Archive for July, 2019


Why Knowing Exposure Rules Matters

July 3, 2019

Given today’s plethora of advanced DSLRs, mirrorless, and even cellphone cameras, you might be wondering why you need to know the basics, as in the exposure triangle, for most photography.  In fact, today’s cellphones, even with their tiny sensors, have more capability than most journeyman DSLRs of a decade ago. So, why put yourself though the trouble to learn the basics?

It’s simple really.  A technically correct exposure is rarely aesthetically pleasing.  Not to mention if you count on the automated filters, you are limited to what the manufacturer thinks is best.  If you leave it to your camera, you are at its mercy.  Even the simplest aspects of exposure, using the built-in light meter, can produce drastically inferior results when left to the camera’s discretion. 

For example, I captured these two exposures this morning with my tripod-mounted Nikon D810.  Nothing special, just the canal that feeds our pond. 

In the first, I let the camera do the work, including the light meter, which was set matrix.  It lacks depth and richness of color; in short – it is washed out.  It looks more in line with something you see in an engineering study than anything of artistic value. While it shows detail in the canal, it is flat and draw the view in.

Canal, taken with automated settings

In the second, I switched to Manual, left the shutter speed and aperture the same, 1/60” at f/4.0.  All I changed was the metering mode to spot to and adjusted the ISO until I had a correct exposure with a portion of the reflection selected as the exposure meter’s target and pressed the trigger. 

Canal, taken with same shutter speed and f-stop but light meter mode and ISO changed.

Neither image saw any post-processing whatsoever.  They are as the fell out of the camera.  Of course, both could use a little work in post, but the latter is much closer to finished image than the first.  For sure, as a snapshot, right out of a camera, it has a better sense of depth, though technically under exposed in some areas. In this exposure, the colors are rich and draw the focus to the reflection as the center on interest.  It is true that the crepe and wax myrtles in the foreground are underexposed, but that does not take away from the impact of the reflection, in fact it highlights it.  So, though not technically perfect from a lighting point of view, it has a greater artistic impact.

That is sort of the point too, you as the photographer, need to decide what is best for the exposure you want.  You much decide what are the interesting bits you wish to highlight and draw the viewer to.  Don’t leave it up to the camera. 

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