December 17, 2010

photography questions & answers

Continuing with the regular theme where I look at search engine queries that point to this site, and answer a selection of 10 questions more directly…

01)  how do I take an exposure reading with my camera?

Taking an exposure reading with your camera is at one level as simple as pointing your camera at the scene, and zero-ing the needle, by using the shutter speed & aperture & ISO controls. But, it also gets more complex and interesting than that. The crucial factor to remember is that your camera’s meter reads the light reflected from the scene you are pointing it at.

Looking at the image at the top – my favorite model, Anelisa, again – you will see she is wearing a white top, and she is placed against a dark background. With the composition as above, the chanced are great that most modern cameras with evaluative metering / matrix metering, will get to an exposure reading that is pretty close. The white areas and darker areas will most likely balance each other out.

But the moment that you change the composition by including a lot more white or a lot more of the dark areas, then the exposure your camera sets, will be off. You need to control your exposure settings …

You can most easily do this by shooting in manual exposure mode on your camera.
To get to correct (ambient) exposure, you can do either of several things:
- meter selectively with your camera’s built-in meter.
- if your subject is wearing white, use the camera’s histogram.
- use a hand-held meter. This is near infallible.

So there are several techniques to get to correct exposure. But when you rely on your camera’s built-in meter, then you have to familiarize yourself with the concept of various tonalities of the scene / subject … and how to meter selectively. And you also need to realize that simply zero-ing your camera’s meter needle, will not necessarily give you correct exposure. Similarly, simply pointing your camera at the subject while using spot-metering, will not necessarily solve your metering problems. You need to meter for selected tones.

02)  wedding photography flash compensation for white dress

Here is a recent article on exposure metering for the bride’s white dress. While that linked article deals mainly with ambient light metering, the concept is directly applicable to flash exposure compensation. It also relates directly to the first section in today’s post on exposure metering. It always comes together in some way.

03)  focusing assistance with flash off the camera

I use an on-camera speedlight with its output disabled, but with the AF assist still working for me. This is especially useful in the dark. I often do this even when I use PocketWizards to fire the off-camera flashes set to manual output. Or you could use a Canon ST-E2 / Nikon SU-800 wireless controller just for the AF assist.

04)  how to shoot with flash and control the aperture?

TTL flash. You’re going to like it.

05)  flash exposure compensation not working with manual flash

With manual flash, the flashgun emits a fixed amount of light every time. The ways to control the exposure you get from the manual flash is through controlling the distance (and power) of the flash from your subject, and the aperture and ISO you select on your camera. Flash exposure compensation is how you control TTL flash. So if you are using manual flash, then the flash exposure compensation button on your camera will have no effect.

06)  Nikon (some camera model) / Canon (some camera model) give soft images

It is a near guarantee that if someone complains of soft images, their chosen shutter speeds are too slow. First remedy, take your shutter speed higher! Of course, there could be a number of other reasons … but a too-slow shutter speed is usually the culprit. Take control!

07)  what lenses to use for full body group shots

A flippant answer would be that you could use anything from a fish-eye lens to a 400mm lens … but you have to check how far you stand from the group. A real answer though would be that, depending on the group, you would ideally not use anything wider than around 50mm. As soon as you go to a wide-angle lens, you risk getting wide-angle distortion to the edges of the frame … or worse, if you step too close to a small group of people with a wide-angle lens, you will get that bobble-head effect. Shooting down on someone with a wide-angle lens will create a distorted effect where their heads are much larger than their feet.

So the answer would be, depending on the size of your group, and depending on your working distance available … you want to use a lens that is longer than say 50mm.

08)  which camera for wedding photography?

Whenever I see these questions via my website analytics, I am soooo tempted to reply that the only cameras that should be considered for wedding photography, are either the Nikon D3x or Canon 1Ds mkIII, and that nothing else would suffice. Oh, and to buy it through those affiliate links. And by the way, you’re going to need two of those bad boys. Actually, make it three of those.

09)  overpower the sun with PocketWizards

um .. you’re going to need flash to overpower the sun.
More than anything else, you’re going to need flash.

the final one for today, is another one that I thought was amusing:

Neil van Tangents

If you can’t spell ‘van Niekerk’, then ‘van Tangents’ will get you there as well. Easy!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 pasquier December 18, 2010 at 1:43 am

Love the last one – lekker!


2 Stephen December 18, 2010 at 2:02 am

Google will try to give results if it believes your spelling is slightly wrong.
So searching on “Neil van Neikerk” or “Neil van Nikerk” will return results that lead to this site.

Even “Neil van” will return results that point to this site. Neil has become a popular blogger!


3 Neil vN December 18, 2010 at 7:20 am

All true.

Also consider though, that Google returns different results based on whether you type in the plural or the singular. eg: “New Jersey wedding photographer” will give you different results than “New Jersey wedding photographers”. That one still mystifies me.

Neil vN


4 Marvin December 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

Thanks Neil, I got a good laugh from this post!


5 Emopunk December 19, 2010 at 6:32 am

Thanks Neil, nice refreshing. And hat down for Anelisa, absolutely amazing beauty..


6 Frank December 19, 2010 at 10:57 am

My typical workflow for difficult lighting situations:
- Snapshot in P-mode, Av-mode or Tv-mode
- Take over the settings in M-mode
- Up and down clicks for aperture, shutter speed and ISO depending on the snapshot, e.g.
. + or – EV clicks to add/reduce exposure
. +EV clicks on one setting => -EV clicks on another setting (thus a constant EV)

Counting clicks is easier than watching numbers or zeroing the needle.


7 graham December 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

re: focusing assistance with flash off the camera

If you are accustomed to using a flash bracket, the Nikon SC-29 off-camera shoe cord has AF assist built into camera connector. You can’t get that with Canon ;)


8 Kevin December 20, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Anelisa’s top seems a little blown out… Upon noting this yourself (not that you haven’t), would you consider the example shot over exposed or correct?

If correct how much recovery would you tend to use? (now there’s an open question lol).
Personally I think the exposure is a little high, but maybe you feel you can recover enough in post without damaging the rest of the colours/tonality?

White tops are tricky.

Regardless, thanks for you tuition… great as always!


9 Neil vN December 20, 2010 at 8:58 pm

The exposure in-camera was correct according to the luminance histogram. The histogram (and lack of over-exposure warning) in ACR / Bridge confirmed the exposure is good. I’m not sure why you think it looks over-exposed.

Anyway, with RAW, I get just over a stop of over-exposure that I can fix satisfactorily.

Neil vN


10 Kevin December 20, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Inbetween the creases on her top on the left hand side (as we view it), seem a little blown, but maybe it’s just the look from my laptop monitor…
The rest of the image looks great however.


11 Vlad Bez January 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Hi Neil.

You said:

I use an on-camera speedlight with its output disabled, but with the AF assist still working for me. This is especially useful in the dark. I often do this even when I use PocketWizards to fire the off-camera flashes set to manual output. Or you could use a Canon ST-E2 / Nikon SU-800 wireless controller just for the AF assist.

How can you disable flash’s output but use AF assist?

Thank you very much.


12 Neil vN January 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Vlad . what flashgun are you using?

Neil vN


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