Terms – Exposure

I have written several posts that mention photos should be properly “exposed”. What does it mean to properly expose a photo? Good question. That is exactly the issue I intend to demystify.

“Back in the day” when every photographer used film to capture a scene for posterity the process included light rays piercing the film and chemical coating. When I refer to exposure, it is based on this process and how long the film is “exposed” to the light. If the film was left available to light it will be unintelligibly “bleached”.

So what this means in our digital world is we look at our digital exposures for areas that does not accurately represent the colors of our scene.

Proper exposure is not dependent on your field of photography. For example, a photo-journalist does not use a different measure for proper exposure than a commercial portrait photographer would. Each vocation specialty may prefer different exposures for their purposes, but there is one common key; they all want their subject in this range of proper “exposure”. We will discuss this more in-depth in our next post “Terms – Exposure 2”.

Exposure is effected by length of shutter speed, amount of added light (flash, strobe or constant) and lens aperture. All of these we have covered in earlier posts. For now, what are the keys that will help us discern a proper exposure?

Detail – How much detail is visible in the photograph? Detail represents the photographic subject and the surrounding scene.

Depth of Shadow – How dark are the shadows in the photograph? This will cause detail to be obscured.

Bright areas without detail – What areas in the photograph are saturated with more light than necessary? This will cause detail to not be visible.

As you look through pictures take some time to look at shadows and bright areas. Look for detail and consider other places the photographer could have stood for more or less light to expose the shot.

Showcase Lighting

Have you seen those pictures that take your attention and your will to look at any other photo dwindles? Maybe it is a picture of a young woman looking out the open window with the curtains blowing toward her.

The “best lighting” is directed from natural light source placement. This is what I mean by “natural light placement”, light should be coming through the window (back to the photo description above) and not around the window.

There is an important lighting technique which I refer to as “even lighting” or as others say “flat lighting.” “Flat lighting” means that the light is spread across the subject without creating harsh shadows or excessive amounts of light. Not meaning the shadow is absent but having control of the harshness or contrasted effects of the shadow is important!

I used to think that I needed no other light source but the ambient light of the outdoors; while the lighting is always perfect outside with the sun as the source, reflectors, diffusers and shades are great ways of flattening the ambient light.

Adding light with flash and strobe was my primary apprehension, because it is so easy to displace the natural lighting with one overpowering light source. This is not to say adding light with flash and strobe is bad, just a word to the wise that adding light in this way brings a lot more skill and thought to the table than anticipated.

“Showcase Lighting” is all about drawing the viewer’s attention to a specific place in the photo. This is to say, consider what your picture shows. Motion? Draw the viewer’s attention with the movement direction. Personality? Highlight the facial expression including eyebrows, eyes and/or mouth.

Lighting really is a way of communicating where you want people to look without words. Learning how to do this is not easy nor can it be reduced to a formula (at-least not to my knowledge).