NNwnJIn yesterday’s post, I promised that I’d show a quick technique to achieve proper exposure in the field. Let’s tackle that now.

In the film days, handheld light meters were what took the guesswork out of exposure. But in the digital world, there’s no film to waste, so we can afford to do things differently now. Here’s how you can get a proper exposure without having to rely on extra gear…

1. Start with your best guess: set your aperture to the desired depth of field with ISO at a reasonable sensitivity and shutter speed at least at a place where it eliminates camera shake.

2. Take your shot and check the histogram. If the graph is too biased toward one side or another, adjust one of the settings by one or two stops (remember that each stop lets in exactly 2x the amount of light as the one before it).

3. Take the next shot. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Here’s how this system got proper exposure in two tries: look at this pair of photos and their histograms…

bunny underexposed photograph
ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/100. Obviously underexposed, but the histogram gave a great clue as to how to adjust the settings.
bunny properly exposed photograph
ISO 400, f/1.8, 1/100. ISO adjusted by two stops. Much better! Outside of an HDR sequence, the dynamic range can’t get much better than this.

NOTE: In this case, the ISO was the logical setting to adjust as I had the depth of field right where I wanted (and I was handholding the body).

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Written by The Twilit Lens

Freelance photographer and ponderer of the unusual. I welcome the presence of mystery and the unknown. Wonder is not absent from the universe, and there is still room for the child in those who haven't yet allowed their hearts to wither to dust.

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