I have a saying, “Tell your camera what to do. Don’t let it tell you what it is going to do.” Today I hope to inspire you to take control of your photographic destiny.
I primarily shoot Aperture Priority. That means that I control the aperture and let the camera figure out the rest. This gives me artistic control over depth of field and loosely the shutter speed. But there is a little button that I keep my finger on. It’s the exposure compensation button, that little +/- button.
The important concept is that your camera is going to give you scene based on 18% gray. It assumes that all images are supposed to be exposed as if you were photographing a 18% gray card, and it would do that perfectly.
Now that is hunky dory if you go around shooting gray cards, but you don’t. What I’m going to show you below are all images from my D7100 + 300mm f/4, straight out of the camera.
This Pearl Crescent was shot with no exposure compensation. It’s okay, but a little washed out. Why? Because the camera is trying to make this look like a gray card and has over exposed a dark scene.
What to do, what to do? Well, it’s time to do a little thinking on your feet. After all, this bug is probably not going to put up with my nonsense and take off. Here is what you need to remember: When shooting a black scene, decrease the exposure time. When you are shooting white sheets in the sun, increase the exposure time.
Now if you’re not used to thinking in these terms, it is okay. If you poke someone with a stick in the middle of the night and ask them how to shoot a primarily black scene, many would want to increase the exposure time if the scene to let in more light to catch the scene, right? Negatory. If you do that, you will get a gray scene. Likewise with a white scene, if you decrease the scene because it is too bright, you will get another gray image.
Here, check this out. I decreased this exposure by –2/3EV because of the dark background.
Here I decreased the exposure by –1 1/3 EV. The joy here is looking at the way the colors are starting to punch. Look at the blade of grass and compare it to the first photo.
This is what I want the image to look like and this bug is being cooperative, so I snuck in a little closer and took another shot. Again this is straight out of the camera.
The final image with minimal post processing.
Just to show you that this isn’t a fluke, here is Blue Dasher on a grass stalk, straight out of the camera with no exposure compensation.
This is the next frame with –1EV exposure compensation. Better, but not quite right.
Here the first frame I took in the series. It has –1 2/3 EV compensation. (Did I say first frame? Yes! When I saw this Blue Dasher, I knew exactly what I needed to do with this dark scene to properly expose the dasher and the grass spray. The previous two frames were to taken for this post.)
My post processing on this image was about 15 seconds because I got it right in the camera.
Now I shoot images in my camera’s RAW file format. This gives me the ability to tweak my images’ exposures and do other fun stuff that you cannot do with jpg files. I took the image with no exposure compensation and corrected it below. It took me three minutes.
Now here is something that you won’t see in the above images, but there is an added benefit to decreasing the exposure value and getting it right in the camera. The image on the left is the same 0EV image shown above. The one on the right is the –1 2/3EV image. The shorter shutter speed gave me a better chance at freezing the image. Also an image will degrade with all the extra tweaking.
Now if you have time in the studio, you can shoot in Manual mode, set the aperture, set the shutter speed. But I find that with practice I can get what I want in seconds with the exposure compensation button. And for us outdoor shooters, seconds can mean the difference between getting an image of a bird on a branch or just getting a branch.
Note that if you’re a sports photographer and you shoot Shutter (speed) Priority, meaning set the speed you want and let the camera figure out the aperture, these principles will work too!
I hope that this helps you and inspires you to override your camera’s meter. Free advice and worth every damned penny spent.