A Creatively Correct Exposure

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend recommended a great book to get started on shooting photos manually, Understanding Exposure. I now highly recommend it as well.

Almost every beginner guide I’ve tried to read for photography usually loses me in technical jargon from the start. Most assume you were already born speaking f-stop.

I like this Bryan Peterson guy; he’s different. Even though he probably spends most of his waking moments behind a camera, he understands how to talk to people who don’t. While others explain what ISO is, he equates it to thinking of it like worker bees capturing light. The more you have the less time they need to capture it.  I can get behind that.

Just after a few pages in I felt reassured that my brain would indeed be able to process what he was saying and kept reading. He includes simple exercises along the way to illustrate what he’s explaining so you can try on your own.

I was playing around with understanding how to capture a correct exposure across various f-stop settings using the light meter to help me set the corresponding shutter speed. His book shed light on a huge misconception I’ve had as a beginner. I always assumed you had to have the know-how to set your camera for the one perfect exposure.
He explains in the book there are at minimum 6 correct exposures you can achieve and it is up to you to decide the correct “creative” exposure (or perfect one) you’re looking for.

I did a little experiment of my own on a phrenology bust I purchased from the flea market I was photographing earlier in the week. It was much more reliably stationary than my cat.

I started with my camera at an ISO of 200 (worker bees) and f/1.2 (50mm lens). Using the light meter (which I didn’t even know was there) I set the correct shutter speed indicated and shot a photo. I then set the aperture a “stop down”, effectively cutting the amount of light in half. I continued re-setting the f-stop until f/16, taking a photo with each new arrangement of aperture and shutter speed with the ISO constant. I only picked a few to show the range.

As you shoot each photo you’ll notice the shutter speed slowing down considerably to let the right amount of light in due to the smaller aperture. Each of these is correctly exposed despite varying apertures & corresponding shutter speeds.

From a creative perspective, I prefer the top image as it isolates the bust with a much shallower depth of field compared with the progressively sharper images which show much more of what is happening in the background.

I never really understood how aperture, shutter speed and ISO worked in conjunction with each other to not only capture a correct image but to creatively play with the depth of field.

I practiced the same experiment on a friend when we were having coffee together at her house.

Again I like when the focus is much more on her than what’s going on in the background (although they do have a beautiful historic house).

I love that “Understanding Exposure” starts out with a simple explanation of aperture, shutter speed and ISO over just a few pages and follows them up with exercises you can try that illustrate the points he’s making.

Switching your camera to manual reminds me a lot of driving a manual car. You have so much more control. You pay a lot more attention to what you’re doing. One of the reasons I’ve always driven a manual car is that I feel more connected to the road. You get more feedback (and let’s be honest, it’s a lot more fun than an automatic).

I think there are a lot of similarities with shooting photos manually. As with learning to drive a stick shift, it just takes a bit of practice and understanding where things give.

I still have a lot of practice ahead but at least I got the camera out for a spin.

 

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