This issue, our Nikon expert explains why experience is so important when it comes to nailing exposure
Photography expert Michael Freeman explores the intricacies of exposure
With the choice of metering methods available, including Nikon’s excellent 3D Color Matrix metering system (which compares the pattern of brightness in the frame with a database of over 30,000 images) there should be nothing getting in the way of
perfect exposures every time. Nothing, that is, except the crucial ingredient of what you personally want the final image to look like.
Many professionals bypass the uncertainty of confronting a new exposure situation by relying on their experience, comparing the new scene with what they’ve done before. They also tend to stick to one exposure mode so that they’re familiar with its shortcomings, and know when to trust it, and when to override it – a straw poll of editorial photographers reveals, unsurprisingly, that most use aperture-priority mode.
Essentially, exposure can be boiled down to 12 basic situations, in three groups (see page 78). The starting point is simple, and looks at the dynamic range of the scene, and your camera sensor’s ability to capture all of the tones in it, from the darkest to the brightest: a typical, evenly-lit scene will just fit the dynamic range of your sensor, more or less – that’s one group; or, if it’s flat and obviously lacking in contrast, it will easily fit – that’s group two. The third group, where most of the problems lie, is when the scene is so contrasty that it’s out of range, and your sensor isn’t able to capture every tone from dark to bright: expose it so there’s plenty of detail in the darkest shadows, and the brightest highlights will blow out (think of a landscape at sunset); expose for the highlights and the shadows will be plunged into darkness.
There’s an exposure strategy for each group, and these rely on identifying the important tone in the scene. This is the ‘key tone’, and it means what part of the subject is important to you, and how bright you want it to be – it could be a face, for example, but is the subject’s skin pale or dark? Or is the sunlit or shadowed part of a building more important? These decisions are what make your photography personal, so make your own shooting experience the driver for setting the exposure.
Understanding exposure is the key to capturing details in all parts of a scene