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Today we’re going to talk about metering and level placements. First things first, though, you need to know your camera and how to set metering types.
We need to start with our visualization and an assessment of the scene we’re trying to bring to life. Where are the most important details, where do we want to keep detail, and where can we sacrifice some detail to get our image to match our vision?
Once we’ve done our initial assessment, we need to place our camera’s metering mode to spot mode. In spot mode, we’re going to meter several places in AV mode, with our aperture set to the key stop for our ISO. Remember, your key stop is the square root of your ISO. To keep things simple, we can go to ISO 125, f/11, and be set. Having 2 sides of the triangle will help us get our exposure the way we want.
Start by metering the darkest part of the scene. Meter the brightest part of the scene, and move through to the middle levels. Take note of what these shutter speeds are. Find the darkest part in which you want to retain full detail and texture and meter off it. Take note of that setting, perhaps you’re showing 1/60 in your most important dark area, and read your brightest area where you want full detail.
Deciding upon which is more important, based on your vision, highlights or shadows, you need to set your exposure. If you decide the shadows are the most important, then you’d set your exposure 2 stop down. If you metered your darkest detail area at 1/60 at f/11 for ISO 125, you’ll want to shoot 2 stops down. You could go 1/125 at f/16 for maximum DOF, or 1/500 at f/8. Alternatively, you could go 1/250 at f/11, which would be 2 stops down. That will place your shadow details 2 stops below middle gray, or about 18% reflectance. This is about zone 3 in the zone system.
This concept is known as place and fall. By deciding the most important part of your image, you are deciding where you want it exposed. As mentioned in the example above, we’re placing our shadows which we find important into zone 3, letting the other values fall where their new levels will be. The same works in reverse for highlights. By moving our desired highlights up 3 stops, we’re placing them at about zone 8. This gives us a range of exposures in our image that should be about what we visualized.
By placing our levels where we want them, we can minimize our editing time, which means more time shooting! It also gives us a starting place for our previous post on developing for our vision. Try shooting a few scenes in monochrome this way, and then try it in color. You’ll see a change in your image and the way you see and approach a scene and photographing it. You’ll also notice that you have a more vibrant color and tonal range than before.
Exposure is the base of all we do in photography. Even printing an image was traditionally done by exposing the paper to light. Most high quality printing by large firms is still exposure using lasers. Learning the triangle and how to manipulate it, in ways beyond the conventional can make for incredible images. Your vision is the starting point to making it happen!
Here’s hoping you find the right light, the right scene, and have your camera by your side to capture it!
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