Expose for shadows/highlights

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
Autonerd Senior Member • Posts: 1,964
Re: another simple idea I should have mentioned

brandon77 wrote:

Got it:) What if I just ignore the in camera meter altogether, and go and buy a handheld measure to use instead. Ir seems like this will make things much easier?

This is always a better idea, because the light meter measures the light falling on the scene rather than the light getting reflected into the camera. Also, the camera doesn't know what it's looking at, and tries to render it all as 18% gray. So a very dark scene (black car against a navy blue wall) will be overexposed and a very light scene (whitewashed buildings) will be underexposed.

You can also use the Sunny 16 rule -- it works really well. From your photo, it looks like you're shooting on a bright California (Florida?) day. So if you're shooting Portra 400, your exposure will be around 1/500 @ f/16 (or some equivalent -- 1/250 @ f/22, 1/1000 @ f/8, etc.).

Color film has a lot of latitude so a stop out of whack won't make much of a difference -- the exposure set by the scanner (or printing machine) will generally compensate. If in doubt, bracket (shoot one stop over and one under).

I'm a bit surprised your model's torso was blown out -- it was being struck by the same light as the trees behind. Seems more like a scanning issue to me.

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Editorial comment: Some people who say "Expose for the shadows" are really just misunderstanding Ansel Adams' Zone System, which involves treating exposure, development and printing as a complete system. You expose for the shadows, yes -- but then you compensate by altering development. Easy to do with B&W film, but color is a standardized process so it gets trickier to push/pull (i.e. over/underdevelop).

Me, I wouldn't bother -- a hand-held incident light meter measuring the light hitting your subject will give you about the right exposure. Or the Sunny 16 rule, which, the more I use, the more I like.

Me, I try not to overcomplicate things -- I leave that to digital photography, which is well suited. With film, I prefer to simplify. Most of the time I go with the indicated exposure. There's enough "information" on the negative to compensate in scanning, printing or post-production.

You can look at my Flicker film albums (link below) and decide for yourself if I'm worth listening to.


PS -- If you want to expose for the shadows, you can get nice and close with your camera and take a meter reading, then walk back and re-frame the shot and shoot. Keep in mind the meter wants to render everything as middle gray, and that will mostly work for Caucasian skin tones, but won't do much for very dark or very bright fabric.


My Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aarongold/

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