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.

Portraits – Gravity

Since we just talked about Perspective in our last post, perhaps it is a good time to discuss some ways of using gravity to our advantage and slowing our shutter speed.

Yeah, that is right. Using gravity can slow your shutter speed. Allow me to explain. As a photographer, I had some ideas of how other professional had created some amazing shots of hair seeming to float in mid-air, but without having been at the photo shoot I could not be certain and I was almost convinced that speaking with the photographer was as impossible as being at the photo shoot.

For instance, imagine a model who is demonstrating the effects of a hair product for a public relations campaign for the company. The point of the company is not to prove their product’s ability to hold their customer’s hair in mid-air but the soft and static-free beauty of the hair. How can that be demonstrated in a photograph?

First we should discuss using gravity to our advantage. Fast shutter speeds mean that we need to open up our aperture and raise our ISO thus dropping out quality a bit and losing our ability to keep the face in focus at the same time as the hair. Sacrificing quality for speed in this case is not acceptable.

Using an evenly lit and solid color background makes it worlds easier when editing the shot in the post-production process so lay down a sheet of bright white paper on the floor keeping it clean for the model.

Mount your camera above the bright white paper and pose the model on the bright white paper, making sure her hair falls in a natural looking direction giving the illusion that gravity is pulling her hair down but also giving a light “silky” appearance that you see in advertisements. Using your studio lights to over expose the background while properly lighting the model’s face will give you the flexibility you seek without sacrificing quality for speed.

Back Lighting

Back Lighting in very broad terminology can be used to describe many different photography styles, however it speaks directly to the way that the light illuminates the subject. We will not have the space in this post that would be required to discuss all of these options, but I will provide a list of shot types for you to play with and perhaps we will be able to return to discuss them in more detail at a later date.

Back Lighting is exactly what it sounds like, putting the part or all of the lighting source behind the subject to highlight their outline in light. In using light this way it is possible to capture silhouettes; Wash-out or over expose the back ground (giving a different appearance to the location); Add an infinite amount of light around your subject without making a harsh contrast in shadow and Vignetting. All of these options have more to do with camera settings than lighting, although lighting is still required. So enjoy your time playing with these things; now we will work more on the theory and practical work of Back Lighting.

Necessary equipment:

  • Reflector
  • Flash
  • Studio lights
  • Soft box
  • Bright light source in the background (it is cheaper to work with multiple light sources)
  • Tripod
  • Remote Shutter Release

Setting up your camera for success.

  • High aperture
  • Low ISO
  • Moderate shutter speed (1/10th – 1 second)
  • Prime focal lens (50mm optimal for portraits)

A slow shutter speed is not required for any reason other than to make sure the subject is properly exposed rather than the background. Feel free to shorten the shutter speed if you have enough light to do so. Obviously I know a small amount about photography, but just because I know something does not guarantee that I know everything. So play with you camera settings and have a ball getting the best photos you can!