Tag Archives: Underexposure

Exposure changes the mood of your image

Exposure changes can affect many aspects of an image.

Exposure changes can affect many aspects of an image. Colour, mood, visual impact, contrast and others. The second image below show the differences.
Image better seen large. Click image to view large.

There is no such thing as a perfect exposure

The main goal of starter photographers is to control the exposure. The Exposure Triangle, or other models of balancing light, lead learners to pursue ‘perfection’. Once they grasp the concept of balancing ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed, the needle in the camera viewfinder is their guide.

In manual mode, that central needle is important. It shows that the three elements are balanced. The unwary learner is soon overwhelmed by that needle. They have learned how to keep it central. Now they are going to keep it there despite everything. They have learned that, if the exposure changes, the needle drifts off the middle position. When that happens it is no longer “perfect”.

That mid-position needle is useful. However, it is not ‘perfection’. It is just a guide. Modern camera manufacturers have made things easy for the camera user. The technology, sensors and controls on a modern camera mislead the unwary into a false position. Complex technology and controls give the user confidence that the camera must be right. They assume the central needle creates the perfect capture. That is simply not true.

The balance of light controls the quality of outcome you want. Your final image is created by that quality of light. The creative photographer uses exposure changes to to conjure up the result they want. A good photographer commands the camera to create the picture. The camera does not create the perfect exposure for the user. The user makes exposure changes to create the desired image. Deliberate under or overexposure is an important part of creating your image.

Exposure changes allow you to command the camera

In the image below we see (almost) the same picture as above…

A different quality of exposure changes the whole experience of the picture.

This second image shows same scene as above. But the different quality of exposure changes the experience of the picture. This outcome is no more correct than the top picture. However, when it was taken this one was 1 and 1/3 stops underexposed on the camera viewfinder scale. It was taken within seven seconds of the first image.
Image better seen large. Click image to view large.

Exposure changes allow the user to create the mood of the shot. This is clearly shown by the deeper contrasts, more saturated blues in the sky and reds in the Autumnal leaves. The low sunlight brings out the shadows and colours more. It all adds up. Together they create a very different view of this fountain scene. A twilight feel perhaps.

I was trying to create an Autumn evening view and the deliberate underexposure gave me the key. Yes, I deliberately underexposed to create the effect. I was commanding the camera to create my “perfect” scene for what I wanted.

Experienced photogs make exposure changes regularly

For me, the darker version was right for the reasons I needed that photograph. The control of the intensity of shadows, colours, contrasts, and so on, can be done many ways.

For example, High key shots often use exposure changes. They are created by deliberate overexposure. That brings out the intense whites in a high key image.

Many portraits are lit very brightly to the eye, but a very small aperture or fast shutter speed limits the light entering the camera. This will create an underexposure bringing out the facial features. This gives shadows a depth, without harshness, as can be seen in the next image. This use of exposure changes is a great mood enhancer.

Portrait shot in bright light but underexposed in-camera.

Portrait underexposed in-camera creates a tonally controlled result.

Create the exposure changes you want

How do you create this effect of under or overexposure? Simple. There is a control that can do it in auto or semi-auto modes. While in an auto-mode use the “exposure compensation” dial. You can add or subtract one or two stops of light. You can find out how to use the dial in your manual.

For the learner going fully manual it is even easier. That central needle position is your guide to what the camera calculates as an optimum light level for the shot. To create a manual over or underexposure simply dial the exposure-meter back or forward. Move the needle away from the central position. Shocking I know. You actually create exposure changes by deviating from the central needle position.

Exposure changes of one stop halves or doubles the light entering the camera. So be careful. Take several test shots. Dial one third of a stop or more at a time. Look at the result and check if you have created the right effect.

Create your image in mind – then make exposure changes to suit

The way you want your image is a creative decision. The camera should not be allowed to dictate the outcome.

You have two choices. If you go with the settings the camera gives you, the result is an optimum of the balance of the settings. If you can foresee what you want to achieve, then create your own result. In this case, make the balance of settings so the exposure changes to your choice. Your choice will be different to the result the camera would give you. But with care and practice it will be what you intend for your shot. You have taken control.

So next time you are taking a photo consider this. If you think your picture would be more effective as a darker or lighter representation, then make the exposure changes you need. Do it – create. Really make your images – don’t just capture what is there.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

The secret to a wonderful black background with moody lighting

Mastering the black background

• Mastering the black background •
With very little practice you can get a perfect black background and moody lighting.

The eye is captured by solid black.

It provides a really focussed experience for the viewer. Low key and solid black backgrounds provide a wonderful insight on detail and features. If you get this right it provides an excellent insight for portraits and helps many other aspects of your photography. This is a technique I use for product photos, still life, landscapes and flower photography.

Simplicity itself

The technique involves using a bright light (off camera flash) to overpower the ambient light. The steps are simple…

  • Set your camera to its lowest ISO setting (around ISO 100) – the sensor is least sensitive to light.
  • Set your aperture to a high f number (small aperture = low light), say f11, or higher so that the amount of light your camera lets in is very small.
  • Take a test shot to ensure your screen is black – you want nothing to show.
  • Shoot with a diffused off-camera flash at full power using a narrow beam.

This simple technique is relying on extreme underexposure. Basically you are underexposing the whole scene to blackness. But then you are introducing a very narrow beam of brightness that overcomes a limited area of the underexposed shot. This leaves your highlighted spot on the subject in a moody light with the rest in black.

Photography Technique: The Invisible Black Background

Glyn Dewis  External link - opens new tab/page introduces the technique on video. Notice the way the umbrella is creating a focussed narrow beam of light. You can do the same thing with “barn door” lights or cards either side of a reflected flash. Enjoy the video…

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Correct snow scenes using exposure compensation

Bright snow scenes create a problem with the auto-settings for exposure

Bright snow scenes create a problem with the auto-settings for exposure
Click image to view large
Green shoots through the snow By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Snow reveals a problem with auto-modes.

The brightness of a snow scene throws off exposure. Cameras in auto-modes work to a “normal” type of scene. When unusually bright scenes are encountered the camera cannot compensate. It leaves the scene grey. This is because the camera is calibrated to work with a mix of colours, light and darks that represent the sort of scene we encounter every day. It senses the luminance levels in the scene and sets exposure to the middle of the range between light and dark.

If the camera senses an unusually bright scene, like the snow scene above, it is unable to compensate properly. The brightness is outside its normal range of compensation. The camera responds by underexposing the shot, and the snow turns grey. The photograph above shows the scene as shot in the right hand panel. It is grey. The left hand panel shows the correct exposure after the underexposure is compensated by an exposure compensation of 1.66 stops (one and two thirds stops). (See: Definition: f-stops)

Photographers are more accurate than camera auto settings

In these bright (or dark situations) we can dial in exposure compensation to manually set the scene to be brighter. Using the exposure compensation we can increase the exposure to brighten the scene (+ settings) or even darken the scene (- settings) as appropriate. Then, we take another picture. By looking at the screen on the camera (“Chimping”) we can get the exposure correct by adjusting the exposure compensation to correctly whiten the scene.

This exposure compensation principle applies to the camera modes which are automatic or semi-automatic. In full auto, the camera calculates the exposure by balancing the ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings. However, in the semi-automatic modes the photographer changes one of the settings while the camera changes the other. In these modes, as in full-auto, the camera can still make the mistake of under-exposing (or over-exposing). Only the photographer can judge the exposure correctly.

When using aperture priority mode, you the photographer, makes the decision on the aperture size (f-stop setting). The camera calculates the appropriate shutter speed. If your camera cannot correctly interpret the scene, as with snow for example, then you will need to dial the exposure compensation to correct for the under-exposure. If you are using shutter priority, same again, the camera calculates the aperture (f-stop) setting. If the camera makes a wrong exposure decision, you can manually set the exposure compensation to over-ride the f-stop setting the camera would set.

Full manual mode, where the photographer sets all the settings directly, cannot use exposure compensation. In this mode the photographer makes all the decisions. The camera does not interfere with the exposure settings. In this case the photographer is free to make decisions to fix the exposure setting for all three factors of exposure – ISO, aperture and shutter speed. There can be no element of compensation for a failed camera decision. The photographer stands by their own settings and has full discretion to control the exposure as they wish. Deliberate over or under-exposure as well as accurate exposure are all possible. It is for this reason that I urge you to work in full manual where you can. You have far more control over the outcome of the shot. You also as a consequence have more artistic control over your image.

If you are working in RAW, the native data mode of image files in camera, it is possible to correct for camera exposure errors in post-processing. As I have argued elsewhere it is better to try and get all the settings correct in camera than to spend time processing afterwards for a number of reasons. So, no matter what file type you are using, try to set the shot up correctly from the start.

There you have it. Exposure compensation is a camera setting which is wholly dedicated to compensating for the mess-ups that the camera makes with its exposure calculations in auto or semi-auto modes. But when using auto-modes, and/or using *.jpg files, it is essential to be able to compensate for the cameras’ failings by using exposure compensation – otherwise your snow will be grey!

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.