Exposure Relativity

Reminder – Click on the title for the full post!

Exposure Relativity

Most photographers do not deal with exposure in a precise way. The camera’s built-in meter and auto exposure serve the purpose in many cases and the photographer is free to react to the scene. This is a positive thing in many circumstances as you need to react to the scene rather than fuss with the camera. Unfortunately, it can lead to less than optimal exposures a little fussing up front can lead to better captures and less post processing angst.

Exposure is a relationship between the various tonal values in the image. The differences in reflectivity of areas of the scene is what creates the image and sets the mood of the photo. If the differences are great the image is said to have a high contrast and may require special consideration such as exposure bracketing,HDR or exposure blending to reign in the contrast. A subject with less inherent contrast will have a flat appearance coming out of the camera and may require expansion of the differences in tonal levels to look like you want it to.

The featured image at the top of the blog was taken on the side of the road in Colorado. The lighting was fairly soft as a result of the cloud cover. Despite some high values in the sky area, the vast majority of the foreground was limited to the bottom half of the exposure scale.

Initial exposure was based on the high values in the sky, placing them as high as possible without clipping. An overall exposure based on the camera’s meter would have blown out the sky. I find that determining exposure based on the highest values works best for me. Once that is done the shadow areas are checked relative to the highlights.

I find that my camera typically wants to underexposure most average scenes by as much as a full stop, so I check the highlights and the overall histogram carefully after each capture.

The histogram confirmed that the scene was within the dynamic range of the camera, meaning the exposure I established for the sky did not force the shadows into clipping at the lower end. There was, in fact a substantial amount of foreground detail available and the left end of the histogram did not “hit the wall”. The gave me a good exposure for post processing with a single raw capture.

In post processing there was contrast added to the sky, which showed values from slightly below middle gray to the high 240s. There was also contrast added to the foreground, and in particular to the wood structure. In both cases the corrections were made using masks. Brightening the wood significantly increased the foreground interest and made the image come to life.

The color version was interesting, but the image to me needed to be B&W. That conversion was pretty easy since the primary dynamic changes had been done in the color version, but final tweaks to the wood structure needed to be applied to the B&W version to get the real impact where it needed to be.

This image actually came together rather easily and was done in 3 versions. Many images, especially color images, often require a lot more work for me. Versions 9, 10 or higher are not uncommon. It is a simple matter of finding things about the image that still need attention.

The full image contains much more than is shown in the WordPress blog version which imparts a specific crop. The desktop version suffers the most. There will be a full version of the image available soon in an upcoming prints for sale section of my website.

April Seminar Cancelled

Sorry, but I need to cancel the April 21st seminar on Processing Your Images. I am having an operation and April will be dedicated to recovery so that my May obligations can be honored. I hope to see any of you interested in Advanced Photoshop on Saturday, May 19th at the Hershey Public Library.

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