exposing for highlights

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by rebecca the curious, Jun 12, 2007.

  1. rebecca the curious

    rebecca the curious TPF Noob!

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    i noticed that some of david alan harvey's (if you don't know him, check out his work at magnum! amazing!) photos contain very dark shadows, but they're not underexposed.

    i read somewhere that his technique is to expose for highlights. how do you do this? i've never done any metering before. maybe i should have posted this in the beginner's section. lol.

    here are some examples:
    http://www.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR3/F/K/B/W/NYC4299.jpg

    http://www.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/TR3/S/A/P/8/NYC27774.jpg
     
  2. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Basically this is done by exposing in a way that ensures not a single point of the image has a clipped highlight, or is true white. Underexposure is dependant on the photographer. His photos may not be underexposed to him, but they are for my tastes. I'd be inclined to sacrifice a few highlights in favour of some more shadow information. He decided to favour the highlight detail and clip the shadows.

    To do this you need to "underexpose". I am not talking about underexposing in the sense of what I said above, but underexpose based on what the light metre says. A light metre will often try to convert the scene to an average 18% grey, well the matrix or evaluative metreing systems are a bit more complex than that but the theory still stands.
    To take a photo like this start at a guess of how the light will metre the scene and compensate accordingly. In the top photo I would set my camera to -1.3EV as a starting guess, bottom scene closer to -2EV since there's less light detail. Take a picture and then look at the histogram on the camera (There's plenty of threads about how to read histograms). We are looking for a histogram which only just touches the right hand side. That is the far right point is almost 0 and it gets larger as it goes down. The majority of the information on the above scenes would be on the left side. The easiest way to show you what I mean is to simply produce the histogram of the top shot:
    [​IMG]
    Take the shot look at the histogram and adjust exposure if needed. The other way to use the camera metre is to set it to spot metre most probably off the guy in blue's shirt would give you that exposure with no compensation.

    Either way this exposure combined with very harsh and defined shadows results in an image like that.
     
  3. rebecca the curious

    rebecca the curious TPF Noob!

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    thanks! that was very helpful.
     
  4. mysteryscribe

    mysteryscribe TPF Noob!

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    Try a hand held light meter and walk up to whatever you are shooting if possible. Point it at the spot you want to expose for highlight or shadow.

    or

    If you have a camera that lets you read the meter and set the camera manually zoom in on the section you want well exposed then set the camera's manual settings and zoom out to compose.

    or

    Some cameras have exposure lock you can zoom in on the highlight or shadows then do an exposure lock to zoom out and shoot the whole sceen. Several ways to do it.

    or

    Most all cameras will let you overide the meter up and down a stop or two try experimenting with that if its all you have. You can get a feel for it that was as well.
     
  5. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Or do it the old film way.
    On B&W shots for printing you have about 7 stops to play with (Colour for reproduction you only have about 4 stops, but with modern digitals it's probably about 7 as well).
    With this range you are often going to have scenes with a lighting range beyond this so you have to decide where the important detail is. It's usually better to just get detail to hold in the lightest part and not worry too much about the shadows.
    Take a meter reading off the lightest part in the scene you want to hold detail in (using the camera on spot metering is OK if you don't have a hand held meter).
    Drop the exposure down 3 stops from this reading and that's what you use.
    Gives you 4 stops for the shadow range.
    Although you might find you have a much greater range visible on a computer monitor, you will lose a lot of it if you want to print the image, so this method works fine for digital too. It's the one I use.
     
  6. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    On the topic of range, in digital the lighter side holds the detail. For every bit of highlight that is under-exposed you sacrifice data that could potentially store more dynamic range of an image. Even if printing does cause loss of detail in the highlights taking the photo exposed as I mentioned and just before printing making it darker to keep the highlights is better than not having the data to work with in the first place. This ties in back with the 8bit vs 16bit argument which was mulled over enough in other threads.
     
  7. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    Did you mean increase exposure 3 stops (I like 2 stops myself)? Metering highlights and reducing exposure 3 stops from what the meter says is going to make them pretty dark.

    If I am metering highlights I add exposure because the meter is telling me the settings to expose for middle gray. If metering shadows I subtract exposure because of the same.
     
  8. deanimator

    deanimator TPF Noob!

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    I prefer to take incident light readings whenever possible...that was you don´t really need to consider the reflectance value. It´s more reliable cos it tells you exactly how much light is falling on the subject.
     
  9. rebecca the curious

    rebecca the curious TPF Noob!

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    thanks guys.

    you mean use the f-stop and shutter speed that the camera automatically set for that area of the photo?
     
  10. mysteryscribe

    mysteryscribe TPF Noob!

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    If you can lock it yes... If not make note and set the camera on manual.
     
  11. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Sorry. I always say 'drop down' for reducing the amount of light getting to the film, and 'open up' for increasing the amount of light getting in. Must be my age.
     
  12. cumi

    cumi TPF Noob!

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    In my experience, the dSLRs (like my D70s) in matrix metering mode tries not to loose highlights, so if neccessery underexposes the photo (so far it make sense I think).

    In harsh ligth (summer, no cloudes, noon, etc) when the contrast is too high (dark shadows and very bright parts), the photo will be underexposed for some's taste, but it's normal. Very often in these situations, I change the metering mode center-average (or even spot and set the exposure manually) and sacriface (burn out) some parts (mostly the sky, very white bright skirts, etc) to have other parts of the photo exposed brighter/normal for my taste.
     

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