Nikon Know-how

This is­sue, our Nikon ex­pert ex­plains why ex­pe­ri­ence is so im­por­tant when it comes to nail­ing ex­po­sure

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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.

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Un­der­stand­ing ex­po­sure is the key to cap­tur­ing de­tails in all parts of a scene

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