Judging Exposure Confusion

amolitor

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If you just do what the meter says, you'll generally get a pretty good result. If you shoot RAW, you get a fair bit of extra latitude for those cases where the meter steered you wrong.
Past that, you're in pretty special circumstances things get a bit more complicated. Not that complicated, though.
 

table1349

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First, forget the LCD screen for judging exposure. If you want to learn to get it right then there are some things you need to do.

First, start here, especilly the sections on Exposure and Metering. Digital Photography Tutorials

Secondly, Learn to read and understand light.
Understanding Light in Photography | pixelogist.me
Understanding Light: A Series of Tutorials
Understanding Light in Photography ? Beginner Level | Beyond Megapixels

Once you understand and can read light then a Histogram becomes a very useful tool.
Understanding Histograms
Understanding Histograms
A Photographer's Guide to Understanding Histograms
Understanding Histograms in Photography
 
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weepete

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Thanks for the replies guys, there's some really usefull information in there and I'll try and work through the tutorials that you've provided.

Keith - using the word "normal" was a bad choice of words, what I meant to say was "a hisadjust that has the profile that I'm expecting to see in reference to the image I'm producing"

Joe - I may post process a few, but at I'm trying to do is nail the exposure first time. So you could say that either I won't process them or I want to process the photo's without touching the exposure slider, given the exceptions of the odd HDR or so

I guess I need to trust my in camera meter a bit more than I do currently and recognise when I'm trying to photograph a scene that just has too much dynamic range than my camera can handle and control the light.

I do already use the different metering modes, depending on what I want. But what I find myself doing right now is metering on the subject, and choosing an appropriate appeture and shutterspeed then taking a test shot to check histogram for blown out shadows or highlights, adjusting either through exposure compensation or more regularly doing it in manual. but I cant seem to help taking those extra shots where I adjust the exposure so it looks right in the lcd
 

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Shoot new Nikon. Shoot in RAW mode. Use the light meter in Manual exposure mode, using center-weighted metering,and NOT Maxtrix (aka multi-area AKA evaluative mode).Meter for the brightest area that's substantial and important, ignoring tiny, very bright areas such as specular highlights. Make sure that the overexposure warning system, aka "the blinkies" is switched on, and expose at the meter reading, and then add very small increments of exposure until "the blinkies" come on. The small amount of overexposure can be recovered in post. Problem solved.
 

Ysarex

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Thanks for the replies guys, there's some really usefull information in there and I'll try and work through the tutorials that you've provided.

Keith - using the word "normal" was a bad choice of words, what I meant to say was "a hisadjust that has the profile that I'm expecting to see in reference to the image I'm producing"

Joe - I may post process a few, but at I'm trying to do is nail the exposure first time. So you could say that either I won't process them or I want to process the photo's without touching the exposure slider, given the exceptions of the odd HDR or so

I guess I need to trust my in camera meter a bit more than I do currently and recognise when I'm trying to photograph a scene that just has too much dynamic range than my camera can handle and control the light.

I do already use the different metering modes, depending on what I want. But what I find myself doing right now is metering on the subject, and choosing an appropriate appeture and shutterspeed then taking a test shot to check histogram for blown out shadows or highlights, adjusting either through exposure compensation or more regularly doing it in manual. but I cant seem to help taking those extra shots where I adjust the exposure so it looks right in the lcd

So, from reading your response here it sounds to me like you're trying to shoot camera-processed-JPEGs and have those as close to right as possible out of the camera. Based on that assumption what you want to do is to set an exposure that will support the camera JPEG processing software. The engineers who designed your camera have already done that. That's what the various scene modes and the camera's Program mode already do. Given the complexity of that task the engineers have expanded the range of tools available on the camera in the form of the various metering modes and the contrast image adjustment. Overall they've done a pretty decent job but with one caveat: You have to photograph scenes in which the lighting -- the scene contrast range -- falls within the range the camera's software is programmed to expect and handle.

The software in the camera is working toward the same goal you are and the engineers who designed the camera are well aware of the parameters of that goal. Assuming a lighting contrast range no higher than a sunny day front-lit scene, they have to use the meter to set an exposure and then apply a tone curve that will yield normal contrast while taking the diffuse highlights as close to white as possible but not clipping them. The darkest shadows should reach full black without large areas of blockage. They manage this fairly well. Problems arise when the scene contrast range is outside the camera software's programmed limits or when you have an anomalous condition, for example the critical subject is in the shadows, there is an unusually small white/reflective area in the scene influencing the meter, the subject is a black Labrador, etc.

Dealing with these problems, too much or too little lighting contrast or an anomalous subject/scene, is rarely solved by altering exposure or at least not fully mitigated by altering exposure. An exposure increase for example may take care of a subject that is in the shadows but it will then cause serious problems with the rest of the scene. The classic example of this being the fauxtog who increases exposure for a backlit portrait subject such that the highlights are nuked (cool effect!). The answer to that problem isn't an exposure change but rather a lighting change -- fill on the subject is required.

With very high contrast light where the camera software would otherwise fail to hold the highlights an exposure reduction won't help the camera produce a better photo. You may prevent the highlights from clipping but you just pushed the midtones and shadows too far down and the photo looks badly underexposed.

All of which is to say that if you've got a scene with a normal subject and lighting contrast that's within the range that the camera is engineered to handle you can pretty well expect a properly exposed JPEG from the camera meter with little or no intervention from you. In situations outside that normal range, alterations in exposure alone will not suffice to provide a good exposure and your choices then are:

1. See it coming and walk away.
2. Don't see it coming and realize your mistake later.
3. See it coming and plan right then and there how you're going to post process out the result you want -- editing required.

Joe
 

Ysarex

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Shoot new Nikon. Shoot in RAW mode. Use the light meter in Manual exposure mode, using center-weighted metering,and NOT Maxtrix (aka multi-area AKA evaluative mode).Meter for the brightest area that's substantial and important, ignoring tiny, very bright areas such as specular highlights. Make sure that the overexposure warning system, aka "the blinkies" is switched on, and expose at the meter reading, and then add very small increments of exposure until "the blinkies" come on. The small amount of overexposure can be recovered in post. Problem solved.

I'm going to gripe about your terminology here (eg. just because the camera JPEG software is identifying overexposure --"blinkies"-- doesn't me you actually have overexposure if your goal is a raw capture), but I'll thumbs up that methodology as basically sound. It's a conservative variation on ETTR that, given modern sensors and A/D converters, is about as efficient and straightforward an approach as you're going to get and that will bring home the data you need. The OP however sounded like he wants to stay away from too much editing and this method assumes editing. I agree it's the way go but, as Yoda says, "edit you will."

Joe
 

TCampbell

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I've had this discussion with a local friend of mine -- also a photographer. We both agree... EVERY photographer should own a hand-held "incident" light meter... even though you'll hardly ever pull it out of your bag. The thing is... when you need it, there is no substitute for getting the truth about the exposure reading.

I find it to also be a somewhat educational instrument... you start to see the patterns in the difference between the incident meter and built-in (reflected) meter and it should start to click. You can eventually predict when you're camera is going to mis-read the light and even in which direction.

Yes... the incident meter means pulling a gadget out of your bag, holding in the same light as your subject, and taking a meter reading and asking for advice based on the ISO, f-stop, or shutter speed you plan to use to get the meter's recommended light settings. That's a slower way to meter and shoot -- it's true. BUT... NOT BEING IN A HURRY is a great way to learn. You'll gain a lot of insight so that when you DO need to shoot "in a hurry" you'll be able to leverage the experienced gained to get a much better shot.
 
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