Some Exposure Basics

In response to several suggestions from new readers of this blog, I wanted to back to the basics with a look at subjects that challenge new photographers—especially those moving up from cell phones to an SLR or mirrorless camera. When teaching at workshops, the number one question that 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.


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

For example, if you have a light meter setting 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 aperture (A) or shutter priority (S) mode, your camera will do equivalent exposure for you, eliminating the all of the guesswork.

One of the first tips that I give aspiring car photographers is that they should underexpose black cars to render them as black and overexpose white ones, so they look white. When you think about this, it makes sense: By forcing the exposure to middle gray tones, you end up with a white car that looks gray or a black car that looks gray too.

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 capture is that it won’t cost you a whole lot of money to find out.

light.bookAlong with photographer and Mirrorless Photo Tips contributor Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available at collector (high) prices or used copies for giveaway—less than a two bucks—prices from Amazon.