The Exposure “You Want”, 1

This post is the first in a series of wrap-ups on exposure. Not so much new material as new ways to think about what you already know.

With your knowledge of the previous material, you can make your camera provide the exposure you want. Otherwise you are limited to the exposure the camera’s designer and others think is the only way  — Middle Gray is not the Only Way.

In these wrap-ups we’ll consider reasons why you might want something other than the “normal” exposure the camera is designed to provide – and how to achieve that.

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Have you thought of the implications of your camera flawlessly adjusting exposure for you? It can adjust automatically either shutter speed, aperture, or both as needed to ensure every photo’s average tone is middle gray. Shoot the same scene and it makes no difference whether it’s pre-dawn, dawn, mid-day, dusk – the image looks basically the same. Here is a series of photos, called Getting Light, made over a period from 1/2 hour before sunrise (it’s dark) until sunrise. Read the description of how these were done at the top of the target page. These were shot using my camera’s interval timer (in case you have better things to do than stand at your camera & push the shutter every 5 minutes); 30mm; f/4; 0 EV; ISO 200; shutter speeds range from 15 seconds when it was darkest to 1/2 second for the final image (a shutter speed range of 30:1 which is a nearly 5-stop change in light level as the sequence progressed).

On one hand it’s great that the camera is so helpful in turning night into day. On the other hand, what if you wanted the resulting photos to show what your eyes saw in that transition from dark to sunrise. How would you do that? Clearly, it means taking control away from the camera – but how?

Here is another series, Getting Dark, also made with the interval timer. In this case I forced the camera to show the same light that I saw. This is a counter-example to the Getting Light series. I won’t discuss aperture and shutter until a later post because that would give too much information away – and I’d like you to think about it first.

My question to you is – how was Getting Dark done? We all know how to do the Getting Light series; we do nothing and let the camera do its thing. Clearly, leaving the camera to its own devices isn’t the answer to Getting Dark, so what is? Think about it and I’ll tell all in the next post.

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I mentioned the camera’s Interval Timer. Check your manual to see if your camera provides one. If so, it’s not only convenient in situations such as the two series shown in this post, it can be fun and educational as well with some imagination. For example, have you ever wondered what a flower looks like as it progresses from a bud to full bloom. Wonder no more. It helps if you choose a flower that makes the transition within a few hours – but that’s not essential, just convenient. Here’s what you’d see with a daffodil over a period of several hours –

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More to come in the next post.