISO. Cloudy day? Maybe 400-800.
Shutter Speed - Understanding shutter speed is is extremely important, I can’t stress this enough. The slower the shutter speed the more light we allow into the camera. Alternatively, the faster the speed the less light we let into the camera.
When you are photographing a stationary object you will want a minimum of your focal length plus 10. For example, if you are photographing a statue in the evening with a 50mm lens your shutter speed should be no less then 1/60th of a second. If you are photographing a person, since you are moving and so is the subject (even if you are stationary there’s still motion) I recommend no slower then at least double that value if not triple it.
If you are photographing anything in motion and you want to freeze the action, the faster the shutter speed the better. If you want a little bit of motion blur, such as photographing a car on a racetrack, we need enough shutter speed to freeze the car, but not the wheels. It takes some experimentation. After all you wouldn’t want the car to look like it is parked on the track. This is what separates the pro from the amateur.
Another important facet of photography is aperture. Aperture is how much light we let into the camera’s sensor by opening or closing the lens. A great analogy for it is to think of a garden hose, if you squeeze the hose the water will go much further, if you have it open all the way it will just come out like a waterfall. The smaller the aperture the more in focus the image will be and not just the focus area, the entire image. If we use a small aperture the focus area will be sharp but the rest will transition to out of focus. This is also referred to as Depth of field. Other factors in the depth of field is focal length. If you are shooting a 90mm it will be much thinner then if you were using a 35mm. You always have to be careful not to shoot with too shallow a depth of field especially in portraiture! Shooting the 50mm F/0.95 Noctilux I have seen where I missed focus and the eyelashes were sharp and not the eyes! Also please make note, we always focus on the eye closet to use if their head is turned.
Also the closer you are to your subject the thinner the depth of field as well! another confusing thing about aperture for most is how the smaller the aperture the larger the number. In time it will make sense.
Walking the Exposure Tight Rope
It’s overwhelming to think of those three factors together! Here’s the thing, it’s not as overwhelming once you understand the concept. Once we set our immovable variable it becomes much easier. For example is it just the right depth of field we are after or are we wanting the perfect shutter speed? Once we start off this way then we can balance our exposure just right. As light changes we need to change and to see it even if we our so focused on our subject through the lens.
Think about these concepts, shoot manually. That is what real photography is all about. Creating images that are timeless. Our cameras must become an extension of ourselves. Shoot what inspires you, and for heaven’s sake shoot in RAW only. Learn lightroom for post, and always continue learning new things.