Expose for shadows/highlights

Started 2 months ago | Discussions thread
peripheralfocus Veteran Member • Posts: 4,685
the metering part of your question

brandon77 wrote:

I have heard many people talking about exposing for shadows and highlights in film photography, and how it can make quite a big difference to photos.

Several other posters correctly explained that it's generally good to expose for shadows with negative film (color or black-and-white), and expose for highlights with slide film.

But they didn't answer the metering part. The advice to "expose for shadows or highlights" assumes that you're working from a nominally correct exposure calculation. So then ...

If I am using a camera with metering in it how would I go about this, or combine both together? mainly shoot people

Your camera's meter is what's known as a reflected light meter -- i.e. it reads light reflected from the subject, not the light that's actually falling on the subject. That very often introduces what I'll call 'errors' into the metering process, meaning the meter will recommend an exposure that shifts dark objects towards gray (by recommending too much exposure), or shifts white objects towards gray (by recommending too little exposure), or gives you a correct exposure for the wrong object (backlit scenes, for example, often do this, causing the meter to give an appropriate exposure for the background, not the subject).

If your camera has an automatic exposure mode (program, aperture-priority, or shutter-priority), the meter doesn't just recommend, it actually controls the camera, so it makes its errors, if any, happen directly without your involvement.

You don't specify the camera you're using, or whether you're using it in auto or manual exposure mode. But in broad terms, you need to have an idea of what the meter is likely to do with any scene (this takes practice with your specific camera), so you can subtract its errors from the exposure calculation. Then, after subtracting out the meter's errors, you can add exposure for shadows, or subtract exposure for highlights. Again, this takes practice.

As a very rough shortcut, with most cameras and most negative films, you can just add a stop, or even two stops, of exposure to what the meter wants you to do for most scenes. This should be safe for the vast majority of portraits. You can do this manually or, if you're using auto exposure, by setting the exposure compensation feature to +1.

If you're looking at a scene that is dominated by dark tones, your meter will overexpose it anyway, and you don't need to add any exposure. (I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it's true.) So, if you're shooting a half-body portrait of a person in black clothing, and it's not backlit, your meter (assuming it's not a spot meter) will automatically give you a generous exposure for the shadows.

However, there are scenes where rough-and-ready rules like this won't work great (backlit, as I mentioned, but others, too.)

And nothing that rough will work with slide films. For slide films, you have to understand how your meter is interpreting the scene you are pointing it at. (But don't shoot portraits with slide film.) Some very modern multi-segment metering systems made from the mid-1990s on could expose slide film fairly well a lot of the time without human intervention, so if you have one of those cameras, you might be okay without doing any correcting. At least a lot of the time.

Post (hide subjects) Posted by
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum PPrevious NNext WNext unread UUpvote SSubscribe RReply QQuote BBookmark MMy threads
Color scheme? Blue / Yellow