If you’re using your camera on auto mode then you can still learn a great deal about light and good exposures. You can also control it and use it for creative effect and better quality images.
In the previous blog post in this series I discussed what is a good exposure. Now you know what you want your photo to look like, how do you get control over that in auto mode?
How does your auto mode camera guess the exposure?
In auto mode most cameras will try to set an average exposure for the dominant part of the image. It will ignore small areas of very bright or very dark – whether you want it to or not. The camera will take an average from the biggest area of the photo. If most of your image is medium brightness, then this might work out just fine. But if you have got bright sun or high contrast, then it could easily go wrong. That’s why the baby’s face is in darkness in the photo example below.
Try half pressing the button or tapping the screen
On DSLR, compact or bridge camera you can usually half-press the shutter button to see what your camera is going to do. The camera may draw a box around the area of the photo it thinks is most important. Chances are the camera will use these areas for exposure as well as focus.
On a phone you can tap the screen to select the part of the photo where you want it to focus and expose. You can take some test shots and see which part of the image gives you the best exposure, and which part has not turned out so well.
Taking test shots to find the best exposure
These two photos below are taken moments apart but one has exposed for the buildings and the other for the sky. I think they are both failures. There are only very bright and very dark areas and it is all high contrast. There is no area of medium brightness.
What can you do in this situation? Perhaps take a different photo altogether. You could change your composition to leave out most of the sky or leave out the foreground. Alternatively shoot in RAW and see if you can rescue it in Lightroom, which requires a whole other set of skills!
Take back some control on a bright day
If you are not getting what you want, your best option is to move the camera, and probably your feet as well.
To get the best exposure photo of the baby, I moved around so the sun was behind me. I took her hat off for a moment so there was light her face. Of course that means she is squinting a bit in the brightness.
So next I moved around again so the sun was off to the side. There is a shadow across her face but it’s only slight. The whole photo has quite an even tone because I have avoided getting the bright sky in the shot. There’s little contrast in the background, which makes life easy.
A good exposure for landscape shots
One last example is this shot of a river and autumn trees. The river on the left and the trees on the right are almost black. The central water and sky are very bright but there is a big area of trees near the middle which are a medium tone. It’s these trees which make the exposure successful. I exposed for the trees, and the whole photo turned out well.
Select the right area of a photo to set the best exposure. Especially for portraits, make sure that your subject is not one of the very darkest or very brightest areas of the shot. Move your photoshoot to an area with even, medium light.
For a landscape you may need to make a feature of the land and leave the sky too bright (“blown out”), or make a feature of the sky and leave the land in darkness.
If you have any questions please get in touch or leave a comment below. I do read them all.