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.

Limitations of Auto Exposure

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:

auto exposure-1

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.)

Here’s another.

auto exposure-2

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.

auto exposure-3

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.

auto exposure-4

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:

auto exposure-5

And finally, we have a situation that is the opposite of the fireplace. I put the Color Checker on a bright white surface:

auto exposure-6

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.

Today’s Assignment

  • 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

 

 


Mark As Done

Lesson Complete! Congratulations!


 

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Brittany Bricker
Brittany Bricker
1 year ago

I have my camera set to a partial manual. I control the focus but the wight balance (and I think everything else is set to automatic). Will we discuss this later? Just wondering if I should take out the manual that came with my camera and figure out how to change it? Or if I am fine to leave it as is for now.

Ruby allen
Ruby allen
1 year ago

This lesson has left me a bit perplexed. Im looking at my photos auto and manual and honestly dont know which is better. Same for some other students pictures. Sometimes the white is grayer but shows more detail and others the white is brighter. What is the definition of a better exposed picture. Then somehow I lost my histogram. LOL I’m a mess.

Ruby allen
Ruby allen
1 year ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

Yes, thank you!

Jody Hill
Jody Hill
1 year ago

Wondering if it’s possible to set up a private Facebook group for this year’s classmates. If we’re going to hang out together for a year it’s easier to get to know folks there. ????‍♀️

Kimberly Dalena
Kimberly Dalena
1 year ago
Reply to  Jody Hill

I would definitely love that. I am not able to post to instagram and it is very hard to follow for me.

Carol Hannon
Carol Hannon
1 year ago

I have issues with taking dark shots on my Nikon5300. I think it has trouble focusing. I managed to do them by tweaking the distance but I’m hoping my new knowledge, down the road will prevent this frustration which I run into now and again!

Melinda Boll
Melinda Boll
2 years ago

I don’t have a question, but I thought that you might enjoy hearing this: I homeschool my two children (they are doing this class with me), and the nine year old is just learning about averages in math. She has been doing them for over a week and has been doing fine, but she told me yesterday that she didn’t really understand the concept of averages. So, I began to launch into an explanation of how an average is when four people do different amounts of work but you want to find out if they all did the same amount… Read more »

2 years ago

i have really bad eye sight do to my meds for my liver but i am wearing contacts now so just getting used of them but i can definetly focus better now, so my focus on manual might be a lil off…..

tricia Ireland
2 years ago

what auto setting should I have mine on Portrait?

Liz Hurley
Liz Hurley
2 years ago

That was really interesting. I found that my small objects kept their black and white colour really well, details were OK but not perfect at all, but the backgrounds that they sat on completely lost their colour. Posted to instagram

Sarah Moore
Sarah Moore
2 years ago

Am I correct in assuming that auto will do a better job with the exposure depending on what lighting you are using or where you are staging your photo? Why is it that the exposure changes so much when I change the distance from object to camera by only a few inches?

Sarah Moore
Sarah Moore
2 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

This does answer my question. Thanks. I wasn’t hoping for a good time to use auto. I’m looking forward to learning to being the boss of my camera vs the other way around.

Megan Hodges
Megan Hodges
2 years ago

Hi Erin! (I am loving this course, BTW!) I really understood this lesson, thank you! After taking my photos and analyzing them on-camera and then on my computer, I can see slight differences but not as drastic as your lesson examples. My camera screen actually showed a pretty accurate white and black, in my opinion. Am I doing this right? Posting my photos on instagram now.

Katharine Boland Boland
Katharine Boland Boland
3 years ago

Flash off, right?

Candyce Warren
Candyce Warren
3 years ago

Erin,
Why, at times does my camera not let me take a picture? Usually if I focus in a different part of the image or move further from the object, it will then take a picture.

Jennifer Kestner
Jennifer Kestner
3 years ago

Hi Erin,

My photo today seems to be much darker in Instagram than on my computer screen. Am I doing something to make it look darker?

Jennifer Kestner
Jennifer Kestner
3 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

Good idea! I turned down the brightness on my computer screen a bit so they match now. It’s interesting, though, when I compare the picture on my camera to Instragram to my computer. The picture is the same on Instagram and my computer and is gray. The picture on my camera display has more of a taupe cast to it rather than gray.

Sandra
Sandra
3 years ago

Hi Erin, I’m having a bit of a problem regarding the colour of my background paper. I have always ended up with a grayish tone when I used Av (today the homework is Auto and I am also doing the M) and my paper is kind of orange in tone. I’m wondering what’s wrong with my camera settings. I am on AWB so is there anything else I should be checking? Of course I can fix the paper colour with the program but this hue has never been there before. It’s confusing. I hope you can help because I’m not… Read more »

Sandra Lahaie
Sandra Lahaie
3 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

Thank you Erin but I haven’t changed anything except do the homework on Auto and Manual instead of my usual Av, which is what is required today. Thank you for replying. I’ll go post my weird homework. ;o)

Sara Henderson Henderson
Sara Henderson Henderson
3 years ago

I am going to have to shoot this lesson tomorrow afternoon as it is too dark now and my flash keeps firing for auto. Does the object have to be small or just smaller than than 50% of the image? Thanks in advance.

Pam Satterfield
Pam Satterfield
3 years ago

Erin, I am loving your class! Can’t wait to see each day’s
assignment. I am playing catch up, was out of town last week.
Pam

Sharlene Settle
Sharlene Settle
3 years ago

I opened a new Instagram account specifically for this class, and it was showing me different things that were new or available. One of them is downloading an app called Layout, which allows the user to choose from different templates to include more than one pic.

Eszter Foldesi
Eszter Foldesi
3 years ago

Hi, I have just noticed that I have “superior auto” and “intelligent auto” on my camera. can you tell me what’s the difference and which one do people usually use? Thank you in advance.

Lillian Lorenzo
Lillian Lorenzo
3 years ago

Erin, I am a little behind and just getting to this assignment. Should I be in manual? I am currently on auto but without flash. Is that ok?

Kathy Verheyen
Kathy Verheyen
3 years ago

Hi Erin,
Completely different question. I have two cameras, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 (mirrorless dslr) and a Canon EOS 450D (mirror dslr). Since the Lumix is so much smaller, that’s the camera I actually use a lot more.

In your opinion, does it make a huge difference learning to shoot in manual etc to use the mirrorless versus the mirror dslr? Other than the actual handling of each camera (as in how and where to change aperture etc), which obviously is different?

Thanks in advance and let me just say I’m so excited about this project!!
Kathy

Kathy Verheyen
Kathy Verheyen
3 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

Thank you. Will do just that. 🙂

Karlie Siudut
Karlie Siudut
3 years ago

Hi Erin! I have a Nikon D5000, and I typically try to shoot on manual. Anytime I try to shoot indoors, even if it seems like there is enough light in the room, I always have to up my ISO anywhere from 1600-3200. Is that normal? But I also noticed today that when I switched to my macro 60mm lens, I was able to shoot at ISO 640. Wondering what the difference between lenses is? Also, will we be learning about histograms over the course of this class?

mary tharp Tharp
mary tharp Tharp
3 years ago

I understood that the camera was making it look gray, but didn’t realize it was lowering the exposure to do so. Thanks for your help. Mary

mary tharp Tharp
mary tharp Tharp
3 years ago

I have a question on exposure. I took a picture of black spoon on white sheet and the histogram of that picture shows the photo being very under exposed. I also posted a picture of our snowy day, with gray skies and it is also underexposed. I’m not sure I understand why the auto did this. I made the assumption the “gray” snow picture was a reflection of the gray skies – but then I saw your comments on other photos that gray is usually a result of low exposure – so I looked at these photo’s histograms. And as… Read more »

Elle Hughes
Elle Hughes
3 years ago

Good evening! Rather than fall behind I took photos in my dining room this evening. One question and I apologize for not being knowledgeable about this: When you say “describe where you metered” can you explain what that means Thanks

Elle Hughes
Elle Hughes
3 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

Erin…what other prompts do you mean – am I not understanding the lessons? Thanks, Elle

Elle Hughes
Elle Hughes
3 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

yes – Thanks I’m loving this course!

Kelly Vincent
Kelly Vincent
3 years ago

You can download an app called Layout, and combine the photos using it, then save to your camera roll! Then you can upload the combined picture to Instagram.

Kelli Hendren
Kelli Hendren
3 years ago

I shot an avocado in a white bathtub on Auto and then on manual and didn’t get much of a huge difference. Any ideas on why?

Marisa Stewart
3 years ago

I’m glad I never used Auto before. It was terrible and my camera flash would not stay down. On this first shot as so as I saw the flash popping up I held it down. I don’t think that is too good for the camera. I tried to focus on the white but my focal point was going wherever it wanted. 🙁 I should have used my tripod on this but it didn’t. The ISO was 320 35mm F2.5 1/25 sec.

Sharlene Settle
Sharlene Settle
3 years ago
Reply to  Marisa Stewart

I’m going to put my external flash on my camera and turn it off. That’s the only way I can keep my built-in flash from popping up. Lol.

JENNIFER KOTSMITH
JENNIFER KOTSMITH
3 years ago

Are we going to learn how to get off of AWB? I’d love to be able to take decent snow white winter photos…

Terri Yin
Terri Yin
4 years ago

I had no idea there were collages in Lightroom! So excited to learn this!

Tera
Tera
4 years ago

Day 5 is really leaving me creatively challenged. I may have to skip thos day and wait for tomorrow when the sun gives me a bit to work with. After all… We are trying to work with natual light with this, yes? I don’t have a set up for reflectors or bouncing flash. Hmmm… What to do. What to do.

Marcia Burkett
Marcia Burkett
4 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

I’ve been shooting both with flash and without. What do you really want to see?

Ruth Everson
Ruth Everson
4 years ago

Tell me more about the “Color Checker” – is this something I should have on hand? Where can you purchase one (if not too expensive)?

I use PSE and a template would be helpful to do a side by side LO of two different photos. Or just give me some dimensions – should I start with 8.5 x 11 page and add two photos?

Patsy
Patsy
3 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

I’m glad you said that. I was going to ask about a color checker and noticed someone else did. I have never heard of that before. I have a gray card and never use it, but mainly just because I have never taken the time to see how. Will you talk more about the color checker and gray card later?

Arlene Chemello
Arlene Chemello
2 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

I know we are not using the Color Checker in class. However, I was curious ‘how’ (50,000 foot level) you were able to determine the colors were off 14% and 20%? That seems a pretty exact number. Thank you.

Tracy Godbold
Tracy Godbold
4 years ago

Question: when shooting manual what do I set first? Today’s assignment in manual I set the aperture first at what the camera set it at in auto and went from there. How do you know if it is exposed properly? The histogram? This is good stuff! Thank you! I need this!

Tracy Godbold
Tracy Godbold
4 years ago
Reply to  Erin Peloquin

Sorry. Putting the cart before the horse! Thank you!

Krista Meister
4 years ago

I have one of those color checkers and never knew how to use it. Thanks for explaining!

Kara Heitzenrater
Kara Heitzenrater
4 years ago

How do we know what we meter on for manual? I don’t think I have changed it for metering. I would love to know how to focus it better.