Getting Down to Basics: Exposure

by | Dec 30, 2019

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In response to several suggestions from new readers of this blog, I wanted to get back to the basics with a look at some subjects that may challenge new photographers, especially these shooters moving up from cell phones to a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

When teaching at workshops, the number one question I get from students and one that usually permeates the entire event is a 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 they liked.

How I made this shot: My former 1953 Packard Clipper Club Sedan was photographed at a railroad siding in Brighton, Colorado using  a Samsung Pro 815 and an exposure of 1/600 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 50. I really miss that car.

As is true for all aspects of photography there are no one right way, although some program presenters may disagree and argue that only their way is the one, true perfect road to correct exposure. I disagree. There is no “my way or the highway” in this blog or photography in general; you get to choose the method that works best for you. Even a road less traveled is OK if it produces the results you want. If it doesn’t produce the kind of results you want its time to look at some alternatives and fine-tune them to your favored subject matter and preferred way of working.

For example, if you have a light meter reading for a subject of 1/500 sec at f/11 and want to use a slower shutter speed allow for normal subject blur and set choose 1/125 sec you will have to adjust the aperture (make it smaller) so that that the same (equivalent) amount of light will fall on the sensor. By selecting either aperture (A) or shutter priority (S) modes, your camera will do equivalent exposure for you, eliminating most but not all of the guesswork. For 90% of the photographs that you’ll make, these automatic modes do a fantastic job in producing correct exposure but its those last 10% that’ll kill you, so sometimes you have to shift into manual. Please see my post today about Manual Mode on my photography how-to Blog.

Sometimes you will see the term exposure value (EV) used 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 using the more popular term— “stop.”

So what’s the perfect exposure? It’s the one that you like. Go make a few tests, shooting brackets either manually or automatically and find out for yourself. One of the advantages of using digital is that it won’t even cost you a whole lot of money to find out.

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to buy Joe a cup of Earl Grey tea or maybe a cup of hot chocolate ($2.50), click here. And if you do, thanks so much.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, I’m co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.88 prices with used copies selling at giveaway prices—less than two bucks, as I write this.