The Exposure "You Want", 2

The answer to the last post’s question – How do you set exposure to shoot a sequence like Getting Dark? – is at the end of this post.
We’ve spent a lot of time examining exposure. A key question is not so much –

  • How do we get correct exposure? as
  • How do we get the exposure we want?

Now why would we want anything other than “correct” exposure? For the same reason we might not want every element of our image to be in sharp focus – creativity.

Imagine if we went out as a group to the same location and photographed the same subject. If we used our camera as designed, we’d come back with 17 identical photos shot by 17 different photographers – all perfectly exposed and tack sharp from foreground to infinity. What’s the fun in that?

One creative use of exposure is to set a mood. Dark, dreary, moody, mysterious, light, happy, airy, and so on are feelings an image can convey through the use of exposure.

It’s up to the photographer to decide the mood s/he wishes to convey. I can’t help you beyond having shown you how to get the exposure you want.

Here are a few examples.

Aperture Priority,  105mm, f/5.6, ISO200

Left 2.5 sec, right 15 seconds

Left matrix meter, right spot meter (on highlight)

Left EV= 0, right EV= +1

This isn’t my strong suit. Did these two this morning while it was still dark – apple on dining room table lit by dining room ceiling light. The left image is exposed normally. The right image’s technique is known as Low Key Lighting. For the low key, I used spot metering to meter the highlight on the apple. The meter, in turn, made this highlight’s tone (brightest in the scene) middle gray which guaranteed the rest of the scene was going to be dark. (You might note that based on the camera data, the right image should be much brighter than the left – longer exposure and higher EV. I dimmed the ceiling light after making the left image. Don’t know why??)

I usually prefer B&W for the few low key images I make. Here’s the apple again and a tulip.


3. High key images are the opposite of low key in almost every respect. Overexposed vs. underexposed. Lighter moods vs. darker moods. Here are a few examples.

The left image is exposed normally. To my eye the right is nicer – a light airy feeling, almost surreal.

For an example of a high key image that’s just fun –

These two spent tulips were almost black – much darker than they appear here. They were in antique medicine bottles which had some color cast in the glass. This still life was placed on a curved piece of white cardboard to provide a seamless background. Natural ambient lighting – windows & skylights. I spot metered on the darkest of the tulip petals (which resulted in their tone being gray and everything else very bright) and also set EV = 1.67 which immediately blew out all of the white and transformed the bottles into what you see here. I liked the result – but there were lots of failures during the journey to get here.

If you’d like to look at more examples,

Your 1st exposure assignment –

  1. Post an image that demonstrates low key. Don’t just post an underexposed image. Try to make it something that conveys a mood or emotion.
  2. Ditto above for high key.
  3. Bonus for anyone who can convey both an appropriate low key and high key mood while using the same subject for both images. (Tough!) A portrait might be the best chance.

The answer to the last post’s question – How do you set exposure to shoot a sequence like Getting Dark?

  1. Get a good starting exposure using Exposure Compensation & the Histogram (camera in aperture priority shooting mode) as covered in the previous post.
  2. Note the aperture and shutter values used for the good starting exposure
  3. Shift the shooting mode from aperture priority to manual (shooting mode; not focus mode)
  4. Set the aperture and shutter speed to the values obtained in step #2
  5. That’s it. Shoot your sequence and capture every image with the light your eyes see (and not the camera’s almost identical “middle gray average” exposure for every image).

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