We recently discussed white balance. I started there since white balance affects the overall image tremendously and it is often glossed over or put after exposure. Many beginning photographers are told “if you can nail exposure, you’ll have a great image.” While that’s definitely in the tippy-top of importance, I think white balance is overlooked and not given enough credit for the quality of an image. So be sure to understand what white balance is and how to look for it in your photos. We will have another lesson on how to achieve proper white balance when taking the shot and when editing after our discussion on exposure.
Exposure. Chances are you’ve heard it. Even your phone has settings to alter it. You may think it means how light or dark your image is, but it’s a bit more than that. Exposure means how much light is coming in to your camera, how much digital data your camera has to work with.
There are three kinds of exposure: under exposure, proper exposure, and overexposure.
With under exposure, you may lose detail in the shadows. Instead of darker places, they become black places. Like looking around a darkened room, you can make out the image, but it can be hard to see everything clearly. This is an underexposed image.
Underexposed images may appear muddy and dull.
At the opposite end, are overexposed images. In this case, you are going to lose detail in the highlights, the bright places. This would be like waking up in the middle of the night and flicking on the light in the bathroom. You can make your way to the toilet, but you can hardly see anything because it’s all so bright! This is an overexposed image:
Many people prefer overexposure. It’s easy to see why. (Well, maybe this particular uninspiring photo is not such a great example.) Over exposed photos may have bright colors, bright light, a certain light, airiness. There are times when this can work, but that’s tricky. You know what they say, you have to know the rules before you can break them.
The main thing to watch with overexposure is that you don’t blow out the highlights, particularly on your subject. Overexposed skin is a no-no. You’ll never get creamy, textured, beautiful skin if you blow out all the details. In fact, some photographers intentionally under-expose their image in camera and bring up the exposure in post-processing in order to get the skin the way they want it.
And finally, there is proper exposure.
With a properly exposed image, you have detail in both the light places and the dark places. Your subject is clearly lit and colors are vibrant. It is neither muddy nor glowing. The light places aren’t white-white and the dark places are black-black. This image is properly exposed:
How do you get proper exposure? Well, fortunately, our cameras are pretty smart at detecting what proper exposure looks like. My iPhone almost always gets a nice, balanced exposure. (That doesn’t mean I leave those images unedited. I almost always boost the brightness, saturation, and sharpness on my phone pics…but that’s another story for another day.)
Your DSLR has a handy little feature that will tell you when you’ve got proper exposure before you even press the shutter. It’s called a light meter and it’s built right in!
If you’ve never taken your camera off “auto” you probably haven’t seen it. Go ahead and grab your camera.
Now, rotate the little dial on top to M. M as in Manual. This is the setting you need to use when you want to be the boss of your camera. Don’t worry, you don’t have to leave it there! 😉 But while you’re on M, look through your viewfinder.
You should see a little scale that looks like a number-line or timeline with a big line and a 0 in the middle. That big line and zero represents proper exposure. The little bars that move toward the plus and minus are showing you what your exposure is. Minus is underexposed, plus is over exposed.
In our next lesson, we will be discussing the three elements your camera uses to construct a properly exposed image and how to achieve that. Be sure to come back!
Ok, you can go ahead and turn your camera’s dial back to where you’re comfortable. Baby steps. Baby steps.