exposure metering

exposure metering: under-exposure / over-exposure vs exposing correctly

When I posted this photograph of Peiwen & Eric’s wedding in Melbourne, Australia, on Facebook, someone asked the question: how much did I over-expose this photo by?

We have to be very clear with our terminology regarding over-exposure and under-exposure. This photograph is not over-exposed. It is exposed correctly! Did my camera’s light-meter jump all the way to the right-hand side? Yes, it surely did. Does it matter? No, it does not. Why not? Because I exposed correctly. Not under, not over, but correctly.

This photograph (which is ambient light only), is exposed correctly … because my subject, the bride, is exposed correctly. This is a key concept – we have to expose correctly for our subjects. Even if you decide to turn your subject into a silhouette, the decision was still very specific about how you wanted to expose for your subject.

If you are a landscape photographer, then most likely your entire scene is your subject. If you are a portrait photographer, then invariably, your subject is what you need to expose for correctly.

However, if you want to balance your subject which is shaded, in relation to a much brighter background, then you’re going to have to use additional lighting to expose correctly for your subject. But working with just the available light, you will invariably aim to expose correctly for your subject.

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step-by-step guide to using a flash meter with manual flash & ambient light

A question posted on the Tangents forum was on the topic of exactly how to use a light meter to get to correct settings for manual flash. This article covers that first tentative step in what exactly you should do with this brand-new light-meter in your hand. It will help you cope with that initial “what now?” moment.

How exactly would you have used the flash meter (with the strobe in manual mode) to arrive at the correct settings to illuminate the model properly without changing your in-camera settings? Values entered into the flash meter?

It is much easier than you think, so let’s take it step-by-step:

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camera review: Nikon Df – the steampunk Nikon D4

The anachronistically retro styling of the Nikon Df (B&H), along with the digital trappings, really makes this the steampunk D4. Especially so since it has the same top-notch sensor as the Nikon D4 (B&H).

If you have used a film camera, and specifically one of the F-series cameras, this camera will catch your eye. It’s obvious that Nikon is aiming at the same sector of photographers who found the  Fuji X100s (B&H) so appealing. That vintage look and styling definitely brings a certain cool factor into play. I bought the original Fuji X100, and then the Fuji X100s partly because it looked sexy. It looked like a fun and eye-catching camera, that also happens to be a serious machine.

Now we have the Nikon Df, and it takes all your Nikon lenses and accessories. Perfect for those photographers who would find this styling interesting, and already have an array of gear. I really think this camera is meant for the connoisseur – someone who wants a camera that is stylish looking, and a superb image-making tool.

Yup, it’s all quite interesting. But let’s have a look at how the Nikon Df (B&H) performs and handles in actual use. At the same time we’ll see how it stacks up against the bigger super-awesome Nikon D4 (B&H)

You can pre-order the Nikon Df now from B&H. It comes in a Silver and Black style.
You can also buy the Nikon Df together with some Nikon lenses (B&H)

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going for that classic look in a photo – how it all came together (model: Elizabeth)

When I saw the beautiful architecture of the Court House in Denver, CO, I knew that I wanted to use this as a backdrop for part of the mini photography workshop in Denver. In terms of composition, the imposing pillars and leading lines of the steps would simultaneously make a simple and classic background. Our model, Elizabeth, fortunately had this simple, yet elegant black dress as part of her wardrobe. For me, this photo comes together with the way the model (with her own style and styling), and the chosen location, complements each other.

That’s all a long way to say that I really like this image.

So while “having some kind of idea what you want to do” at the start of a photo session, is always a help, the success of any resulting photographs are most often a result of all the other choices coming together as well – posing, composition and lighting.

The composition is fairly straight-forward. But do notice that I shot slightly upwards towards her, to accentuate her legs. Shooting down would’ve created a strange fore-shortening effect. The focal length on the zoom lens was 38mm – wide-ish. If you’re photographing people with a wide lens, it is best to shoot from belly-button height with the camera – exactly where an old twin-lens reflex camera would’ve been held. This way you’re not shooting down, nor shooting up. So spatial distortion is minimized.

Then there’s also that touch of serendipity – yes, that word again – which brings some unexpected magic. In this image, her shadow was what helped pull the image together. Suddenly it isn’t just soft lighting – now it looks like a bit of sunshine sneaking through a thin layer of clouds. And the image pops!

The specific look to this B&W image was done via a recipe I created in Radlab.

To get that dramatic light on her, we used undiffused off camera flash. In other words – hard direct off-camera speedlight. Since this is a small light source, you have to be very specific in posing your subject. Posing “into the light” usually works best. You have to be careful though not to get weird shadows, but to have the light from the bare flash still be flattering.

The way the shadow fell behind her, was an accidental little bonus. I’ll take it when it comes.

More about the lighting and the camera settings ….

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exposure metering for a backlit subject, using the histogram  (model – Olena)

When our subject is backlit, we have a number of options:

  • expose for the background, and then either:
    – go for a (semi) silhouette,
    – add light to your subject to balance their exposure with that of the background.
  • expose carefully for our subject, and let the background blow out. This is the “ambient-light-only” option.
  • anything somewhere inbetween those two choices, where *we* decide how we want to balance the exposure between our subject and background.

Exposing for our subject, very often gives us this kind of ethereal look as the strong light from the background causes internal lens flare.

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New Jersey family photographer

photo session: adding off-camera flash to bright daylight

Someone emailed me to ask a few technical details about this family photo session. How did you expose for the family photos? Was a soft-box used? Or did you expose for the shadows and use fill flash? For those who regularly follow the Tangents blog, the thought-process here should be familiar. Let’s take a walk through the process.

As described in the article, controlling bright daylight w/ direct off-camera flash, when trying to over-power the sun with flash, the best algorithm is usually:

maximum flash sync speed,
- lowest ISO,
- find the aperture for your brightest area that you want to expose correctly for,
at that specific shutter speed and ISO.

Because the sun was hard, and high up already, the best start was to have their backs to the sun. This ensured no one would be squinting, and that I’d have a fighting chance with the single Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (B&H) inside the Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24″ softbox (B&H) as the light-source I could directly control.

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how do you meter for TTL flash & ambient light?

In taking these kinds of candid images, I set the camera so that there is enough light recorded on the test shots without flash. No real metering technique, but I judge by the LCD to see that there will be enough detail in the background. It is kinda the dragging the shutter technique, but not as specific perhaps. I just want some ambient light to register.

Then I simply use TTL flash to expose correctly for any subject which is turned away from the main source of ambient light – the window. Without flash, these kids’ features would be in deep shade relative to the rest. But the TTL flash lifts the exposure to where I want it to be … with everything well exposed.

It really is that simple, and this technique allows me to shoot fast, and get great candid shots by concentrating on the photography and not the specific settings all the time.

I used the Black Foamie Thing ™ to flag my flash and not hit people behind me in the face with a strong burst of flash.

The back-ground is quite well-lit, because in bouncing flash behind me, the background inevitably opens up a bit. Again, this is the inverse square law helping us out with bounce flash photography.

camera settings: 1/125th @ f4 @ 1250 ISO  (FEC not recorded.)

So back to the question, how did I meter for the ambient light here? I didn’t. And I certainly did not meter for the white tones via the histogram method. The reason is – I don’t want to expose correctly for my ambient light. The light levels are too low – ie, I won’t get enough depth-of-field, at a good shutter speed, at a useful ISO … with good quality light on my subject. So I purposely want to under-expose for the ambient light. And then I add TTL flash. The TTL flash here is a dominant light source, and not mere fill-flash. Hence, carefully metering for the ambient light here isn’t all that useful.

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taking photos in harsh sunlight

Taking photographs of people in harsh sunlight will always be one of the more daunting lighting situations we can find ourselves in. Without additional lighting, or the use of scrims, we have a few basic ways of dealing with the harsh sun:
- pose our subject into the light,
- pose our subject with their back to the sun, or
- just suck it up and accept that our photos will look bad.

Well, that last option isn’t really the way to go if we have any pride in our work as photographers. Which leaves us with the two other options …

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exposure metering – let your background blow out!

Too often there’s the desire for us to bring the detail in our backgrounds back in by adding flash. But there are times when the image will be stronger if we just allow the background to completely blow out. It especially works in our favor if the background is cluttered, because then by letting the background completely over-expose, we can simplify our composition.

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off-camera flash photography tip – find your background, then your settings

With flash photography on location, we nearly always start off by figuring out what we want to do in relation to our available light. We might just need fill-flash, or or flash might need to do the “heavy lifting” and expose correctly for our subject in relation to the available light.

When we have our subject in (relative) shade, and need to figure out our flash exposure, we also need to decide exactly what our background is. It usually works best to be specific about our background … and how we position ourselves and our subject in relation to that.

So let’s run through that thought-process, using the image at the top.  Alex was our delightful model today during an individual workshop in Manhattan.

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