Meat & Potatoes: Exposure

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In response to several suggestions from new readers of this blog, over the next few weeks we’re going back to the basics with a occasional posts about some subjects that challenge new photographers, especially those moving up from cell phones to an SLR or mirrorless camera.

When teaching workshops, the number one question I get from students and one that usually permeates the entire event is their quest for perfect exposure. Back in the 1970’s I used to tell my Basic Photography students at Howard Community College that the perfect exposure was the one that they liked. And I still believe that today.

I strongly believe there is not one right way to accomplish your photographic goals, although some trade show speakers may disagree and argue that their approach is the one, true perfect road to correct exposure or whatever… I disagree. There is no “my way or the highway” in photography; you get to choose the methods that works for you. Even a road less traveled is OK if it produces the kind of results you want. If it doesn’t produce the results you want then its time to look at some alternative techniques and fine-tune them to your favored subject matter and preferred way of working.

The road to correct exposure is littered with buzzwords. Sometimes you’ll see the term exposure value (EV) that denotes all of combinations of camera shutter speed and aperture that produce the same exposure. This term originated in Germany during the 1950s and persists to this day with purists who are more comfortable with it than the vernacular “stop.”

For example, in Manual mode, if you have a  light meter reading for a subject of 1/500 sec at f/11 and ISO 200 and want to use a slower shutter speed you will have to adjust the aperture (make it smaller) so that that the same (equivalent) amount of light falling on the sensor. Or you could select aperture (Av) or shutter priority mode (Sv), your camera does the equivalent exposure for you, eliminating the  guesswork. There’s always exposure compensation available to help tweak that exposure setting to get the exact look you want.

So what’s the perfect exposure? It’s the one you like. Go make a few tests, shoot a bracket and find out for yourself. Two of the most important things that you can do to improve the exposure of your photographs is to make these kinds of test shoots and practice. And one of the big advantages of using digital capture is that it won’t even cost you a whole lot of money to find out.

Tip: Roll your mouse over the above images to see their exposure settings and drop by our sister blog, JoeFaraceShootsCars.com for other posts on exposure and car photography.


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Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photograph that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 and used copies at four bucks. The Kindle price, for some reason is really high. ($93.95)