Last week’s blog talked about shooting using the Manual setting of your camera. Today’s blog continues on this theme and discusses how to make sure your photo is well exposed. This is an extremely important topic as there is nothing worse than shooting all day and discovering, when you get home, that the photos you have taken are either too bright or too dark.
Here are two ways of making sure your photo is correctly exposed.
While you’re taking the photo
If you’re shooting in Manual mode, your viewfinder should not only show you the scene that you’re photographing, but it should also give you valuable information regarding the camera settings that you are using (see example above).
I see the following information in the viewfinder of my camera (Canon 7D) when I’m photographing in Manual mode:
- the first number (320) indicates the shutter speed;
- the second number (8.0) is the aperture;
- the scale in the middle is the exposure scale, letting you know if your photo is correctly exposed or not;
- the third number (iso 100) is the ISO; and
- the last number indicates how many photos can be stored in the camera buffer (useful when shooting in burst mode).
Using the example above, when I look into the viewfinder I know that the photo will be taken with a shutter speed of 1/320th second, at aperture f/8.0 and using ISO 100. I can also tell that the photo will be well exposed as the indicator is in the middle of the exposure scale.
The Exposure Scale
The exposure scale indicates if your photo is under exposed, correctly exposed or over exposed.
Your goal when photographing is, generally, to have the indicator in the middle of the scale. If your indicator is on the left of the scale your photo will be under exposed and you will either have to increase your ISO, use a larger aperture (smaller f value) or decrease your shutter speed until the bar returns to the middle.
Likewise if your indicator is on the right side your photo will be over exposed and you will need to decrease your ISO, use a smaller aperture (larger f value) or increase your shutter to correctly expose the photo.
It is important to constantly check the exposure scale when photographing as the lighting conditions change rapidly and you will need to adjust your camera settings to compensate.
A word of caution when using the exposure scale – be aware that the camera can be tricked into thinking that the photo will be overexposed when you are photographing a very bright scene (eg in the snow) or underexposed when photographing a dark scene (eg in a forest). In this case you will need to compensate for this by deliberately under exposing the bright scene and over exposing the dark scene.
Using the Histogram to check for exposure
The histogram indicates the light levels in a photo. Once you have taken your photo, you can consult the histogram to see if the photo is correctly exposed. You can usually check the histogram on the back of the camera when you preview the photo you’ve just taken. Here are a few examples of histograms.
|Under exposed||Correctly Exposed||Over Exposed|
A well exposed photo generally has most of the data in the middle of the scale (middle photo). If the bulk of the data is to the left (left photo), the photo is under exposed, too far to the right (right photo) and the photo is over exposed.
The histogram will, under normal circumstances, look like the example in the middle. When you shoot in extreme lighting conditions (eg. in the snow), your histogram will be quite different.
Here’s an example of a photo taken in the snow. The photo on the left is correctly exposed however, if you consult the histogram, you could be forgiven for thinking that the photo is over exposed. The snow is so bright that most of the data is to the right of the histogram. The photo on the right has been adjusted until the histogram looks “correct” – notice that the snow is no longer too bright but the subject of the photo is definitely under exposed!
Like with everything, it will take a little time to master the histogram. If you’re just starting off, I recommend that you wait til you get home before you start sorting your photos (and deleting as needed) as it is often difficult to see the photos clearly on the back of the camera and to tell if they are correctly exposed or not.
I hope that these articles have helped you to learn how to better use your camera and how to take well-exposed photos. The next step is to go out and practice…