Friday, August 22, 2014

Tell your camera what to do

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

The final image with minimal post processing.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

This is the next frame with –1EV exposure compensation. Better, but not quite right.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.)

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

My post processing on this image was about 15 seconds because I got it right in the camera.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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.

©2014 Steve Borichevsky©2014 Steve Borichevsky

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!

And if you missed them, check out this same lesson based on white birds in an overcast sky and how to shoot birds in the snow.

I hope that this helps you and inspires you to override your camera’s meter. Free advice and worth every damned penny spent.


The Furry Gnome said...

Very helpful (the other two posts as well). I'll have to try using that little button more often.

John @ Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

A great tutorial Steve. This is something I was aware of but NEVER did. You've inspired me to try something new. Thanks.

Frank said...

Excellent advice Steve and superbly illustrated.

I don't shoot in RAW very often nor do I like to do much post processing, apart from cropping so I constantly shoot 'AP' and use some exposure compensation BUT will probably try tweaking it a bit more in future.

Stacey Dawn said...

Great information - thank you for sharing! What great captures, too!

Ida said...

Okay I'm need lots of help with this concept. I'm still using Auto Focus for almost everything because I don't understand all the technical camera stuff and don't want to miss shots because of that. I should print this out and start practicing. Awesome shots by the way.

Steve Borichevsky said...

Thanks for giving it a go, folks. I hope you have success with this data.

Roy Norris said...

Another superb and informative photographic lesson from "Borichevsky Studios"

Steve Borichevsky said...

Thanks, Roy!

Judy said...

There are days when I hate you! Can you now please get the image of the gallery showing of gray card images out of my head. I know they were all captured with love and attention to detail, but - a whole gallery full of them?
This is a subject I want to learn more about. I think the only way to really understand is to stand there and take a million shots...

Susan (ABON) said...

All the technical stuff on cameras drives me bananas. I've studied it but it doesn't seem to stick with me. However, after reading this post and watching some video tutorials about aperture priority and exposure compensation, I'm going to begin practicing with it. I have a ton of buttons on my camera and don't know what most of them are for, what a shame! Thank you for sharing this informative post, Steve. I have it saved so I can refer back to it often for now.

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