How To Get Good Exposures With Your DSLR
by William Lulow
Many photographers today simply rely on their DSLRs to give them good exposures. They set their cameras to measure overall exposure or to pick out parts of the subject from which they take their readings.
In one of my articles, I spoke about using light meters (which is rarely done these days) to get more accurate readings. However, even accurate meters can’t decide for you how the subject should look. Only you can do that. So, I use an INCIDENT meter to get a good approximation of the light that’s falling on the subject. Then I tweak it a bit by deciding whether I want the subject lighter, darker, certain colors to be rendered deeper in hue, the sky to be darkened or any other part of the subject to be emphasized.
The same can be done using the camera’s built-in metering system. I don’t always use the incident meter, but I always decide how I want the subject to look. So, if I’m using the camera’s meter, I use it as a starting point. Then, based on what I want the subject to look like, I adjust exposure, possible filtration and exposure accordingly. Every once in a while, my camera’s automatic settings get the job done. Usually, I have to adjust the exposure settings a bit. I only use the bracket system when I’m really in doubt as to what I want the image to look like. Many camera manuals tell you that bracketing exposures is the way to ensure you’ll get a proper exposure. I don’t like to waste a lot of disc space on bracketed exposures. They have to be edited later in production. I prefer to have images that are all correctly exposed. There is a lot that Photoshop can help you with on the production end, but it’s always better to get it right with the camera in the first place.
So, here is my regimen: I look at a scene (subject) and decide BEFORE I SHOOT, how I want it to be rendered. I will take an incident reading of the scene and set my camera to one of the choices of aperture and shutter speed (depending on what I’m shooting) with the camera on MANUAL. I will then look at the LCD image. If I think the exposure shows everything I want to show, I’ll leave it. If I’m using the camera’s meter, I will use the camera’s exposure indicator (in the viewfinder) to get a starting point. Then, I will tweak the exposure making sure I get the saturation I’m looking for (slight underexposure), or depth of field or stopped action.
All the settings I use are based on what my creative thought processes are telling me about the scene. I always try to think first before I shoot. I’m interested in getting the exposure correct in the camera and not having to adjust it later in Photoshop.
This scene was metered in the camera and then adjusted to bring out the detail in the closest rocks. I used a modified Zone System by choosing the middle colored rocks to land on Zone V. Then let the others find whatever zones they would. The fact that the rocks in the background were dark was the way I saw this scene. I wanted to emphasize the near rocks and have the background ones dark. It was shot in MONOCHROME mode as an original Black & White image.