Expose for shadows/highlights

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brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Expose for shadows/highlights

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

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

Thanks

just Tony
just Tony Veteran Member • Posts: 3,440
Re: Expose for shadows/highlights
2

Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights.

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Gregm61 Forum Pro • Posts: 15,831
Re: Expose for shadows/highlights
4

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

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

Thanks

There is no one “right” answer.

Color negative film, b&w film or slides?

With color negative or black & white film, expose for the shadows. Both types have quite a bit of room in the highlights to hold those details, but dark tones underexposed do not hold up well.

If slide film, expose for highlights. Overexposed highlights in slides are pretty much gone so you want to avoid that unless you’re out for a certain look.

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Bags27 Senior Member • Posts: 1,325
Re: Expose for shadows/highlights

Shooting B&W film is the exact opposite of shooting digital. In digital, it's easy to recover the shadows, but highlights, once blown, are usually lost. In film, pullin details out of the shadows is the challenge.

The easiest way to think about this with B&W film is to expose 1 stop over, to make sure shadows get all the light they need, and then cut development time by ~10% (experience will tell you, depending on film, developer, contrast in the original photos, and your taste) in order to make sure the highlights stay under control.

It goes back to the zone system in which you meter the shadows, and the meter automatically places the shadows in zone V (18% grey). But then highlights could get lost, and you want your shadows in zone III. So, overexpose by 2 stops (moving shadows from zone V to zone III) and develop normally. But film today has more latitude and what I wrote above is really all we need to do.

With color negative film, shoot box speed. But play around with over and under since, depending on the film, it can give you different, and pleasing to you, aesthetics. A lot of people like to overexpose color film by a stop or even more.

peripheralfocus Veteran Member • Posts: 4,736
right, except that it's underexpose

Bags27 wrote:

It goes back to the zone system in which you meter the shadows, and the meter automatically places the shadows in zone V (18% grey). But then highlights could get lost, and you want your shadows in zone III. So, overexpose by 2 stops (moving shadows from zone V to zone III) and develop normally.

This is right, except that you made an inadvertent error. To move shadows from Zone V to Zone III, you underexpose by 2 stops from the meter reading -- i.e. you need to reduce the exposure by two stops from what the meter is recommending, by choosing a faster shutter speed, a narrower aperture, or a combination of both (or even by using a neutral density filter).

As you know (but the OP may not), if you point a reflected light meter at a black object (shadows), it will recommend an exposure that will reproduce the object as gray (i.e. lighter than it is). To reproduce it as black, we have to reduce the exposure from whatever was recommended by the meter.

peripheralfocus Veteran Member • Posts: 4,736
the metering part of your question
4

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.

Bags27 Senior Member • Posts: 1,325
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

peripheralfocus wrote:

Bags27 wrote:

It goes back to the zone system in which you meter the shadows, and the meter automatically places the shadows in zone V (18% grey). But then highlights could get lost, and you want your shadows in zone III. So, overexpose by 2 stops (moving shadows from zone V to zone III) and develop normally.

This is right, except that you made an inadvertent error. To move shadows from Zone V to Zone III, you underexpose by 2 stops from the meter reading -- i.e. you need to reduce the exposure by two stops from what the meter is recommending, by choosing a faster shutter speed, a narrower aperture, or a combination of both (or even by using a neutral density filter).

As you know (but the OP may not), if you point a reflected light meter at a black object (shadows), it will recommend an exposure that will reproduce the object as gray (i.e. lighter than it is). To reproduce it as black, we have to reduce the exposure from whatever was recommended by the meter.

Thanks, good catch! Of course, to push the shadows down, they need less, not more, light.

peripheralfocus Veteran Member • Posts: 4,736
another simple idea I should have mentioned

You can also use your feet or your zoom lens, if you have one, to concentrate the meter's reading on the shadow or highlight you care about.

I'll talk about about doing this with shadows: If your meter reads the whole area that you can see in the viewfinder, then walk up to the part of the scene that contains the darkest shadow that is important to you. Or, if you have a zoom lens, then zoom into that area. Fill the frame with that shadow and see what the meter recommends. (If your camera has a spot meter, then just place the spot on the shadow tone.)

Most of the time, you can just use that recommended exposure. Technically, it will overexpose the shadow, but usually that's no problem. Still, if you're worried about it, you can reduce the exposure by one or two stops from what the meter recommends, and you'll still be fine. You will have "exposed for the shadows".

In a portrait, for example, if your subject is wearing a dark jacket, and you care about getting detail in that jacket, just walk up (or zoom in), fill the viewfinder frame with the jacket, set the exposure according to the meter's recommendation, then back up and shoot the picture. Or set the exposure one stop darker than the meter's recommendation. Either setting would provide a generous exposure for the shadows, and highlights would be very unlikely to blow out (on negative film).

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: Expose for shadows/highlights

Bags27 wrote:

Shooting B&W film is the exact opposite of shooting digital. In digital, it's easy to recover the shadows, but highlights, once blown, are usually lost. In film, pullin details out of the shadows is the challenge.

The easiest way to think about this with B&W film is to expose 1 stop over, to make sure shadows get all the light they need, and then cut development time by ~10% (experience will tell you, depending on film, developer, contrast in the original photos, and your taste) in order to make sure the highlights stay under control.

It goes back to the zone system in which you meter the shadows, and the meter automatically places the shadows in zone V (18% grey). But then highlights could get lost, and you want your shadows in zone III. So, overexpose by 2 stops (moving shadows from zone V to zone III) and develop normally. But film today has more latitude and what I wrote above is really all we need to do.

With color negative film, shoot box speed. But play around with over and under since, depending on the film, it can give you different, and pleasing to you, aesthetics. A lot of people like to overexpose color film by a stop or even more.

Thanks. I tried overexposing and my subject got blown out. The rest of the scene was fine. At box speed I didn’t get the look I was after, as I like lower contrast. I use portra 400

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

peripheralfocus wrote:

Bags27 wrote:

It goes back to the zone system in which you meter the shadows, and the meter automatically places the shadows in zone V (18% grey). But then highlights could get lost, and you want your shadows in zone III. So, overexpose by 2 stops (moving shadows from zone V to zone III) and develop normally.

This is right, except that you made an inadvertent error. To move shadows from Zone V to Zone III, you underexpose by 2 stops from the meter reading -- i.e. you need to reduce the exposure by two stops from what the meter is recommending, by choosing a faster shutter speed, a narrower aperture, or a combination of both (or even by using a neutral density filter).

As you know (but the OP may not), if you point a reflected light meter at a black object (shadows), it will recommend an exposure that will reproduce the object as gray (i.e. lighter than it is). To reproduce it as black, we have to reduce the exposure from whatever was recommended by the meter.

Yes this is the part I’m confused by. This photo is a good location of me trying to rate  my film one stop more, and looking at the meeting in camera only. I have seen many other people shoot in the same conditions and the subject doesn’t get blown out.

Having shot in shade I also get mixed results

What would be the best way for me to metre scenes and know it’s correct before shooting, knowing I have the matte inside. Do I get a handheld one and just ignore that?

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: the metering part of your question

peripheralfocus wrote:

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.

Yes I thought so too watching various videos with people doing that, Though this was the result I got. In other conditions similar results

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.)

I am using a Pentax K1000 which is manual only. This does seems quite confusing 🥴 - Thankyou though

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.

Svein Eriksen Senior Member • Posts: 2,277
Re: right, except that it's underexpose
1

How did you convert this to digital? Agree it's too bright, but I doubt there are blown highlights.

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: another simple idea I should have mentioned

peripheralfocus wrote:

You can also use your feet or your zoom lens, if you have one, to concentrate the meter's reading on the shadow or highlight you care about.

I'll talk about about doing this with shadows: If your meter reads the whole area that you can see in the viewfinder, then walk up to the part of the scene that contains the darkest shadow that is important to you. Or, if you have a zoom lens, then zoom into that area. Fill the frame with that shadow and see what the meter recommends. (If your camera has a spot meter, then just place the spot on the shadow tone.)

Oh this sounds like a great idea to test. Thanks

Most of the time, you can just use that recommended exposure. Technically, it will overexpose the shadow, but usually that's no problem. Still, if you're worried about it, you can reduce the exposure by one or two stops from what the meter recommends, and you'll still be fine. You will have "exposed for the shadows".

Do you mean if I’m shooting portra 400 then I rate it at 800?

In a portrait, for example, if your subject is wearing a dark jacket, and you care about getting detail in that jacket, just walk up (or zoom in), fill the viewfinder frame with the jacket, set the exposure according to the meter's recommendation, then back up and shoot the picture.

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?

set the exposure one stop darker than the meter's recommendation.

Either setting would provide a generous exposure for the shadows, and highlights would be very unlikely to blow out (on negative film).

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

brandon77 wrote:

peripheralfocus wrote:

Bags27 wrote:

It goes back to the zone system in which you meter the shadows, and the meter automatically places the shadows in zone V (18% grey). But then highlights could get lost, and you want your shadows in zone III. So, overexpose by 2 stops (moving shadows from zone V to zone III) and develop normally.

This is right, except that you made an inadvertent error. To move shadows from Zone V to Zone III, you underexpose by 2 stops from the meter reading -- i.e. you need to reduce the exposure by two stops from what the meter is recommending, by choosing a faster shutter speed, a narrower aperture, or a combination of both (or even by using a neutral density filter).

As you know (but the OP may not), if you point a reflected light meter at a black object (shadows), it will recommend an exposure that will reproduce the object as gray (i.e. lighter than it is). To reproduce it as black, we have to reduce the exposure from whatever was recommended by the meter.

Yes this is the part I’m confused by. This photo is a good location of me trying to rate my film one stop more, and looking at the meeting in camera only. I have seen many other people shoot in the same conditions and the subject doesn’t get blown out.

Having shot in shade I also get mixed results

What would be the best way for me to metre scenes and know it’s correct before shooting, knowing I have the metre inside. Do I get a handheld one and just ignore that?

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

Svein Eriksen wrote:

How did you convert this to digital? Agree it's too bright, but I doubt there are blown highlights.

I just got the lab to send me the files on dropbox

Svein Eriksen Senior Member • Posts: 2,277
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

brandon77 wrote:

Svein Eriksen wrote:

How did you convert this to digital? Agree it's too bright, but I doubt there are blown highlights.

I just got the lab to send me the files on dropbox

Then I'd try to rescan it. Adjust the preview on the scanner until it looks OK. If you dont have access to a scanner, but a camera and a macro lens then try that instead.

I used film from the early seventies until I switched mostly to digital around 2005 and never had any serious problem with negativ film and just using the build in light meter for "easy" exposures. I was careful were I metered the exposure though.

If you're using a K1000 and the build in meter then I'd start by making sure it's accurate. Compare it with another camera. The one in the phone should do if that's what you have.

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

Svein Eriksen wrote:

brandon77 wrote:

Svein Eriksen wrote:

How did you convert this to digital? Agree it's too bright, but I doubt there are blown highlights.

I just got the lab to send me the files on dropbox

Then I'd try to rescan it. Adjust the preview on the scanner until it looks OK. If you dont have access to a scanner, but a camera and a macro lens then try that instead.

I used film from the early seventies until I switched mostly to digital around 2005 and never had any serious problem with negativ film and just using the build in light meter for "easy" exposures. I was careful were I metered the exposure though.

If you're using a K1000 and the build in meter then I'd start by making sure it's accurate. Compare it with another camera. The one in the phone should do if that's what you have.

How would I do this with a phone camera as there’s no metre to see?

tassienick Senior Member • Posts: 1,564
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

brandon77 wrote:

Svein Eriksen wrote:

How did you convert this to digital? Agree it's too bright, but I doubt there are blown highlights.

I just got the lab to send me the files on dropbox

Have you seen the negs?

Its difficult to judge exposure based on lab scans because they’re working to what they *think* you want to see, and the end result of the scan may not represent the actual negative.

Your example of the portrait looks well exposed (there’s no blown highlights), but the file looks fairly typical of the high key aesthetic that seems to dominate film photography these days.

As an aside, when metering a white body in full sunlight I would generally go one or two stops under. If the meter is correct for the background (which is most of the scene), the subject is going to be over.

OP brandon77 Regular Member • Posts: 254
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

tassienick wrote:

brandon77 wrote:

Svein Eriksen wrote:

How did you convert this to digital? Agree it's too bright, but I doubt there are blown highlights.

I just got the lab to send me the files on dropbox

Have you seen the negs? 

No, I never get them back after

Its difficult to judge exposure based on lab scans because they’re working to what they *think* you want to see, and the end result of the scan may not represent the actual negative.

Your example of the portrait looks well exposed (there’s no blown highlights), but the file looks fairly typical of the high key aesthetic that seems to dominate film photography these days.

As an aside, when metering a white body in full sunlight I would generally go one or two stops under. If the meter is correct for the background (which is most of the scene), the subject is going to be over.

So I change my rating of film?

Svein Eriksen Senior Member • Posts: 2,277
Re: right, except that it's underexpose

brandon77 wrote:

How would I do this with a phone camera as there’s no metre to see?

Dont know what phone you use, but on my Samsung I can snap a picture, look at it on the phone and select details to see Shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I assume all/most phone photo apps let you see the exposure on an image.

I can also use the Lightroom app, set it too manual and experiment with shutter speed and ISO.

Then compare a good exposure on the phone with what the camera meter think is right. Most likely they wont agree exactly, but close enough to check for major differences. Of course, comparing with a "real" camera is easier.

Edit: You could also get a light meter app for you phone.

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