Why Exposing to the Right (ETTR) is BAD!

Started Mar 30, 2013 | Discussions thread
jwkphoto Forum Member • Posts: 72
Re: (ETTR) is BAD! How Tim Grey does it!

I know this may sound very old fashioned but when I make a portrait for a customer I photograph in manual mode and I use a flash meter to measure the background light and a separate reading for the flash. This way I get a perfect exposure every time.

As for ETTR, this is a reply from Tim Grey a few days ago on this subject. If you haven't already, I suggest all photographers here sign up for his daily newsletter at http://www.timgrey.com/asktimgrey/

Today's Question: In a recent Ask Tim Grey question about exposing to the right, I have a question. When you are shooting this way are you using aperture preferred and evaluative/matrix metering or manual and spot metering to the brightest part?

Tim's Answer: It actually doesn't matter how you establish your exposure settings, only what those settings end up being.
Exposing to the right simply means you are exposing an image as brightly as possible without losing highlight detail. In other words, the histogram display will be shifted to the right, but without clipping and without any "blinkies" indicating lost highlight detail in the preview image on your camera's LCD.
Exposure is the product of three settings: lens aperture, shutter speed, and ISO setting. Metering modes and exposure modes are simply a method of establishing those settings. In manual mode you take full control over all three settings, and thus bear the responsibility for evaluating the scene, the metering, and other factors to determine the optimal settings.
With aperture priority mode, you specify the aperture and the ISO, and the camera establishes the shutter speed based on the metering, which of course depends upon the metering mode you've selected.
Which metering mode and exposure mode you choose only changes how you go about establishing your exposure settings. If you assume a fixed ISO and aperture, there is only one right shutter speed if we assume an "expose to the right" goal for the exposure. The question then becomes, what is the fastest or more efficient or most dependable method of achieving that proper exposure. There is no one right answer about which approach you should take (despite what some photographers might suggest).
I personally use aperture priority mode and evaluative metering mode the vast majority of the time, utilizing exposure compensation to shift the exposure as needed based on how the meter handles the scene. Over my many years of photography I've gotten to be pretty good at anticipating what exposure compensation I need for a given situation, so this approach works very well for me.
In situations where I am photographing a specific subject against a changing background (for example, a bird in flight) then I'll utilize manual exposure mode, because it is much more likely that I'll want to ignore the camera's metering as the background (and thus overall tonality of the scene) changes. As long as the light remains consistent, the exposure for the subject doesn't change (or doesn't change much), and thus the exposure settings will tend to remain more fixed. Manual exposure mode is obviously helpful in this type of situation.
But these approaches under various circumstances simply make sense to me. Other photographers prefer a different approach. And that's perfectly fine. Whatever approach enables you to quickly establish optimal exposure settings with confidence is a good method. I think the most important thing is to maintain an understanding of the behavior of your camera and the various modes available. For example, you want to understand how the evaluative metering mode behaves compared to the spot metering mode, so you can anticipate when you need to override the camera's opinion about exposure. In other words, as always, knowing your equipment can make all the difference in the world.

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