Day 5: Limitations of Exposure on Auto
OBJECTIVE: EXPLORE THE LIMITATIONS OF PROPER EXPOSURE ON AUTO
As cameras get smarter and smarter, the photos they take on Auto improve correspondingly. However, if you’re a fulltime Auto shooter, you know that even the best camera can’t handle every exposure scenario out there.
The only way to get proper exposure in every scenario is to take control of your camera’s settings by shooting in Manual Mode.
Today’s lesson is the first in a short series where we explore the limitations of shooting on Auto. Have you already experienced those limitations? Don’t skip this lesson! You’ll be a better Manual shooter if you’ve put specific thought and analysis into the problems you need to solve.
Why doesn’t full auto work all the time? Well, your camera assumes that your photo, no matter what you’re shooting, is average. Not very nice of it, right?
No, not that kind of average. It assumes that if you were to combine the entire range of bright and dark pixels in your image, and all the colors of the pixels in your image, they would average out to a neutral gray, right between white and black. And that works well for many photos.
But many photos aren’t average. For example:
The camera just doesn’t know what to do with the photo above. In fact, it looks pretty gray. The girl’s face is much too dark. The leaves, on the other hand, are exposed pretty well. And the haze, oh the haze. (You can see my edited version of this photo at the top of the post. Editing isn’t able to overcome this photo’s exposure issues completely.)
I turned her around, and now her face is too bright. The shadows in the background look natural. I would rather the camera had darkened both her face and the shadows.
Turning her once again, I get this photo.
Now we have side lighting. Her face is slightly better, but still too bright. Except for the shadows on her face, which are very dark. Her shirt is way too bright.
Let’s get more scientific about this.
This is a lovely photo of the inside of my (very dark) fireplace. It looks like there is light shining into it, but it was actually quite dark when I took the photo. Because the camera assumed that this photo averaged out to a medium gray, it made the image much brighter than it appeared in real life.
Using the Passport Color Checker, I can accurately quantify how far off the exposure is. The black box at the top left corner is 14% brighter than it should be. The white in the top right corner is completely blown out, so I can’t measure it. The second box from the right is 20% overexposed. (I am not recommending that you buy the Color Checker. I don’t use it in my day to day photography and this course won’t cover it.)
This next photo, by the way, shows you what the Color Checker should look like with good exposure:
And finally, we have a situation that is the opposite of the fireplace. I put the Color Checker on a bright white surface:
Wait, you say, that surface doesn’t look bright white! You are right – it’s a dingy gray. The camera was going for that average gray again so it darkened the photo. The black in the bottom left corner is 12% too dark, and the white in the top right corner is 25% too dark! (This, by the way, is a common issue for people taking photos of snowy scenes. Those gleaming whites turn to dull gray.)
The problem is that the camera has trouble deciding what the subject of your photo is. If it knew that I wanted accurate representation of the Color Checker, it could do that. But, given that the background of these photos is either very dark or very light, it disregards the Color Checker, which is a small part of the entire image.
A note about gray and colors: gray is a darker version of white and a lighter version of black. Seeing gray when you expect black or white is not a color issue, it’s an exposure issue.
Today’s assignment is going to lead you through shooting situations that reproduce bad exposure in your photos.
Do you have questions? I hope so. I love answering your questions! Post them in the comments below. Questions on this lesson should be about the concept of this lesson. Remember that we are covering info gradually – this is not the time when we will discuss metering modes, color, lenses, ISO, white balance, how to set exposure on manual, etc. We will cover all of them, but at the proper time.
- What to Shoot – Take a photo of a small dark object in front of a light background or the opposite (a small light object in front of dark background). You could put a remote control in a bathtub for instance, or use a white sheet as the background. To shoot with a dark background, you could use the inside of a cabinet or closet, or a dark blanket or coat.
- How to Shoot – Use Auto mode and think about whether it does your photo justice.
- Hashtag: #Guided365, #Day5Guided365
- Include with Post – Describe the amount of detail visible on the small object. Does it look properly exposed? Or, are some of the details obscured because the object is too dark or light?
- Carry forward from this assignment: It’s not all that hard to trip Auto up in getting proper exposure.
- Advanced Photographer Challenge: Take the same photo described above, but use Manual mode for proper exposure. Describe where you metered and list your ISO, aperture and shutter speed. If you don’t understand what I’m asking, shoot the “What to Shoot” prompt just above. Add additional hashtag #Advanced.
- Explore today’s photos on Instagram