Posts Tagged ‘photography lighting’

Zero Your Meter for Foolproof Manual Exposure

July 26, 2013

Here’s a quick, foolproof way to correctly set shutter speed and aperture values for manual exposures.

When your camera is in manual mode you’ve disabled its ability to set shutter speed and aperture values for you. However, the camera’s meter is still active, and as long as flash is not involved, you can still use this sophisticated metering system to help you choose the correct values.

I recently helped a coaching client set up a small studio to photograph still life compositions. To keep lighting setups simple, she will be using continuous light—not flash.

Photo 1 - Basic Set

Photo 1 – Basic Setup

Photo 1 shows the basic setup. We will be using a single compact fluorescent light fixture with a 42” white shoot-through umbrella at camera left as a key light, and a silver reflector at camera right for fill.

Once our subject is in place (in this case an orchid) and the key light and reflector are positioned the way we want, it’s time to select an aperture and shutter speed combination that  will give us a correct exposure.

The question you may be asking right now is, “Why use manual mode at all, why not use aperture or shutter priority?”

The answer is you could, but you will be relying on the camera to set the correct exposure in what is a typical situation where the camera’s reflective meter will likely be fooled. If you want to know why, take a look at my blog post, Metering 101.

In a still life composition, depth of field is much more important than shutter speed. We will begin by selecting an aperture of f/16, which should provide the desired depth of field.

Now let’s use the camera’s meter to select a shutter speed, but let’s make sure the meter gets it right. We’ll do this by metering off of a value known to the camera—a value that will not fool the meter—18% gray.

Photo 2- 18% Gray Card

Photo 2- 18% Gray Card

Photo 2 shows an 18% Gray Card standing in for our subject on the posing table. Now it’s time to “Zero” the camera’s meter.

  • First, make sure all the camera sees is the gray card. Either zoom in or move the camera closer so that all you see through the viewfinder is the gray card.
  • Next, depress your shutter release part way so that your meter is active.
  • Now check your camera’s exposure level indicator. This is the same plus/minus scale you use to set exposure compensation in Shutter and Aperture Priority Modes. Most cameras will display the indicator in two places; on the LCD info screen (see Photo 3), and in the viewfinder.
Photo 3- Minus 1

Photo 3- Minus 1

  • As displayed in Photo 3, note that at a shutter speed of 1-second at f/16 the indicator hash mark registers at Minus 1. The meter is telling us we are one stop underexposed.
  • Last, “Zero” the meter by changing the shutter speed setting until the index hash mark is registered dead center at the “Zero.”  (Note: if the indicator disappears, tap the shutter release button to activate the meter again.) As you can see in Photo 4 by changing the shutter speed to two seconds the hash mark now registers at zero, indicating a correct exposure.
Photo 4- Meter At Zero

Photo 4- Meter At Zero

Once you have done this a time or two you’ll see how easy it is to set a correct exposure using a gray card in manual mode.

From a studio still life composition, to a natural light portrait, I use this method whenever I am photographing a subject illuminated by a continuous light source.

Give it a try!

Until next time,

Randy

Sample Image With Light Setup

Sample Image With Light Setup

Showing Texture and Detail in Your Photographs

July 9, 2013

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Question: Why am I lighting this photograph from the side?

Answer: To make sure the subject’s texture and detail (a painting in this case) show in the photograph!

The key to showing texture and detail in a photograph is directional lighting.

Flat Versus Directional Lighting

Let’s keep this simple; flat lighting is light that comes from the camera position, think camera mounted flash. Directional lighting is everything else.

  • Flat light coming from (or directly behind) the camera’s position eliminates shadows. No shadows mean no texture and lack of detail in the photograph.
  • Directional light is light originating from the left or right of the camera position. It shows texture and detail by creating highlights and shadows. This presence of highlight and shadow allows us to see depth and shape, and thus the texture and detail present in the subject of our photograph.

Take a look at the three sets of photographs below (click to enlarge). These pictures are close-ups of acrylic paintings done on canvas.

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As you can see from the Side Lit images, the artist creates a lot of texture and detail in her paintings. However, that texture and detail all but disappear when the light source is moved to the Front Lit camera position.

Above, I have included a photograph of the lighting setup. I positioned the light source at 90-degrees to camera right to show maximum texture in the image. To show less texture I could move the light towards the camera to a 30-45 degree position. To eliminate texture completely I would place the light directly behind the camera creating a flat light similar to a hot shoe mounted flash.

Directional light is necessary whenever it is important to show your subject’s texture, detail, and shape in your photograph.

  • This is why landscape and architectural photographers won’t photograph with the sun behind them.
  • It’s why portrait photographers seldom employ a key light at the camera position.
  • And why product photographers light products with directional light sources.

Give directional light a try. Position your subject so the main light source is coming from the side, i.e., from 30-90 degrees camera right or left. Watch how the play of shadow and highlight allow your camera to capture the texture, detail, and shape of your subject.

Take the same photograph with the light source at or directly behind the camera position. Notice how the flat light evenly illuminates the subject. The resulting lack of shadows eliminates texture, detail, and shape in the photograph.

Additional Information:

Creating Shape and Depth with Directional Light

Off-camera Flash For Portraiture

Until next time…

All the best,

Randy