There’s actually a huge amount of flexibility and tactics which you can employ to control your exposure when taking photos in auto mode. I will start by keeping it very simple, and introduce more tips and tricks in future blog posts.
This blog series on auto mode is packed with tips to get you off the starting blocks with improving your photography, but you can read the posts in any order. For example the first blog post was about camera angles and holds, and last week I wrote about composition.
Why does exposure matter?
When someone looks at your photo their eye will be drawn to one area more than the rest. You want that part of the photo to be the most important; the subject. Perhaps it’s someone’s face, or a feature in the landscape. When half a photo is in darkness, including the most interesting part, it is a real turn-off for the viewer.
What are you trying to achieve with a good exposure?
The best exposures for photographs will show the main subject clearly, without some other part of the image fighting for the viewer’s attention. A good exposure doesn’t have too much pure white or pure black (unless you’re going for an arty effect that requires it). Overall, a good exposure either has a balance of dark and light areas, or a majority of the image is a medium tone.
Above all, you don’t want to be looking at the final image and saying things like “what a pity her face is in darkness” or “what a pity the sun was too bright”.
Places to take photos where exposure is easier
A cloudy or hazy day makes everything evenly lit and easy to photograph, as long as it’s still fairly bright. Indoors by a window can work well if the sun is not shining directly in. White surfaces will bounce light around and diffuse it to be more even. On a sunny day, the shade under a tree will work well.
In summary, the easiest places to take a photo are places with plenty of light, but not hard shadows.
It’s a good idea to practice looking at the light, and judging it. Is it bright enough? Is it hazy or diffused? Is my subject sitting half in shadow? Are the surroundings too much in contrast?
These two street scene photographs show the difference between hard shadows and diffuse light. It was easy to get a good exposure on a cloudy day in Haworth but the sunshine and shadows of the New York photo meant that I had to decide whether to leave the buildings in darkness and make a feature of the skyline, or have the sky too bright so that the street-level scene looked correct. Normally I would not make a feature of the skyline, but this was New York, where the skyline matters!
To learn, become aware
As I say, the first step in learning about exposure is to practice your awareness of light. Analyse the scene before you and the shots you’ve tried to take. Think about contrast, brightness, shadow and even tones. Make a mental note of what is easy, and what is hard.
I’ll continue with tips and methods for good exposure when this blog series on auto mode photography continues. If you have any feedback on the series so far please do let me know in a message or the comments below.