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Thread: The 4 Basics

  1. #1
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    The 4 Basics

    Itís easy to get sucked in to trying to learn all the fancy features that modern cameras have. Keep in mind that the technical aspect of photography is still based on only 4 simple basic adjustments:

    The Focus
    The ISO
    The Shutter Speed
    The Aperture

    Once these are fully understood, you can disable and disregard all those other ďfeaturesĒ of the camera which I feel always takes more time and thought to use than manually adjusting the above. Auto exposure bracketing? Exposure compensation? Av/Tv? Spot metering? Evaluative metering? Sports mode, Portrait mode, landscape mode,Ö..? You can forget about all of those.

    Since 3 of the 4 adjustments above are used to determine exposure, there are only two manual functions that we are controlling: focus and exposure. Since manual focus issue has been beaten to death , Letís talk about manual exposure. Hereís what I do in virtually every outing:

    1. As soon as I step out of the truck with camera in hand, I look for anything that will be in the same light (as my target subject) that is middle-toned and meter for that. Since all camera meters try to make every scene middle-toned, reading the measurements of a middle-toned object should be ďaccurateĒ for any given light.
    2. In manual mode, I adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture until the built-in meter reads center (proper exposure). The actual values donít matter yet Ė just so long as the meter reading is centered. In this example, the values are 1/250s at f/11
    3. Take a test shot (donít even worry about the focus) and review the image and histogram. Since you just photographed a middle-toned image, the histogram should not be clipped at either end. If your camera doesnít display a histogram, just look over the image and see that no part is white nor black. In very bright light when I canít see the LCD image well enough to judge, I look only at the histogram.
    4. If the test image/histogram looks right, you can now quickly find the appropriate shutter speed/aperture combination by moving the values in equal stop increments. As long as both are adjusted in unison, every combination will yield the same proper exposure. So for shooting with a straight 300mm, I might use 1/1000s at f/5.6 or 1/750s at f/6.7.


    Thatís it! I do this while walking to my spots and it takes about 10 seconds. On a cloudless day, I can use this one exposure value from 10am to 3pm. Now if I want to boost/subtract exposure a little for various subjects (light/dark bird, small patch of snow, a spotlight of sun, etc), I can just flick my shutter speed dial a notch or two one way or the other while shooting. Thatís my ďexposure compensationĒ .

    If the subject runs into the shade or clouds roll in, repeat the above steps. As long as your test subject is middle-toned (green grass, field of brown weeds, light brown sand, etc) and in the same light, exposure will be correct.

    Hope youíll try it. Easy to master. Then you can devote all your attention on the creative side of photography :thumbsup: .
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails The 4 Basics-viewfinder.jpg   The 4 Basics-manual-control-settings.jpg  
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    K9er Bevb's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Thanks for this Loupey you are a real gem!
    Clear, precise instructions and it seems a lot clearer now, off to practise.
    Thanks for taking the time to do this.
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    Senior Member AmberC's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Thanks Loupey!!
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Thanks Loupey, I'll be trying this out.

  5. #5
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    You're welcome Just keep in mind that the key here is how the built-in camera functions. The meter ALWAYS tries to make EVERY exposure a medium gray. So a light scene (snow, sand, etc) is always rendered darker (underexposed) and a dark scene (stage, shadowy background, etc) is always rendered lighter (overexposed) by the camera. So instead of trying to compensate on what the camera is trying to do, it's easier to simply analyze the light falling on the subject.

    Once you master this, I'll introduce a really easy fill flash technique to go with it.

    The best analogy I've ever come across regarding exposure is this: think of "proper" exposure for any scene as a pail full of water (light being the water). There are only two ways to fill a pail; 1) open the faucet (rate = aperture) partway for a long time (time = shutter), or 2) open the faucet all the way for a short time. As long as the pail is completely full (proper exposure), it doesn't really matter what combination you used. But if the pail is half empty (underexposed) or overfilling (overexposed), you didn't get what you were after.

    How does the ISO fit in this analogy? Think of ISO as controlling the size of the pail.

    Hope this helps. The moment you realize just how simple a thing exposure is and how you can control it, that is the moment you have full control of any situation.
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  6. #6
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Nice post, Loupey. I usually meter off a tree.

    another technique I always use when I set the average exposure, is to meter to the brightest highlights and darkest shadows, just to get some idea of the range of stops I'm looking at in a photo. Any more than four stops of range, and exposure becomes much trickier!! When the contrast is REALLY bad, I meter the exposure from the brightest highlights - expose the brightest highlights at +2 or so, and the detail is usually maintained but the whole picture isn't rediculously underexposed.
    Erik Williams

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  7. #7
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Last weeks example

    I remembered to keep some stats/images from an outing last week.

    Here is the actual metering shot I took before starting the session. The in-camera histogram OK'ed my setting of 1/250s, f/11, at ISO 400 (photoshop histogram shown here). I left it at that and shot away. The sample images all shot at that same setting. Since the level of light falling on the subject didn't change, I wanted the exposure locked to that.

    Notice that the background (lighter and darker) varies nicely and I don't have to worry about the meter picking something I don't want it to pick up (openings in the shadows, tree trunk, color/shade of the bird).

    The last shot was taken this morning to show the actual setting. Birds go in the background shrub/trees, I go in the snow patch just to the front right of the evergreen. The evergreen and background get the same amount of light.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails The 4 Basics-actual-meter-reading.jpg   The 4 Basics-actual-subject-shots.jpg   The 4 Basics-actual-shooting-location.jpg  
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  8. #8
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Two old tools...

    Before the age of instant feedback digital, we all had to be real careful about the exposure we set (unless we liked paying for a lot be horrible slides ).

    I used to use these tools all the time when shooting with my medium format equipment (camera doesn't even have a built-in meter). The first one is my Sekonic L-398 incident light meter. Unlike your built-in camera meter which measures the light reflecting off the subject, this meter reads the amount of light coming down onto the subject. This takes out the variables of the subject and background (reflectivity, color, size, and proportion - all of which can fool the camera). Notice here that the meter reads a value of "80" which, for ISO200, gives one possible combination of 1/250s at f/8 (which is the same as the 1/250s at f/11 at ISO 400 used last week).

    The other tool is an 18% gray card. This card costs a couple bucks and is used with your camera's meter to accurately record the light coming down. Basically turning your camera into an incident light meter like the handheld version above. Why this particular shade of gray? It is exactly halfway between pure black and pure white - this is how every camera meter sees the world.

    In the two example shots, I switched to aperture priority mode (Av) to let the camera do its thing with a difficult subject. Straight out of the camera with no post processing. The first one is obviously too dark. Notice how the gray matches the 18% gray card? The camera tries to render all scenes towards 18% gray. Now I add the card in the scene so that the camera reads it and accurately adjusts the exposure accordingly.

    These tools can still be used with digital. But not really necessary as long as your know what to meter off of. Any middle toned object will do - anything that is the color or shade (if you, like the meter, were color blind) of the 18% gray card. The card comes in handy when using extension tubes as there is a light loss so reading the card when changing tubes allows for simple exposure adjustments.

    Underexposed/overexposed images look terrible, digital or not. Trying to salvage them in PS isn't enough to save them IMO.

    Know the limitations of the camera.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails The 4 Basics-old-tools-1.jpg   The 4 Basics-old-tools-2.jpg   The 4 Basics-old-tools-3.jpg   The 4 Basics-old-tools-4.jpg   The 4 Basics-old-tools-5.jpg  

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  9. #9
    Senior Member payn817's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Some good stuff here. I played with this a bit with nothing really special around the house today. So far it was fairly easy, can't wait to try it tomorrow.

    I first noticed this when watching the documentary "war photographer", but couldn't get a grasp on exactly how he figured the exposures. So, this is a big help, and the answer to a question long on my mind.

    Anyway I know nothing of Canon or Nikon, but with Minolta/Sony in manual mode, you can hold the AEL button and turn the command dial, and it automatically keeps the SS and aperture equivalent. If you turn the dial right, it opens up the lens, turn it left, it closes it and adjusts the shutter without effecting the exposure you previously set.

  10. #10
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Good point about the dials, Payn. I don't think Canon has that feature.

    For Canon shooters, think of how the control dials are laid out. The shutter speed increases (exposure decreases) as you turn the finger dial clockwise. The aperture size decreases (exposure decreases) as you turn the thumbdial clockwise. So when making changes quickly without looking, I can click one dial one direction and then turn the other in the opposite direction the same number of clicks. It's an automatic motion and I don't even have to take my eye off the subject. It's just one simple step "harder" than using Tv or Av really. But I can instantly add/subtract exposure if the little guy runs into shade or pops his head into the sun.

    With Canon, it is possible to set the configuration of the camera to adjust shutter speed and aperture in 1/3 stop increments. Personally I think it is terrible. Easy to memorize all speeds and apertures in 1/2 stop increments. Another thing to try to rememorize every setting in 1/3 increments
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  11. #11
    Hardcore...Nikon Speed's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Good stuff there Loupey! This one should be a cross-post to the Veiwfinder and Critique forums as well.

    IMHO

    ;-)
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Quote Originally Posted by payn817
    Anyway I know nothing of Canon or Nikon, but with Minolta/Sony in manual mode, you can hold the AEL button and turn the command dial, and it automatically keeps the SS and aperture equivalent. If you turn the dial right, it opens up the lens, turn it left, it closes it and adjusts the shutter without effecting the exposure you previously set.
    Sounds like "P" mode.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member payn817's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics



    Perhaps. However, in the instance I describe, you set the initial exposure first, and can use this function to keep your exposure the same while changing your DOF (for example). At the same time however, you can still use the comand dial to set the aperture (but will effect exposure), or you can press +/- button and turn command dial to change only shutter. In addition, you can change all settings, whereas with "p" you can't. BUT, I see where it does seem the same (the way I described it).

    I have always liked the fact that Canon had two dials, and their placement.

  14. #14
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Speed: thanks for the endorsement! I just hope in my ramblings that some things make sense

    Payn: I still think the aperture control should be a ring on the lens. Two years ago, I came this close to switching to Nikon because some of their compatible lenses still have the aperture ring.
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    Senior Member payn817's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    You are just an old fashioned kinda guy!



    So, I don't want to jump ahead and overwhelm anyone. However, is there a kind of "standard" of how you change the exposure if your subject moves to shadow?

    For example, say light shadows 1/2 stop, med shadow 1 stop, etc?
    Or, is that one of those things that come with practice, and time?

    I'm excited about this, because A mode made me feel limited, and struggled in many situations. Therefore creating exposure issue, and upon trying to correct them, possibly hurting image quality.

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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Quote Originally Posted by payn817
    You are just an old fashioned kinda guy!



    So, I don't want to jump ahead and overwhelm anyone. However, is there a kind of "standard" of how you change the exposure if your subject moves to shadow?

    For example, say light shadows 1/2 stop, med shadow 1 stop, etc?
    Or, is that one of those things that come with practice, and time?

    I'm excited about this, because A mode made me feel limited, and struggled in many situations. Therefore creating exposure issue, and upon trying to correct them, possibly hurting image quality.
    For this the in-camera meter is great. Set it to spot metering. You can adjust the exposure based upon the original meter reading by subtracting or adding exposure value. If you meter to "0" as your default and your subject moves into shadow - your in-camera meter will tell you what the exposure value is. For instance, it might tell you that the wing used to be 0, but now it is -1. You can just subtract one stop from your exposure to correct that to 0.

    Shadows vary greatly, so there isn't any good standard to apply here...mostly it's just a comparison issue; know what used to be 0, and you will be able to easily get back to 0 by metering on the same spot.
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    Ex-Modster Old Timer's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    We always tend to make thing way to complicated. You have shown us how simple exposure really is. It is just a matter of mastering the very basics and applying them. I started out in the photo world with cameras that didn't have built in meters. I would generally apply the principles that you have outlined with generally good results. As time went by I started relying more and more on the cameras technology. Time to get back to basics.
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    Senior Member payn817's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Quote Originally Posted by Sushigaijin
    For this the in-camera meter is great. Set it to spot metering. You can adjust the exposure based upon the original meter reading by subtracting or adding exposure value. If you meter to "0" as your default and your subject moves into shadow - your in-camera meter will tell you what the exposure value is. For instance, it might tell you that the wing used to be 0, but now it is -1. You can just subtract one stop from your exposure to correct that to 0.

    Shadows vary greatly, so there isn't any good standard to apply here...mostly it's just a comparison issue; know what used to be 0, and you will be able to easily get back to 0 by metering on the same spot.
    Yeah, ummm... I asked a dumb question.

    OK, I'll go be quiet, and hide in shame for a little while

  19. #19
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Quote Originally Posted by Sushigaijin
    For this the in-camera meter is great. Set it to spot metering. You can adjust the exposure based upon the original meter reading by subtracting or adding exposure value. If you meter to "0" as your default and your subject moves into shadow - your in-camera meter will tell you what the exposure value is. For instance, it might tell you that the wing used to be 0, but now it is -1. You can just subtract one stop from your exposure to correct that to 0.

    Shadows vary greatly, so there isn't any good standard to apply here...mostly it's just a comparison issue; know what used to be 0, and you will be able to easily get back to 0 by metering on the same spot.
    True, but many cameras don't have spot metering. Plus, I think spot metering is very difficult as you have to be REAL careful that you pick the appropriate small object from which to meter.

    There are different levels of "shade". Open shade made from one lone tree out in an open field is quite different from the shade made within a forest. Payn, if you have time, try to find another middle-toned subject in the shade to repeat the process. If you don't have time, start flipping your command dial towards the "more exposure" side as you shoot. In 4 quick shots (less than 2 seconds without removing your eye), you can bump up your exposure +2 stops in 1/2 stop increments which should be more than enough.
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    Senior Member payn817's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Yeah, that makes sense. I was thinking that spot may be more difficult, but I can flick a dial while shooting a few frames. Then just remeter and get back to where I started. Good stuff! I went ahead and purchased a gray card.

    BTW Loupey, the guy that owns the local camera shop says you need to contact him for your check. He owe's you about $100 commission for all these purchases you've influenced.

  21. #21
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    OK, I'll send him my address to where he can send my check. Say, that reminds me, Kenko still hasn't sent me that one and someone still owes me a beer

    Ironic that, in my back-to-basics approach, people have to go out and buy more equipment. (hey, I just NOW figured out where all of you have been getting all those other smileys - the "more" button ). I just hope that they will be useful purchases!

    Payn, your gray card should be white on the back side - good for setting custom white balance in the field. Also, it will be useful with your continuing macro work. Just remember to orient it in the direction that matches your subject. Hold if vertical to get an exposure reading to photograph the side of an object. Hold it horizontal to get an exposure reading to match the top of an object.
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    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Though not officially one of the 4 basics, I always consider the background as a key make-or-break element of the image. Regardless of the subject matter, one should ALWAYS consider the background (and foreground if there are overlapping elements) with the same regard as the subject itself.

    I always try to place the subject in a neutral area of the background so there are no intersecting lines. If not possible, I try to place the main area of the subject (the head for example).

    I shot this sequence a few days ago and I thought it might adequately demonstrate this. The first image is how I first spotted the bird. Not very impressive. Next, I always look for the appropriate background for any subject. The only break in the tree line I could find was a small opening (2nd shot). Refocusing on the bird (3rd shot), the opening grows by going OOF - just enough to encompass the bird. Much better now.

    That's your lession for today. Now go out and shoot
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails The 4 Basics-blackbird-background-1.jpg   The 4 Basics-blackbird-background-2.jpg   The 4 Basics-blackbird-background-3.jpg  
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    Talking Re: The 4 Basics

    Loupey, I just read your post and thanks so much for trying to help us beginners. I went walking today and tried what you suggested but spent a lot of time talking to myself trying to get that histogram right. I think it is suppose to look like a bell??? Is that right?? Well I know in the woods makes the lighting change but I wasn't really happy with too many pictures I took. Some where a little dark while others just didn't seem sharp to me. I am attaching a backyard picture and would like feedback on the picture not what the picture is of. (f8 500 200 ISO)I printed off your shutter Speed and Aperture and am I correct in thinking that if I set the aperture to 8 the shutter speed should be 500?
    I never knew taking pictures was so hard....sometimes I just want to go back to my point and shoot.
    PS As you can tell, I'm a total beginner and started on sports shots but now this summer I want to try landscapes. I will probably spend a lot of time reading this area now.
    Thanks for any help
    Depack
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  24. #24
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    First of all, Depack, thanks for reading this and posting your question!

    Secondly, if your shot is straight from the camera, I'd say the exposure is right on!

    As for your question about the 1/500s at f/8 being proper at ISO200 - that depends. As light intensity changes, so must the shutter speed/aperture at any given ISO. This compensation could be done completely with the ISO to keep the shutter and aperture unchanged. But this is usually not as easy as changing either the shutter speed or aperture opening.

    Only if the light level is not changing can you use my earlier example of "sliding values" - 1/500s at f/8 being equivalent to 1/250s at f/11 and so on.

    What is nice about using manual controls is that generally, outdoor lighting is pretty standard around our globe. So, I can tell you, on a bright sunny clear day, to preset your camera to 1/350s~1/500s at f/11 at ISO 400 (which I use almost 90% of the time) and your subject which is in direct sunlight would be properly exposed. Therefore, this exact same setting could be used if you were shooting city scenes under the same weather conditions.

    Once you understand how to analyze and determine the light intensity/color falling on your subject, the better you can compensate for it. For example, when I walk through the forest, the light intensity falls anywhere from 1 1/2 stops to up to 4 stops from the bright sun condition. Knowing this, I am automatically adjusting my settings as I walk deeper into the woods even though I haven't even put the camera to my eye.

    There are lots of advantages of going manual. The best being that it forces you to think in terms of light. And to have a great image, you need to first have great light quality (intensity, color, direction) even more than a great subject
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    Re: The 4 Basics

    Thanks for the tips. Now I have a starting point to setting my camera. I noticed you set your camera to 400 ISO so I will try that too!! You might think these are just little tips, but to me they are really a big help. Thanks so much. I will send more pictures when I get back into the woods.
    Oh by the way, the picture I sent was untouched so I was so excited I did something right with the help of your tips.
    Depack

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