GET IN THE ZONE

Scenes con­tain a range of tones, not just one

NPhoto - - Special Feature -

Your cam­era’s auto-ex­po­sure modes give you a quick and easy way to get the ex­po­sure more or less right, but there’s an­other ap­proach that can get you much closer to the pic­ture you imag­ined. It’s based on the ‘zone sys­tem’ in­vented by the revered black-and-white land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher Ansel Adams. He split scenes up into 11 dif­fer­ent bright­ness val­ues and worked out his ex­po­sures so that the right parts of the scene fell in the right zones.

Ansel Adams’ method is pretty com­pli­cated and takes prac­tice, but your Nikon D-SLR en­ables you to use the same ideas in a much sim­pler way us­ing the ex­po­sure bar on the cam­era’s LCD.

Ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion

Think of the cen­tre po­si­tion on the ex­po­sure bar as be­ing an aver­age grey tone, the -1EV set­ting as be­ing a darker grey, and the -2EV set­ting as be­ing the dark­est ar­eas where you can still see some de­tail. Sim­i­larly, on the other side of the scale the +1EV set­ting cor­re­sponds to a lighter tone and the +2EV set­ting is the light­est pos­si­ble tone where there’s still some vis­i­ble de­tail, with­out be­ing blown out.

For ex­am­ple, if you’re tak­ing a por­trait shot you might de­cide your sub­ject’s skin should be lighter than the aver­age grey tone, so set your Nikon to spot me­ter­ing mode (see our walk­through be­low), place the aut­o­fo­cus (spot me­ter­ing) point over your sub­ject’s face and ad­just the ex­po­sure so that the marker is at the +1EV set­ting. Or, if you’re pho­tograph­ing a dark-toned sub­ject like a vase or fo­liage, and you want it to be darker than the aver­age grey tone, set ad­just the ex­po­sure so that the marker is at the -1EV set­ting.

If you’re shoot­ing a land­scape where you want to be sure of cap­tur­ing some de­tail in the sky, use a spot me­ter read­ing for the sky and set the ex­po­sure bar to +2EV. The sky will be bright, but not com­pletely blown out. You can’t use this ‘zone’ ap­proach for ev­ery scene – there may not al­ways be time to take read­ings, or the con­trast may be too high and would turn the rest of the scene black – but it’s a great way of vi­su­al­is­ing your ex­po­sures and mak­ing sure that ob­jects ap­pear with ex­actly the bright­ness you in­tended.

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