Con­trol the light

Still-life shots need ex­tra care and at­ten­tion to de­tail

NPhoto - - The Manual On Manual -

Auto mode might seem like the easy op­tion, but man­ual mode will be sim­plest in the long run

Still-life sub­jects can pro­duce some beau­ti­ful pic­tures, but also some un­ex­pected ex­po­sure prob­lems. The fact is that the light me­ter built into any cam­era can only mea­sure the light re­flected from your sub­ject. It can’t tell a pale sub­ject from a dark one, so it has to as­sume ev­ery­thing you shoot has a kind of aver­age grey tone. So if you’ve ever won­dered why your bride’s wed­ding dress has come out grey, or why a soot-stained loco comes out a muddy mid-tone rather than a dense black, this is why.

There is an­other is­sue. Ev­ery time you re­ar­range your props or swap a dark sub­ject for a light one, the cam­era will re­cal­cu­late the ex­po­sure, even though the light­ing hasn’t changed. The fact is, once you’ve set up your scene, you only have to mea­sure the ex­po­sure once. From then on, you can keep us­ing that same ex­po­sure. Auto mode might seem like the easy op­tion, but man­ual mode will be sim­plest in the long run.

Man­ual mode be­comes even more use­ful when you start ex­per­i­ment­ing with your own light­ing set­ups. Our main im­age was shot us­ing the light from a win­dow, but you can also light your sub­jects with LED lamps, flash or any other kind of light source you have to hand. You can even light your sub­ject and your back­ground separately to cre­ate vivid con­trasts of light and colour. This is where your cam­era’s ex­po­sure me­ter may start to strug­gle. It is pos­si­ble to use the spot me­ter­ing mode and some men­tal maths to work out the cor­rect ex­po­sure – or you could take the sim­ple op­tion, switch to man­ual and use trial and er­ror.

The beauty of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy is its flex­i­bil­ity. You can shoot an im­age, check it on the cam­era’s LCD dis­play, make any nec­es­sary ad­just­ments to the ex­po­sure set­tings and shoot it again.

■ Some­times it’s eas­ier to choose ex­po­sure set­tings which are more or less right, then change the dis­tance and the an­gle of your lights to fine-tune the strength and bal­ance of the light­ing. You can only do this in man­ual.

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