Capture

The same methodology I used for black-and-white photography easily translates over to the digital world. We use the camera's light-meter display to monitor our progress as we adjust the various property values tot develop a good, balanced exposure formula.

It's a step-by-step process that begins with our asking a few questions...

"What do I see here? What is the draw that caught my eye? Do I want to freeze something in motion or do I want that motion to blur? Does depth-of-field play a role in my photograph? What's a good ISO to use?"

I ask myself these questions and many more, too. The moment of capture is so incredibly important to our getting the best photo possible. Yes, you may be able to "fix it in Photoshop"  but that's not a good basis for your photography. Make it a point to begin your post-processing with the best image, the best exposure.

I walk around to find a perspective that speaks to me. When I do, I set the ISO.

If the emphasis of my photograph is on TIME and motion, I will make an educated guess for an appropriate Shutter-Speed value. At this point, my light-meter display will probably be pegged all the way over, don't worry. As I adjust the final property (in this case, Aperture), the meter will slowly be brought into balance.

It's the same as if I were taking a portrait, where I want a minimal depth-of-field.

So after the ISO is set, I would open the Aperture as wide as I can (then back it off a click to get a touch-extra  sharpness). Watching my light-meter, I adjust the Shutter-Speed to bring the exposure into balance. Even though I set the ISO first (like building a house on a foundation), it's really the second  property which holds the greatest importance on my photograph.

I may need to further adjust a property or two to fine-tune my exposure. If I need more light, I can either increase the ISO to a higher number, open the Aperture or slow down the Shutter-Speed. Just go carefully when making such adjustments and only adjust the least valuable property first.

Once the meter is in the center, take a photo and judge the results.

A camera's display allows for instant feedback of a photograph, nothing more. NEVER trust it to determine if the exposure is good or not. What we are actually seeing is another version of our image, compressed and sized to fit our display. Use it to make sure the perspective and orientation is how you want it, but that's all.

Use the histogram instead.

Many cameras (and third-party camera apps) feature a histogram, a tool that displays how your photo stacks up, literally. A histogram measures the brightness value of each photograph's pixel, and makes a graph that goes horizontally across the bottom - from left (black) to right (white). This graph covers the entire tonal range of an image.

When we take a photograph, every pixel is measured, organized, then stacked verticallyThe more pixels there are in a given area, the taller the graph.

Now we have an actual true assessment of our exposure.

Generally, our aim is for something resembling a mountain range, where the pixels are concentrated more in the middle of the graph, without spiking at either end. This is referred to as clipping and should be avoided.

In this graphic of a histogram, we see a good mountain-range. The RGB channel shows all 3 RGB colors combined, plus the breakdown of how the camera recorded Red, Green and Blue individually.

If I'm in a studio, I have complete control over light but in nature, I have a whole assortment of variables to contend with, including the direction of bright light sources. There's no secret formula to give, because the exact settings I would use one day, would be different the next.

We want to make sure we have an accurate meter reading so we can work through the properties reliably. The true test of a photo is not how it looks in the field. It's how it looks when we get it into the computer or look at it later under more controlled lighting.

The "Exposure Triangle," shows the 3 different sides of exposure.

Each side shows what that particular property governs, as well as how it can visually impact a photograph.

Personally, I prefer the idea of a balance scale.

Set the ISO first to create the foundation. 

Then place one property in one tray, while the remaining property goes in the other tray. For my money, the second property always holds the greatest value for me. The remaining property is really just a counter-weight to the other two properties.

Go back and review the 15-exposure slideshow which introduced this Photography  area.

Notice how ALL the photographs used in that slideshow have the same exposure in terms of its tonal  balance. One image is not really any lighter or darker than the others, other than the variable of having to shoot in natural light. What does change is how the water looks visually to illustrate motion in the photograph.

As I work to fine-tune my exposure, if I increase say the Shutter-Speed to allow more light in, I would equally  have to cut down on the amount of light being allowed. Usually it's an adjustment with Aperture to achieve this, but not always.

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