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lighting your picture means avoiding under-exposed
and over-exposed shots. I would venture to say
that most shots taken by amateurs are under-exposed
because the camera's exposure meter is fooled
by stray light. What I mean by that is that your
main subject is less lighted than the surrounding.
The camera's exposure meter usually takes a weighted
average of the light and adjusts the exposure
accordingly. If the surrounding is much more lighted
than your main subject, then the camera is "fooled"
into believing there is too much light and an
under-exposed picture results. If the surrounding
is much less lighted than your main subject, the
camera adjusts by letting in more light and an
over-exposed picture results.
cameras have spot metering to allow you to tell
the camera exactly which part of your picture
you want properly exposed. Most amateur cameras
have adequate weighted average metering to compensate
for the surrounding lighting so the above scenarios
are rarely a problem these days. There are, however,
still some situations that can fool your camera's
exposure meter. Be aware of those situations and
you'll be able to get correctly exposed pictures
in situations where previously you couldn't --
or you might choose to break a few of the rules
for some dramatic results.
The right balance and interplay of light and shadows
create beautifully exposed pictures. With the
improvement in metering, it is not difficult these
days to get properly exposed pictures, but understanding
some simple concepts and following some simple
rules never hurt.
of us start out in photography by learning that
our main subject should be facing the sun. After
all, it says so right on the film box. That's
OK for point-and-shooters, but YOU want more than
Consider placing your subject in the shadows.
Yes, in the shadows! Though, not completely in
the shadows. All right, not the dark kind of shadows
where mosquitoes roam. But if you can find a good
spot (for example, in the shade cast by the leaves
of a tree) where light and shadows intermingle
so that it is not a solid block of shade, you've
got yourself an excellent spot for a pleasant
Make sure you are also standing in the same shaded
area (or shade your camera with our hand to avoid
direct sunlight on your light meter sensor) so
your camera's exposure meter is not fooled.
might also choose to use fill-in flash to light
your subject in the shade for a pleasantly exposed
picture from corner to corner.
It also says on the film box not to shoot with
the sun facing you. Again, rightly so because
this would fool your camera's exposure meter into
believing there is way too much light, resulting
in an underexposed shot. However, taking a portrait
with the sun behind your subject can result in
quite a dramatic picture, if done properly. If
the sun, or a another light source (such as natural
light streaming from a window) is right behind
your subject's head, you can get a pleasing halo
effect. Of course, your camera's meter is now
fooled and will under-expose your shot unless
you adjust for it. If your camera has a scene
mode for backlighting, use it. If your camera
has buttons to allow you to adjust backlighting,
use them. In addition, pop up your flash and take
a fill-in flash shot of your subject. Voila, the
face is properly exposed (thanks to the fill-in
flash) and the halo effect is also achieved.
Sunsets are always beautiful and there are a couple
of pointers here. Take a number of pictures at
different exposure (this technique is called "exposure
bracketing") as the sun sets. Since you are
shooting into the sun, your camera's exposure
meter is guaranteed to be fooled unless you use
the appropriate scene mode or manually adjust
your exposure one to two f/stops down. You gotta
be quick 'cause once the sun gets to setting,
it sets real fast! By taking a number of shots
until the sun is below the horizon, your chances
of getting just this one perfect shot increase.
Now, I know, you can also go into Photoshop and
adjust it after the fact, yeah, yeah, yeah....
:o) Interestingly, some digital cameras now has
auto-bracketing where the camera takes a number
of shots at different over- and under-exposed
settings. One of those shots will probably returns
the "correctly" exposed shot that your
eyes automatically compensated for.
Forget it, those pictures of fireworks of the
Eifel Tower or the Statue of Liberty are almost
always composites! See, your expertise in Photoshop
really pays off now, eh! To capture the full effect
of fireworks, your camera needs to have a "bulb"
setting that allows you to open the shutter and
keep it open as long as you keep your finger there.
You also need a piece of black cardboard or material
that you put in front of your lens when bright
objects pass by (e.g. a car) and then remove whenever
fireworks explode. All the while, you keep the
shutter open in the bulb setting. When you've
got enough firework explosions, stop. Then, go
into Photoshop and make a composite of all those
fireworks explosions with your favorite landmark.
[ Read our Fireworks
Photography Tutorial... ]
Usually there are bright lights at the fair, and
the surreal effect adds to the charm of a fair.
Use fill-in flash for portraits. Use long shutter
speeds (e.g. 1/30 sec.) to blur the spinning and
twirling lights attached to the rides and carousels.
Many digital cameras do not allow any exposure
adjustment and so you are at the mercy of your
camera. Others provide convenient scene modes
for taking various situations, such as portrait,
landscape, sports, night shots, etc. They essentially
automate what we have talked about here. More
higher-end models allow you to select your own
shutter speed and aperture (f/stop) by providing
shutter priority and aperture priority modes.
We find that, if you are basically a point-and-shoot
type of photographer, you will find the higher-end
models confusing -- at first. Though we do not
recommend any particular model of camera, we do
recommend that you seriously consider those cameras
that provide scene modes.
is a run down of the most common scene modes and
what they mean technically. These are my own guesses
and by no means the gospel on the subject matter.
They also do not cover ALL that is going on when
you select a certain scene mode on your digital
camera, only the MAIN requirements, and only those
I personally believe are the ideal requirements.
Less than ideal specifications will no doubt still
give great results in many cases.
or Action -- 1) the camera chooses the fastest
shutter speed it has (say, 1/1,000 sec.) and 2)
then adjusts the aperture, starting from the largest
aperture it has (say, F2.8) and going smaller
until the proper exposure is obtained. 3) If,
at the largest aperture, there is not enough light
for a proper exposure, the camera selects to use
the flash, and then cycles through step 2 again
to obtain a correct exposure. 4) If there is still
not enough light, the camera might attempt to
switch to a higher ISO (e.g. ISO 400), and cycle
through step 2 again. 5) Failing all that, the
camera will select a slower shutter speed (not
slower than 1/125 sec.) and retry steps 2 through
4. 6) Finally, if there is still not enough light
for a proper exposure, the camera will progressively
reduce the shutter speed until it has a shutter
speed/aperture combination for correct exposure.
These steps are just my guesses but seem to be
what I would do manually. Different cameras may
do steps 3 through 6 in different order. For example,
a camera might select to progressively reduce
the shutter speed (step 6) before opting to use
the flash (step 3). 7) The camera might also select
the correct White Balance if the shots are being
taken indoors under artificial lighting (e.g.
fluorescent or tungsten).
the requirements for Sports or Action shots are:
1) Fast shutter speed (1/1,000 sec. and above)
2) Large aperture (F1.8 and larger)
3) ISO of 400 and above
4) White Balance for Fluorescent and Tungsten
5) Small shutter lag (you'll never catch the action
if the shutter clicks 2 sec. after you press the
-- 1) the camera selects the largest aperture
it has (say, F2.8). 2) It then adjusts the shutter
speed starting from the slowest (say 4 sec.) and
moving up until correct exposure is obtained.
3) If there is not enough light, it might opt
to use flash or increase the ISO sensitivity.
the requirements for Night shots are:
1) Large aperture (F1.8 and larger)
2) Slow shutter speeds (1 sec. and lower, plus
3) ISO of 400 and above
4) White Balance for Tungsten
-- 1) the camera selects the smallest aperture
it has (say, F8) for maximum depth
of field. 2) It then adjusts the shutter speed
until correct exposure is obtained.
the requirements for Landscape shots are:
1) A small aperture (F8 and smaller)
-- 1) the camera selects the largest aperture
it has (say, F2.8) for minimum depth of field.
2) It then adjusts the shutter speed until correct
exposure is obtained. 3) It might opt to use fill-in
flash for correctly exposing the face. 4) It might
zoom in to around 105mm to crop out extraneous
the requirements for Portrait shots are:
1) A large aperture (F8 and smaller)
2) Fill-in flash
3) Zoom up to 105 mm
-- 1) the camera shuts down flash. 2) It selects
a shutter speed/aperture combination (and perhaps
also the ISO sensitivity) for correct exposure.
3) It adjusts the White Balance for artificial
the requirements for Museum shots are:
1) Ability to shut off flash
2) Large aperture
3) White Balance for artificial light
the next section, we want to deal with a subject
that is currently a big disappointment with most
low-light indoors pictures.