Light is Everything!

[-2..-1..0..+1..+2]

Everyone is naturally afraid of M (Manual Mode). Why? Because it is intimidating as all get out to have to “do the math” that your camera’s computer normally does for you. But, I have found that finally breaking the threshold and shooting manual can be quite exciting and a great way to learn about nailing proper exposures.

There is somewhat of a dance that goes on between “the trinity” of exposure. ISO + F Stop + Shutter Speed. These three variables interact making the camera produce an image. Helping know this quasi-technical information has helped me to FINALLY grasp why my images were sometimes blurry when I shot my 50mm prime handheld.

The handiest thing in the world is the light meter in your camera. It helps you know where your image is going to come out – is it too dark (under exposed) or is it too light (over exposed) or, is it like baby-bear’s bed – just right? πŸ˜‰ When the balance between ISO, F Stop & Shutter Speed is reached, the meter reads 0. You know that your exposure is where it should be for a “properly” exposed image.

I was trying this out the other day shooting some indoor natural light candid shots with my 50mm prime lens. I had set my F Stop at 6.3 and my Shutter Speed at 1/30. The light meter was bang on for a proper exposure. Click, Click, Click! When I looked at the image, it was blurry. Huh. Why?? The meter was balanced. But the Shutter Speed was too slow to produce a sharp image (hand held with no VR). Aperture Priority mode also failed me, even though it bumped the shutter up to 1/60 – it still wasn’t enough to make the shot happen due to camera shake/photographer unsteadiness.

Behold! The handheld rule! This finally made sense for me when I started shooting in M and paying attention to my meter. The rule of thumb for handheld is that your shutter speed must be *AT LEAST* 1/focal length of your lens. Which on a 50mm would be at least 1/50. But, there is one other factor to figure in on DX bodies – a cropped sensor. On Nikon, you need to times your focal length by 1.5 to figure this out. 50mm becomes 75mm! So, you need a shutter speed of at least 1/80 to make the shot sharp. A 300mm on a DX body, is 450mm, so you’d need 1/500 to get a sharp exposure. Tripods & VR change all this, but for photographers shooting handheld shots in natural light, this rule is a must to follow. When I cranked my shutter speed up to 1/100 and altered my F Stop to give me a balanced exposure, viola! Sharp, properly exposed images were the result.

Normally, I shoot in A mode and let the camera do the math. But every once in a while, it’s nice to grab the bull by the horns and jump into M. Trust your meter and the handheld rule of thumb and you’ll be well on your way to being an exposure ninja. πŸ˜‰

PS: if you want to visualize “the dance” check out this website and experiment with shutter speeds and F stops

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4 responses

  1. Lia

    Metering to -0- doesn’t work for me in most instances. I am emailing you a tutorial on metering that changed things for me. I also find that my Rebel XTi tends to underexpose so I lean even more to the right (may be left on Nikon/Sony/others).

    January 18, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    • The article was interesting. I have not experienced problems with underexposed images, either with my older D80 or my current D300s. I always leave my meter on matrix – it’s a whole database at your finger tips. The only time I use spot metering is when the scene is extremes of light and dark or a backlit subject that I don’t want silhouetted. The meter can be fooled by extreme light, but on all the landscape shots I do, I go with matrix and the end result is usually bang on. Portraits are another matter, as indicated in the article. Grey cards, in my opinion, are obsolete. With the advent of camera RAW (which is all I shoot in) I have complete control of white balance anyways in post. But if you want bang on exposure in camera (which is always desirable), expodiscs are the way to go. But this is for serious professionals. Back to landscapes, most serious landscape guys like Tony Sweet or Moose Peterson and others are always using filters that mess with metered exposure anyways. Neutral Density filters, polarizers, etc. they all will affect the meter and thus “proper” exposures. The meter isn’t fool proof, but it gives the photographer a place to start from and I would say, in MOST cases, is bang on for me – unless I am trying to purposely accomplish a different effect in the image.

      January 19, 2011 at 3:59 am

  2. Lia

    I have my camera set to “evaluative” metering which I believe corresponds to “matrix” on your Nikon. (????) And I still must increase exposure in post processing on virtually all of my photos – even though I have already metered in camera to a stop or two towards the “+” side on the meter. I’d sure love to have better SOOC photos. — without switching to Nikon!!! πŸ˜‰ Any other suggestions?

    January 19, 2011 at 4:56 am

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